The Prepper’s Signal Kit: Line of Sight Equipment Suggestions Based on Requests

IMG_0601I get a lot of questions regarding equipment- its a common theme, as a lot of the preppersphere focuses on what to buy. As anyone who’s taken the RTO Course knows, the actual equipment itself doesn’t matter that much with some solid foundational training. One VHF analog radio, functionality-wise, does the same thing as any other VHF analog radio. Students are usually surprised by the neat things you can do with a few bucks spent in wire and electric fence insulators along with guiding hand. We wring the absolute most out of whatever you have. But that aside, I do have some suggestions for the prepper just starting out and the more seasoned survivalist who’s graduated to the jack of all trades phase. Since many folks are asking about current production gear, let’s talk about it- specifically, what gets the job done for the money, and what’s really good for a little higher end.

20160516_114710With that said I’ll state up front that buying a bunch of stuff and putting it in a bag or box and then never using it does you no good. You have to use your gear, whatever it is. Everything I own is used hard and heavy- not abused, mind you, responsible people care for their equipment– but used. I know the ins and outs of what I own, and you can be darn sure that if I suggest it, I not only use it, but I can show you the results. So for the folks that buy a case of Baofengs on Alibaba and then never take them out of the box, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Whether you’re buying a $20 Baofeng, a $200 Yaesu, or something somewhere in between, use your stuff and if it fails, you’ll know its limits. The next thing I’ll say is I definitely don’t require anyone to ‘be a ham’ or have any prior knowledge before coming to class. But having people to talk to is the most important part of the learning process, and like land navigation, marksmanship, and basically anything else, its very much a perishable skill. There is a learning curve to communications, especially emergency and field expedient uses, so having stuff just sitting around ain’t doing much for anyone. The unlicensed options out there, with the exception of CB, just doesn’t have much traffic and are mostly limited in what can be done. Even GMRS repeaters in most cases I know of are quiet- which may or may not be an asset to you. But having people to talk to does two things for us; it gives us a real answer to whether or not our gear works and it also allows us to branch out of our little bubble. So if you’re the guy running around screeching “I don’t need a license to learn!” you’re really doing yourself a disservice. I could care less what you do, I’m only here to help you make the most of your options; you either do it or don’t but don’t be shocked when heaven forbid you have to count on your skills that you haven’t worked on. It’s not like all these lessons are being repeated over and over in real warzones. Conversely, being in the licensed camp doesn’t mean we can’t or don’t use the license free options- I do all the time- and the flexibility of all the options gives us a broad range to use in our SOI and PACE plans in training.

And that brings us to what we can cross off the list up front. Preppers and Survivalists have to make use of gear in a general purpose sense; the more options available, the more flexibility, which in turn means more resiliency. Anything that doesn’t allow us to modify or build an external antenna should be crossed off the list. This is primarily aimed at all those bubble pack FRS handhelds from Walmart that make bogus claims about 35 mile range. You’ll actually get about a mile out of them on a good day. I really don’t like them for the same reasons I don’t like Dakota Alert MURS handhelds or anything that’s set to specific channels- there’s no modification by the end-user that can’t be solved much easier by just buying something else, so you’re stuck with what you’re stuck with. That means there’s no flexibility. And for those of you claiming that they’re so easy to use, that might be, but they’re also ridiculously easy to intercept and screw around on. You’re only left with a handful of channels to work with- that a guy with a scanner listening wit one hand and radio to jam on the other can exploit. It’s not all that hard to do- I did it with a really basic (and old) scanner. Most newer close call scanners and even frequency counters also display the privacy tone, so that’s a false sense of security. The only (somewhat) exception is CB, but CB shouldn’t be your only communications means anyway because its incredibly limited. Around here it’s basically useless, unless you happen to speak a Guatemalan or Norteno dialect of Spanish. Of course if you do se habla espanol, you can score a killer deal on some laying hens, so there’s that.

Local, Local, Local: Handhelds and Mobiles

IMG_1309.JPGOld timers will tell you the first radio anyone should buy is a mobile, which is the exact opposite of what 99% of everyone does today. It’s neither good nor bad, it’s only a reflection of where the market is. But the reason they suggest a mobile first is twofold- for starters, it generally puts out more power meaning more reliable contacts at further distances and second, it takes a little effort to get a mobile on the air. Not much, but a little. You’ll learn some things about power sources and coax, how to put up your own antenna, and have a shorter learning curve once you’re actually on the air. The other thing about a mobile is they have a longer duty cycle- meaning you can talk on them longer with fewer breaks to cool them down.

