Coping: The Further Course in Scanner Monitoring

A person only pretends to be a prepper if they don’t have a basic ham radio and some kind of scanner capability, as I see it.

A fair number of people (OK, one…) mentioned how useful last week’s notes on emergency services scanning was.  And, since he was kind enough to send it a good write up, reader Bill’s ‘Part 2’ on how fire department lingo has changed over the years in useful stuff to have…

“I am yet again honored.

Thank you.Your advice to listen and get the feel of the way the channel sounds is good.

Fire department training has become somewhat universalized and has moved to standardization of terms and procedures — for a lot of good reasons.

Here are a couple of useful “heard over the air” firefighter expressions. When a building is said to be “fully involved,” that is exactly what it means — visible flames shooting out the windows, and maybe from burned-through holes is the roof. Fully involved buildings are rarely saved. It becomes more a matter of letting them burn down in a controlled manner, and preventing damage to adjacent buildings and forest.

Hay barns are notorious for burning super-fast.When an engine first arrives at the alarm location, they might say,”nothing showing,” which is usually good news. It might be a false alarm,or the fire is still relatively small. Everybody inside COULD be dead from carbon monoxide, but you can’t see that yet till you get inside.As the engine arrives, and sees the building for the first time, they will begin referring to the “A-side,” the “B-side,” the “C-side,” and the “D-side.” The “A” is the front on the street side, the “B” is the side to the left, the “C” is the back of the building, and the “D” is the right sid eas you see the building from the street.

This is like “port” and “starboard.”The designations are the same no matter which way you are facing.A “Y” connector for fire hose is called a “Siamese.”

A “booster reel”is like a heavy-duty garden hose. Usually mounted on both sides of a pumper truck, these can be very quickly spooled out and fed with water from the pumper’s own tank. This allows for a very quick strike,and if you begin fighting a fire sooner, less damage will be done.When a fire is “knocked down” it isn’t necessarily out, but its spread and acceleration are checked. It’s under control. “Out” means out.”Extension” is when a fire propagates inside walls and between floors. Often, they rip into the walls or floor a bit to find this and stop it.Big tanker trucks take a while to arrive, and “making to” a hydrant takes a few moments.

“Hard suction” is those large, straight and stiff black sections of hose meant to “draft” water from a pond, a stream, or a pool.Sometimes firefighters will set up a “temporary pond,” which is like an above-ground swimming pool — a liner on a frame. The big tankers will dump all their water in a few seconds into the portable pond, and hard suction will get it into the pumper. Temporary ponds are about three feet deep.

For one firefighter to call another a “good hand” is a very high compliment.Many other firefighter expressions used on the radio will quickly become self-evident as to what they mean.

In addition to having a fair number of local emergency services frequencies plugged in to your ham radio (or dedicated scanner), and the NOAA all hazards radio,  it is also important to remember how the FCC’s rules on unauthorized disclosure of radio traffic works.

Let’s say that you hear something from the scene of a (major fire, crime, terrorist event).  You hear the fire chief say something like “This is 234 – turn off the repeater…”

Knowing that “turn off the repeater” means you can still catch the input side, you flip to this other frequency and learn some details of a first responder injury (or worse).

Since you happen to be in the same bowling league as (injured first responder) you anxiously call their home and talk to the spouse. “Did you know your spouse was just injured in that house fire over on Zelm Streeet?”

Ding, ding, ding….Feds and lawyers time!

That because the FCC and federal law (18 U.S. Code § 2511 – Interception and disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications prohibited) make it a serious crime for third parties to disclose communications not specifically intended for them.

So here’s how the “party” thing works:  The fire chief (call sign “234”) is the first party.  The dispatcher at the other end of the radio on the repeater input is the second party.  Unless you’re terribly asleep (or are a victim of new math, lol) that would make you (the concerned listener) the third party.  And that’s when the third part traffic/conversation disclosure laws tighten up.

Now, as a practical matter, a good reporter knows the limits of reporting and may use that information provided there is no personally identifiable information about the specific first responder who was injured.

The reporter can do this because the story would be deemed (by case law) to be of the publics “need, interest, and concern” to use the argument.

However, a good reporter does a lot of butt coverage anyway and might report something like:”

“Live here at the scene of this apartment house fire, we do have reports of one fireman being injured…”

If it ever came to a government agency trying to nail the reporter on third party traffic disclosure, the reporter would retreat to pointing out that they were talking to other people at the scene or that they had seen someone limping off the battlefield to the medic unit on scene.  No case, no recourse for the zealous prosecutor.

But you learn those things over time.  And so the reporter’s first words to the fire chief, when the fire is knocked down and the clean up or hot spots phase is going, is to find old “234” and ask “Chief we heard reports of a first responder being injured, what can you tell us about that and how’s she doing?”

There’s a little code going on here:  By asking “how’s she doing” the fire chief knows that you know and so you’re likely to get the straight scoop.

But occasionally, you’ll have an authority figure say something like “I can neither confirm nor deny that at this time…”  and (from recall) this seems to happen more on the police side than fire department side.

But you learn these things over time…how that little “news at the scene” game is played and over time reporting stories like this almost like “play-by-play” sports because so much of it fits into a template. 

