Field Phones, Community Networking, and thinking in Three Dimensions

phonebunker.jpgA lot of what has been written on this blog communications-wise revolves around the radio, primarily due to the fact that it’s both the first option for most and the least understood by nearly everyone. While the fact is indisputable that radio or wireless communications make for the bulk of signal plans, it is also indisputable that wireless communications are the least secure means of communication. Yep, you read that right. Radios make life easy, but they also can make the opposition’s life easy too.

But I’ve bought digital frequency hopping triple secret squirrel encrypted radios! I’m good! Right?

Well, kinda. While you may make many inroads to protecting what is said, you’re still creating a signature. And while this may protect you from 99% of adversaries (the ‘golden horde’ from Asheville) a determined baddy with it out for you can figure out your S6 plan with patience. Smart folks wait for the attack; we sit back and look for the other player at the table to tip the hand. They may have something simple like everyone’s favorite, the Baofeng, or maybe a couple cheap CB radio handhelds, spring for a couple MD-390s, or even pick up some used Motorola Astro Sabres on fleabay and an old hacked program for them. Each can be very capable in the right hands with someone who knows what they’re doing, directional wiresuch as building a 2m dipole for a Baofeng and transmitting directionally to a known point. This will mitigate who hears you. MD-390s with their digital configuration will deter the average listener, as will an Astro Sabre, but someone with a frequency counter and/or Wideband receiver such as an Icom R5 or R6, AOR AR-mini or Alinco DJ-X11 will still be alerted to your presence and get a bearing if they’re trying to find you. And the Frequency Hop Spread Spectrum can be broken if a really dedicated smart guy gets wind you’re using it.

So are you telling us all this stuff is useless????

No- not at all. The broader point is that your radios are tools. Tools require knowledge of use, regular practice, and implementations for a purpose larger than simply having them. The knowledge of use is lacking (normally) among most civilians, and the regular use is (normally) lacking by many aside from emergency services, hunters, truckers, boaters, aviators, and radio amateurs who make use of them as tools. But even then, aside from the amateur community (and a couple other rare exceptions) most of the knowledge is gathered from a plug n’ play mentality. It’s not wrong, it just is what it is. Most of the audience doesn’t have the time or the resources to research building an SOI, learning propagation paths or creating a signals package and practicing it in the field, and most Hams are too busy working from the hobbyist perspective to think about making it work in a tactical environment. Even ARES is simply concerned with disaster relief and bends over backwards to be little else. And that’s ok, because again, it just is what it is. That’s why I run this blog; it’s the intersection of all of these skills. But tools each have a place- just like hammers, just like saws, just like weapons- radios have a place and limitations. In order to make best use of them, say, for tactical and survival networking purposes (which are two very different things), it’s paramount to understand what those limitations are and where the holes manifest themselves in your plan.

So from the community networking model, is using a radio bad?

Well, we’ve identified radios as having at least one weakness, being that it’s easily intercepted or can quickly give away a position of the transmitter to a committed foe. But is this always a concern? No. There’s two different paradigms to think within, being Survivalist and Tactical. While Tactical radio uses are an animal unto their own (and covered exhaustively in past posts), Survivalist-oriented communications must focus on networking with others to pass along whatever information is necessary and not restricted to threats. This may be exclusively your retreat, your community, or your region with HF coverage, all limited only by what your needs are once you’ve identified them. Think of it the same way we used to use telephones. Following a PACE plan (primary, alternate, contingency, emergency), rapidly creating your own infrastructure and redundancy of that infrastructure can be done rather easily using radio, be it a bottom-of-the-barrel Chinese HT or a very expensive Icom or Yaesu base unit, all according to need. But it does not exclusively solve all of your problems.

Sometimes you don’t want to go wireless- just the opposite, actually.

ta-312-pt-4In certain situations, field phones are much more advantageous. For fixed Observation Posts at a retreat, linking Hide Sites to reduce our electronic signature when out and about, or hardwiring a couple of close houses together if say, you have an elderly neighbor or relative close by, incorporating field phones into your plan can have many advantages. For fixed OPs, like the fellas in the bunker above, working with a closed loop system keeps things extremely secure, provided you have 100% control over the linking wire. In a security retreat, you have this (or should, if you’ve done it right). Among a small rural community, it’s pretty easy to do as well and used to be very common. Between hide sites in a tactical sense, carrying a field phone in the ruck and several hundred meters’ worth of wire (or claymore wire as I did) works very, very well. I’ve used everything from twisted pair wire to speaker wire and lamp cord, and they each work.

Field Phones are pretty common. You can roll the dice and buy them cheap from online surplus outlets, buy newer US made models such as the TA-312 pictured above (my recommendation) which frequently show up at hamfests, or you can check out this really cool project by a fellow Patriot and Outside-The-Box Thinker which close-loops an everyday off-the-shelf office phone and takes it off the grid for several interesting field uses. The big advantage to those is that they look like common everyday phones- most folks, without prior knowledge of what they are, would completely overlook them.