So what do I suggest as a startup mobile? If you’re just trying to get the job done, the QYT KT-8900 actually ain’t horrible. At under a $100, 25w on VHF, 20 on UHF, and 4 frequencies on the VFO (Variable Frequency Oscillator- the display), the small set works. And when I say small, I mean, it’s tiny. What’s very nice is that it fits in the dash of the truck and takes up almost no room, can be run off-grid from any 12v power source (as shown above) and it’s very simple to program with Chirp (see the sidebar for a link to download). But, like its chinese brethren, you’re not getting the best quality under the sun at this price. The VFO itself can act strange if scanning, the receiver is not the best in the world especially in the UHF range, and even though its not as bad as the first generation Baofeng, it does emit spurs. A step up in all around quality is to look for TYT’s version, the TH-8600, as it’s about the same size and waterproof for just a little more money. For about double the price you’ll get TYT’s quad band which includes 10 and 6m. We’ll talk about those in a second. And if you’re looking for highest quality with a company who backs their products up, look at Icom’s IC-2730.

Off the shelf signals collection. Run the old close call in the middle, add a loop to one, a Yagi to the other, and a buddy team can draw a bearing quick in the field.

But what about handhelds? Glad you asked. Since the de-facto prepper’s radio is the Baofeng UV-5R, and they cost somewhere between $25-35, there’s little reason not to own one for the simple fact that a large number of them are in circulation out there. There’s another, better reason to own one though- it’s an excellent test bed for homebrew antennas and a handful of other interesting applications for those who think outside the box. One thing that I do, as inferred by the pic, is to simply program it with all of the license free channels and set it to scan. So for $25, you’ve got a bubba detector with an incredibly long battery life. If you’re buying one, just stick with the UV-5R- the newer ones in my experience don’t offer enough improvement to justify any added cost.

After saying all this, the drawbacks are many and it’s not the first handheld I’d pick up to carry on patrol. If you’re looking for an HT that’s still on the lesser-expensive side of the house but is a huge step up in quality, look into the Quansheng TG-UV2. It’s still an analog dual band handheld, but it’s far more rugged in build quality, also has a nice long battery life, includes a rubber membrane inside, and still takes the rapidly-becoming-industry-standard Kenwood two prong plug, so all the Baofeng accessories will also work. I’ve been using one for over four years doing everything from hunting, property patrolling, coordinating range drills between teams in class, and bumming around on the local 70cm simplex ragchew. The receiver is actually excellent considering the low cost and mine makes a good foxhunting HT. The only bad thing I can say about it is the programmers from Chirp never found it, so it uses it’s own software. Don’t let that deter you from an otherwise good little HT. It’s on my chest rig right now, hooked up to an H-250.

mobilevyaesu.jpgIf you’re wanting the best, for a survivalist looking at jack-of-all-trades gear really only has one answer that’s current production. The Yaesu VX-6R. The only thing that came close in terms of versatility, Kenwood’s TH-F6A, has been discontinued. Yaesu’s little HT receives 504kHz-1000mHz, everything from AM broadcast to shortwave to FM radio to Aircraft and above. And while it’s advertised as a tri-band, do the MARS/CAP mod on it and you’re enabling 6m FM use also. On top of that, it’s waterproof and incredibly durable being mil-spec shock rated. So while it’s a lot more expensive than the low end options, it offers so much more in terms of versatility.

These two barely-used VX-5Rs were purchased for $25 each.

That said, some of the recently discontinued rigs are also very good and can be found lightly used- that TH-F6A being one. Yaesu’s earlier HTs, the VX-5R and VX-7R, should be at the top of your hamfest fleamarket list, offering the same capability as the VX-6R above but in the case of the 7R, an even more durable package and no need for a hardware mod to enable full capability. All of these were made for a very long time and can be easily found. Purchasing one, even as a general purpose receiver, should be on your to-do list. It adds capability to your arsenal of equipment and redundancy with your other communications equipment, while each being well built and well established in an aftermarket.