Worse: The older you get, say after 13-years of chasing down the news like someone I know, you get terribly jaundiced and start making up “templates” for your internets from the local university.

“(XXXXX) people were (injured/killed) in an (XXXXX) fire at the intersection of  (XXXXX) and (XXXXX) hat broke out about (TIME).

According to officials on scene, the fire was apparently caused by a (XXXXX)

And you get the idea.

By the time I was done with the active chasing of news, I must have had 200 templates covering everything from fires to mass murders.  Got that last one worked up courtesy of the 1983 Wah Mee massacre back in ‘83.

So yes, the stuff we take as “news” has all “been around before” but just because the general form has been around, doesn’t mean we’re not interested.  It all comes down to how close and how personal. 

But, yeah,; there’s a template for most of it.  So if I go off telling you how “Here comes another “templated” story about global warming, pardon me for being just a touch cynical at times.

(Who, me?)

Monday in the WoWW: Haunting in NM?

Well, then, nothing like waking up to a story of a “haunted house out in the desert of New Mexico, is there?

Hi G, 

I always wanted to tell you a few of my stories.

Do you have an explanation for motion alarms going off in the middle of the night, almost every night in a house where only one person lives with no pets?

In case it helps to figure things out, I built this small house from ground up in the Chihuahua desert in New Mexico.   It took me two months to build it and a few more for the finishing details.   I moved in August 2011.

I have cameras inside the great room and outside the house, three motion alarms in the great room and a fourth one in the second bedroom. 

Every thing was quiet for a few months except for what I considered normal noise outside because of the wind or else, until 2012 when my motion alarms started to go off sometimes two or three of them at the same time every now and then during night time.

The first time of this experience it was very scary.  Being in the house just by myself is not a laughing matter.   I thought, there is someone inside the house, but when looking at the tv screen for the cameras, there was no sign of intruders.   Since I don’t have a camera in the second bedroom, I thought, they got in through the bedroom window; they are inside the second bedroom.   I got out of my bedroom prepared to shoot the intruder(s), but nothing; there was no one in the bedroom or the house.

By the second, third, fourth time I began to think something is going on in this house.   The time passed by and I got used to hear the alarm going off, checked the tv screens before leaving my room always prepared to shoot, checked the house and find nothing.

It is been quiet since I had to go back home in January 2013 (California) for a health issue that was solved (we think).   The alarms are not going off since.

I looked it up in Wikipedia, and this land used to belong to two tribes, the Jacome and Jano Tribe.   I wonder if the previous owners did not like me building in their land but by now they like that I raise chickens, plant some trees, grow veggies and respect nature as much as I can…

I have more stories about WOWW with the smell of perfume outside the house (I don’t use them), waking up always around 3:00 am with some estrange feelings…

Oh, about premonitions dreams?  Those are my “normal” since I was little.

Thank you for your time, I appreciate your column…

Strange story…have to cogitate a spell, on this one.

If you have encounters with the weird (other than my typos) please send them along to

Be Appalled, Be Very Appalled

A tip of the hat to Madison Avenue Mike who put us onto the story that the “Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth.”  A Tyler Cowen piece in the NY Times “Upshot” section, worth a look.

Not that it is “hot news” however:  Report from Iron Mountain, War is a Racket, and all those sorts of things.

The larger problem is simply this:  We don’t have enough jobs and our leaders are mostly power-tripping megalomaniacs. Although I was having an interesting conversation with elder daughter Denise who pointed out that in professional circles, narcissism is now being seen as closely related to autism which is really a serious concern for another article.

Lest you think this view (running out of jobs) is crazy, please notice the ComputerWorld story about an American IT worker having to train his H-1b visa holder replacement.

About here, the I-Ching inbox demands I read an email from reader Luther who’s an IT jock himself:


As an IT worker, this is an issue that really sticks in my craw. What IT work has not been offshored has largely been replaced by H1b visa holders. For a number of years, wherever I have worked, the vast non-management workers tend to be visa holders from India. And it seems every year, industry complains that there are not enough visas available.

These visa holders are not out mowing the lawn or working in the trades, they are taking ( alone with offshoring) some of the best, and higher paying jobs in America. To me this is the real immigration issue, not Jose from Mexico mowing the damn lawn. However, Jose takes a job from a member of the republican base ( lower education/ low skills / lower income). The Republican Party has cynically taken advantage of this to throw red meat to the base. All the while they really support illegal immigration….. Keeps the payroll down don’t cha know. Nothing is ever said about all the good, high paying jobs offshored or h1b visas imported taking American jobs. Nothing. Zilch. But that doesn’t effect the republican base, and can’t be used as a cynical ploy. The problem? Jose speaks Spanish and not broken English/Hindi.

What the heck happened??? We Americans invented most of these programming languages and it systems. I find it hard to believe our universities are not training enough technical people.

When the political parties decide to address the glut of h1b visas, I’ll listen. But I don’t see that happening, because it will attack the major benefactor of the parties, corporate America.

My 2 cents

Back to point (eventually) While I have immense respect (and appreciation) for our US military, the wryrony is that the better the job of “killing people and breaking things” they do, the more rebuilding (and repopulating) is necessary after the face.

