Had an interesting reader note come in: Basically asked if I could please do an article on communications (for the SHTF scenarios) that would be simple and no “diode this” and “Morse that…” Yup, guilty as charged. Why, if I got a dollar for everytime someone said “Ask George what time it is and he’s likely to build a watch factory” I’d have $5-bucks, anyways.
So sure…glad to help anyone who’s thinking ahead to helping others..
From the Top: Range Matters
Suppose the crappola machine really “goes off.” What will you need to know?
There are a ton of answers and it’s almost totally contextual – there is no “one size fits all” when comes to this mode of thinking:
- If you are retired and in the city, you need to keep an ear on what police and fire services are up to. They will be your first line of incoming information Have a city map and know that their problems can become your problems…. A good scanner in addition to listening to the local AM/FM stations and NOAA all-hazards radio (a separate article on scanners is coming).
- You have a family in the suburbs – they need to know where the marauding gangs are coming from…
- You live in the country. You need neighbors on comms up the road so your “reach out and touch” equipment is ready (ahem…)
The “local comms” to give away would be up to a dozen, or so, critical homes in your area. Two sets for two houses on each corner at each end of your block. Two for across the street and for the house behind you.
If you live in a coastal community within a mile of water, a couple of marine radios might make sense. Channel 16 is the marine calling frequency, but you can look up the bridge opening channels on NOAA charts (Channel 5 on parts of the Intercoastal, for example). Bridges going up can isolate places, too, right?
All these people will be you handing radios out to will be invited into a small community network. It’s not critial whether you use marine or FRS/GMRS (though GMRS is our choice.) CB’s like overdone and not as reliable.
Buy the five-pack of something like Amazon’s $87 Retevis RT27 Walkie Talkies Rechargeable Long Range FRS Two Way Radio 22CH Encryption VOX 2 Way Radio (Black,5 pack) which would do just fine, as a start. One radio on each (approach).corner of your block and one across the street and one behind with one radio for you to act as “net control.”
The big deal with this will be re-charging.
Power is the Problem
Let’s solve that, straightaway.
These five (or 10, or however many) short-range radios will last a good while between charging, depending on transmit time. That’s what eats power. Grind into your teams to “STFU unless you really have something to say.”
Even so, you’ve got to charge. For this, you will need four pieces (and some #12 wire, or larger):
- A large solar panel
- A “smart” charge controller
- A small inverter
- Some kind of storage battery
If you were rolling in the dough, a modest panel, charge controller, and inverter for each home which gets a radio.
For the individual home set-up?
- For the solar panel? $145 each for a HQST 150 Watt 12 Volt Solar Panel .
- For the Charge Controllers: $12 each for 20A Solar Charge Controller Solar Panel Battery Intelligent Regulator with Dual USB Port Display 12V/24V Upgrade to an MPPT type for more dough.
- For the inverter: $30 for a BESTEK 300W Power Inverter DC 12V to 110V AC Car Inverter with 4.2A Dual USB Car Adapter. Upgrade for a 1200 watt unit for (look surprised:) more dough.
- And for the battery: $170 may sound high for a Universal Power Group 12V 100Ah Solar Wind AGM SLA DEEP Cycle VRLA Battery 12V but this is a real battery…not one of those tiny ones in “chargings stations” (which tend to be expensive but not offer what this system will in terms of power.
We add this up to $357 per recharging station. Before upgrades. One for you and…well, how much do you want to spend?
BUT…and this is critical…this is enough power to do a hell of a lot more than just charge up a few radios. This is enough to recharge serious power tools and run some LED 12 volt lighting, too. Charge up the batteries for your night vision goggles…all that kind of thing.
OR, if you upgrade the inverter to a 1200 watt size, you can microwave for 15 minutes a day…
Triple size it and now you might run a small freezer.
OR have enough “spare” energy to run your long-range communications system.
Let’s buy one of those, shall we?
What are “long range comms?”
High frequency (3-30 MHz) single sideband radios.
Simple off the shelf suggestion? Hard to beat (for $675) an Icom IC-718 HF All Band Transceiver 100 Watts. If you know a ham, maybe they can “open it up” for you, so it will transmit on all frequencies, but you don’t want this in “normal times” because the FCC frowns on unlicensed operations. So do judges and wardens who measure out the time and fines…
Still, in a “worst case…”
You will also need an antenna. Something like a simple $80 MFJ-1778 G5RV Wire Antenna 80-10 Meters . Put the middle up as high as you can get it.
Also toss in 25-feet of coax cable to get from the bottom of the antenna “ladder line” that should be kept off the round and way from metal objects. Small LMR-240 style line like this works great. Not cheap, though: 25 feet is about $50 bucks, so don’t faint when you read in the specs and price of MPD Digital LMR-240-Pl-259-Uhf-Male-25ft Times Microwave LMR-240 Pl-259 HF/VHF/Uhf Coaxial Cable Ham or CB Radio Antenna Cable – 25 ft – with Polyolefin Cross-Linked Strain Relief.
While we’re spending money, let’s toss in some 3/16th’s Dacron line to pull antennas up into trees, shall we? $45 bucks for 3/16″ X 500 Ft Dacron Polyester Black Cord (6) which is enough for 2-3 HF stations.
The HF station can be “accessorized” all to hell & gone. But the one thing you might want to get (for receiving weather faxes (if they’re still up after stuff hitting the fan) and for digital HF messaging is a dedicated audio soundcard adapter for a laptop.
Something like Tigertronics SLUSB13I SIGNALINK USB FOR ICOM 13-PIN DIN is what you want.
One tip here, train your ops that the 718 does NOT mute the mic when using the 13-pin accessory port for data, so pahleez! Unplug the mic when using on transmit in digital modes..
What else? HF Software, look for FLDigi software and load that onto your survival laptop. Also PDF and keep (and print out) the Beginner’s Guide to FLDigi over here.
I am at constant risk when I write this kind of column of running off into the weeds on technical matters. But, this is what I think my inquiring reader was after:
- Local comms to give away to homes around you.
- A seriously capable power system (upsize the inverter to microwave popcorn and reheat coffee during the crisis!)
- And a very capable HF radio system with basic digital capabilities. If you remembered to download FLDigi and the manual. (It’s not hard to use).
The grounding of the radio to a solid RF ground system? Even that (when on emergency power, not AC mains) is of lesser import. Sizes of cable for such grounds? I like #12 or larger. Braided grounds are NOT better, which is why I keep a roll (of less-than-free) 1-inch copper strip to run real grounds.,
Pack some BandAids. I sliced the shit out of my left index finger a couple of weeks back. Bled for 2-hours, or so… (thanks, daily low-dose aspirin!)
We could talk abound standing wave ratios (efficiency of transfer from feedline to antennas is involved) and we could pronounce for hours on antenna tuners, and such.
But, my reader wanted a shopping list, so here it is.
If he has any money left over, take a look at the Icom 7850 50th Anniversary Edition. Sure, it’ll likely be in the $15,000 range, but hey! My birthday’s coming up, right?
Write when you get rich,