Not to go off on a tangent regarding their implementation, but the person who introduced me to this particular phone system and helped develop it posted information on it to a very well known ‘survivalist’ forum and in doing so pointed out the prevalent issue with such sites; he was met with ridicule, told his system was ‘no good’, ‘unsecure’, and ‘useless’, with each ‘expert’ giving their own opinion (all of which actually were completely useless, spouted by no doubt useless individuals, of those that were even relevant). Long story short, if you control the infrastructure, you control the tool, and the same is certainly true of a system as simple to use as field phones. But one must recognize that it is but a single tool, part of a larger plan, and has its own limitations.

Thinking in Three Dimensions

The most common fallacy for most is adopting a ‘one size fits all’ approach to communications and to survivalism in general. This is a large mistake most of the community makes, be it signal, weapons, food, water, or even building materials. All of these items are tools- different hammers for different jobs. Just as you don’t eat freeze-dried food all the time, it’s supplemented with normal food stuffs and canned food (Because you do have a pressure canner and are actively canning and putting up food, right?) While it is critical to constantly red-cell your equipment and plans (Ask yourself: How would I kill Me?), never limit yourself to the fallacy of thinking ‘well this works now, so this is just what we’ll do.’ Plans constantly evolve. Equipment needs constantly evolve with training and experience as well as sometimes changing at a moment’s notice from necessity. The key is being as flexible and as redundant as possible, while knowing the strengths and limitations of everything of which your plans make use. Wireless communications are great, convenient, and rapid in deployment, however with cost in regard to security in most cases. For rapidly creating infrastructure in a community, having a supply of simple radio sets contains distinct advantages. To those who make the argument, ‘I don’t wanna talk on the radio to people I don’t know’, resolving METT-TC issues (mission, enemy, time, terrain, troops, civilians- AKA, know the people around you) might prove extremely beneficial. In addition, implementing field phones and operating within their intended use compliment an S6 plan quite well. Think about adding a couple to your inventory, while you have the time, and think outside the box while doing it.

18 thoughts on “Field Phones, Community Networking, and thinking in Three Dimensions

  1. Good to see that you included hunters among those who use radios.
    Communicating via handheld radios in the northern Rockies you learn the limitations real quick.
    We used many models from many manufacturers trying to find what worked best.
    That was an ongoing project when I had to move back to Ohio due to a family emergency.
    I wish I would have paid more attention to what the boss was doing,as he had radio communication with the ranch house even when we were a 3 day horseback ride into the wilderness. The trail head where we parked the horse trailers was 15-20 miles from the house.
    All I know is he strung wire up in a tree sometimes in between two trees,usually worked first time,once in a while he took it down and made something different.

    1. Antenna, antenna, antenna.

      You’d be quite surprised what a low power HT and a good antenna are capable of- The Jungle Antenna especially.

  2. Great stuff again, cuz. I wish there was a networking and learning community to get real hands-on practice for us newbs. Set up a seminar ftx once a month…I’ll come and bring a date.

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  4. Gospel regarding the PERCEPTION of security through Crypto/COMSEC/Digital/Etc.

    I’ve had to personally crush hopes and dreams on some of those.

    Through personal observation, certain digital protocols come across like white noise, or intermod on analog. The closest example I’ve been able to find is:

    Which is cool. But you can’t stop the signal.

    Keep it secret. Keep it safe.

      1. Another sacred cow that needs skull-stomped:

        Predicating your preparedness against the lowest-common denominator, or by underestimating anyone who means you harm is an excellent way to prepare for failure. I had to slap some sense into some folks regarding the above as well.

        I refer to the phenomenon as, “Striving for Mediocrity.”

        This is always amidst, “but it’s good enough for…” or, “what are the odds of…”

        Hypothetically speaking, as you’ve indicated above, thwarting Bubba is a piece of cake.

        Thwarting Cmdr. Hang Yu Ded of the invading Peoples’ “Liberation” Army? That might be something which presents a unique set of circumstances which require a more robust SOI and application-process regarding communication TTPs.

  5. Keypounder

    Good article, NC Scout, I agree about the need for multiple comm methods.

    I have a number of sound-powered field phones as well as several TA312 phones squirreled away in some large ammo cans, and have prepositioned wire run underground in1/2″ pvc to possible LP/OP sites at each of my prospective fixed locations.

    HTs are for when you are moving around. Keep in mind that a sound powered phone can go an amazingly long distance even with Cat5 cable.

    Another viable option is the heliograph……

  6. Shane

    This all hit me like a flash when you were showing the potential of yagi antennas. After watching the presentation on software defined radio and yours I realized the potential all three would have. Software defined radio is great for finding the other guys out there and listening. With a yagi antenna you can find out which direction they are in.
    Radios with Yagis reduce signals to straight lines.
    And the field phones are secure as long as the wires are, ( patrolling of the property should include checking these wires) and with the solar ability it’s good to go.
    Tool boxes work best when full.

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