Which is why Pappy’s sage wisdom: “If you want to become a successful country, just lose a war to the United States…” is still as true today, as ever.

Shareholders love war.  Untitled humans don’t.

The Militarization of America

Oilman2 has some thoughts on point, what with all these police and sheriff departments getting MRAPS and tanks, and lord knows what else to intimidate the public:

The military and feds have been planning for insurrection since the 1970’s – that’s just a fact.

Government employees are terribly lazy and unimaginative – that is a fact and most everyone that has ever dealt with them knows this intuitively. The IRS has to call in their own specialists to handle any dispute with a taxpayer – because they do not even know their own code.

Have you ever taken the Civil Service exam?? This is the basis for employment by federal and state agencies. TSA had to switch to a lower caliber test to even be able to fill their ranks. Is it really plausible that these agencies have terribly smart people? Not really, but they do farm out work to some smart folks for good dollars.

I searched my name across every data collection bunch I could find. They have my address, but little else about me outside of my kids, and they still think they are living at home with me. Simply dumping bogus data into the morass that the internet has become works very well – like dropping bear scat behind you when walking the woods.

I do not have Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, blog feeds, etc.

I do not use my name except for purchases online, and then opt out of everything and send any follow up emails to spam.

Each 6 months I change my email and my name to both dump spam and get off the lists, except this account.

If you take a look at the so-called “Domestic Errorists”, they are led by the nose via various fed agencies and incited. This is almost universally done via Facebook.

The web sites like SHTF Plan, and other doomer porn sites have comment sections – if you think this isn’t low hanging fruit for federales, you must be terribly stupid.

If you make yourself easy and visible; if you love to join groups to feel better and validate your feelings; if you are on email lists for ammo or firearms or such and if you just can’t stop bitching online and commenting on every stupid move the Idiocracy makes – you paint a nice silhouette for anyone that makes even a cursory inquiry.

They are lazy, but too many Americans make it easy.

They are not terribly bright, but it appears that this is the normal American condition when one looks about online. For some unfathomable reason, people think they are invisible when they are on the internet – where did that crazy notion come from in this digital world? When hard drives replaced file folders and cabinets, most knew that data would be gathered there as quickly as possible to defray costs.

They have too much data, people that cannot connect the dots coherently unless the software does it for them, and they are jealous of sharing their information with other agencies – everybody wants to get the attaboy or up their civil service grade. In short, their communications are very fast but they suck at working together coherently for a common goal, even in a crises. They do not even use similar RF’s and protocols across agencies.

We outnumber them all, crushingly.

They exist on our taxes alone – without that, they leave like rats do a sinking ship.

Most are cowards down to their toes – when trouble happens, they are the first to the exit door – don’t be between the two or you could be crushed.

A larger percentage of them are psychotic or neurotic or paranoid than the general population – their own testing has shown that for decades.

I’m just not too worried…
Look at our foreign policies and their fruits. Look at the military that cannot do anything under budget or without morphing it into a caricature of the designers original concept. Look at NASA, NSA, NOAA – look at all of the alphabet soup agencies and just show me ONE – just ONE – that actually performs their job as effectively as similar private sector operations.
For goodness sake – they cannot even make a working commercial website for a BILLION dollars! NASA cannot come up with a workable Mars mission, even with the technology out there for 50 years and NOAA backs global warming, invented by that courageous and brilliant scientists, Al Gore.

Fear is just not a reasonable reaction when you consider these facts – at least for the intelligent and aware citizen. Disaster and TEOTWAWKI porn aside, nobody should be fearful unless you are wholly dependent on them for your food and water…


I was talking to my son, George II this weekend and he had a dandy remark that applied to a lot of people under 40,; these days…

“You think this scares me?  I date hot women and jump out of airplanes.  What else is there to be afraid of?”

Hmmm…he maybe got the cynicism gene from the Ure side of things.

It Was a Great Father’s Day

For two reasons:

1.  All three of my kids remembered and called.

2.  Not a single check request in any of the calls.

More Reader Feedback

Last week, I was wondering whether I should open up the discussion side of Urban…but then I got this very good email from a reader in India…

Hi George,

You said:

>The software that runs UrbanSurvival is capable of allowing for readers to post comments. I’m thinking about turning it on and wonder what your thoughts might be?

My recommendation is NO. Of the many sites I follow regularly, the only one where I always read the comments is John Michael Greer’s, because he moderates with a firm hand, and I’m sure it takes quite a bit of his time.

I much prefer your current approach of including the most interesting incoming emails within the body of your daily report, and commenting directly on them.

I think you would find moderating a discussion board a real time-sink.

And without moderation it would probably quickly become a swamp with a very low signal-to-noise ratio.

Fair enough, Jean-Philipe.  I’ll skip the interrogatories on how a Frenchman sounding fellow ends up in “sunny south India” since it’s probably a three beer adventure.

But the idea that it would increase time spent is really a fine one, and if there’s a way to do less work, well, I AM that guy.

I could go on and on, but I have a book to write and a server to build…same time, same website tomorrow….and write when you break even.