10, 6 & 220: Off the Beaten Path

We’ve been mostly talking about the most common equipment (that’s current production) off the shelf that works for getting the prepper up and running. It just so happens that 90% of the gear you find today is built for the 2m (VHF) and 70cm (UHF) bands. It’s the path most traveled and has the shortest learning curve as far as getting on the air. And while it’s still pretty easy to hide in plain site, in one of the recent RTO courses the class intercepted a conversation happening in the Blue Ridge, over 60 miles from our position. bandplan_vhfThere’s a lot of reasons for that which are outside the scope of this writing, but still, there’s simplex traffic out there. If you’re looking for relative quiet and to set up an analog net with only those your really want to talk to, take a look at 10m, 6m, and 1.25 aka 220mHz. 10m is very close to the CB band (11m), and provides good local coverage in rural environments similar to CB but without the channelization. 6m, or 50-54mHz, is known as the “magic band” because in the summer activity in the E layer of the atmosphere allows some very interesting long distance propagation. But as a useful local band, I HIGHLY suggest it especially in rural areas. Like 220, its underutilized mainly because of the success of 2m and 70cm repeaters, so you just don’t find much on the air. And this is an asset not just for the quiet spots of conversation but also because fewer people will be looking for you there.

But this is a gear discussion. We’ve already mentioned the suggestions for coverage on these bands above, but there’s a few other lesser-known choices. Wouxon makes the KG-UV5D, which is a 6m and 2m dual band handheld. It’s still a chinese HT, but they’re not awful. While I think for the cost better stuff can be had ($120 versus $170-$200 for the used multi-band options I listed above) they are out there for those seeking them- and they’re relatively simple to use sharing a lot of commonality with Baofeng’s user interface and all the same plug-ins. There also was (maybe still is) a 220 version of Baofeng, so if you’re looking to dive into that on the cheap, it’s out there.

Shack in a Box: Creating A Base Unit Anywhere

1005161506What if I want one thing to do it all? One and done. Well, the best option that’s still on the market new is the Yaesu FT-857D. It’s little brother, the 817, is hampered  by a 5w output and doesn’t offer much as far as local uses go over a good handheld or mobile. The 857 on the other hand offers the same functionality and power output of a mobile, with the added benefit of different modulation modes such as AM and the sidebands, along with a very simple digital interface. It’s an expensive investment, being right around $800 as of this writing (with another $200 or so for a tuner if you’re working on HF) but its money well spent.

Yaesu FT-897

Like all the other points contained here, browse the used market. Yaseu’s 897, the older and larger version of the same radio, can be found for a little cheaper on the used market. Icom’s IC-706 is extremely common, and it’s MKIIG version is the one you want to keep an eye out for. The IC-7000 replaced it with the same capability, while commanding a higher price. Like all Icom gear, the radios are incredibly durable and simple to use.

All of the above are simple to run off the grid, and although full-powered rigs can be power hungry, they’re still not bad if you’ve got a good sized battery bank and a decent means to charge them. In addition the 857 and 706. Even if you have no interest in HF at all, they’re worth having for VHF and UHF use just based on the ability to work sidebands and AM as well as listen to HF and shortwave. If you haven’t noticed, redundancy is a big deal to me, and for a good reason. It should be to you too.

At this point you might have more questions than answers, and that’s ok. Keep in mind, you have to first understand what the purpose of your station even is. Our primary focus here has been getting a general purpose station on the air using analog systems. Whether your purpose is community networking or getting an off-grid station up for a retreat, these are your common options in the wild which offer the most versatility on differing ends of the cost/build quality spectrum. Tactical use systems are different- and come with their own considerations. And these are all things covered in the RTO course, which we’ve got a couple coming up. There’s not another course like it offered anywhere, and it’s for everyone of all skill levels. Feel free to email me at [email protected] for more details.

We’ll see you out there.





43 thoughts on “The Prepper’s Signal Kit: Line of Sight Equipment Suggestions Based on Requests

  1. Pingback: Brushbeater: The Prepper’s Signal Kit – Lower Valley Assembly

  2. quietsurvivalist

    Shamelssly repost on Quietsurvivalist

    Great job, you think we’ll ever get through to the ones buying those POS Beofengs?

    1. Nah.

      But like I said, they’re a GREAT way to get into homebrewing experiments. As a cheap testbed, have at it. Or if someone’s just now getting their feet wet in the whole thing; kinda like buying a Rock Island 1911 before buying a Wilson Combat if one’s never shot a handgun. The “buy 50 and put them in a box” folks though… I wonder about. I’m not sure what they’re trying to accomplish.

  3. n2382

    Having seen the Quansheng TG-UV2 advertised on eBay at what seemed to be an excellent price, I often wondered about its utility. Thanks for the report. Panhandle Rnacher

    1. I love it. It DOES NOT HAVE DTMF. That’s the only drawback, which is really irrelevant for me, but it might matter to some.

      Of all the chinese radios, it’s the best one I’ve used.

      1. DTMF is useful for controlling and activating things from a distance. Add a DTMF decoder, and things in the field can send status reports. DTMF can also be used as part of a crypto system.

  4. Doc Raydio

    You didn’t mention that the FT-897D can accept TWO internal batteries – one charges while the other is in use. It will run 20 Watts on the internal battery or a full 100 Watts with a 13.8V supply (~90 Watts at 12V – YMMV). The only downside is that it is bit heavy in a rucksack.

    For a few decades I kept a bunch of (modified) FT-23Rs (and spare parts) in the event that I had to distribute them appropriately. Most are still running but are getting old, so I’ve been acquiring used FT-60Rs now. I’ve been picking them up at bargain prices with plenty of extras like speaker-mikes when they show up, and almost all of them are in like new condition. They are VERY rugged and have receive capabilities from 108-999 MHz AM/FM (with a small gap from 520-700 MHz). Sticking to the same model allows for cannibalizing parts to keep the others alive. I don’t own a single Baofeng or any of the other ‘disposable’ Chinese crap.

    I would suggest that people consider purchasing a cheap simplex repeater. Put an HT in an ammo can with a gel cell. Drill a hole and mount a waterproof BNC jack into the lid for an external antenna. Put it on a hill top and you can greatly extend your coverage area. I have an additional input for a solar panel if it would be beneficial when deployed. The idea is not for a permanent installation, but rather something to hide in the bushes in an AO if necessary.

    I always look forward to your articles – thanks.

  5. Mitch

    Well that’ll do as a reply to my email! Thanks brother. I’ve got a 6m shopping list in hand now. Great write up, now it’s time to get out and practice our skills. Really wish I could hit an RTO course this summer, but work canceled all vacation this summer and has my team traveling all summer for training. In the opposite direction no less. Maybe one of those wideband receivers should keep me company on the road.

      1. You’ve hit another one out of the ball park with this article.

        Speaking of wideband receivers; have you taken a look at the Anytone AT 3318UV-E. It’s a triband HT that receives longwave, shortwave, air craft band, FM broadcast plus it has cross band repeat built in. Not bad for a Chinese rig. About as close as we can get to the old Yaesu VX7.

      2. If I’m not mistaken, was that the one they were calling the Termin8r or something like that?

        If it’s in that family, they’re not too bad. They share a lot in common with the Baofeng chipset and layout which is a good thing.

      3. NC , the AT 3318UV-E and the Termin8ter are both made by AnyTone. The Termin8ter was specifically made for Anytone Tech an American company. Anytone’s build quality is now good enough that they make several radios for Alinco.

      4. I had heard that, but was never able to confirm it. That’s good stuff. There’s some good products from Alinco too. The DJ-X11 has some interesting uses that is the topic of an upcoming post.

  6. New&Learning


    Thanks for the excellent write up sir! 2 quick things:

    1. Are you following OH8STN’s channel / blog on his Man-Portable Emcomm field station project? It is pretty impressive and I think you would approve.

    2. For that project – he went with the 891 over the 817/857 because it includes TCXO and needs no additional filters. Obviously, giving up 2M/70cm but also seems to get you a better screen / menu system, modern DSF, and is $200 less.

    He also did current draw tests (find the youtube video) and it wasn’t NEARLY as bad as people claim. It is no 817 but definitely not 2A Rx draw.

    Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for reading! I’ve been by STN’s place a few times and I enjoy his work, as well as Fed VE3FAL. Both great guys. The 891, for me at least, has a few drawbacks including the lack of VHF & up. I think there’s better options still on the market for just a tad more.

      I don’t own one so I can’t comment on the current consumption specs. It’s size is definitely nice. But since I have no plans to replace the 857 that I have, it’s not in future at this time. Now if Yaesu actually got serious about upgrading the 857 with another shack in the box…that would get my attention.

  7. Prices on radios, you listed, as 05/18/18 in your discussion.

    Baofeng UV-5R $25.41 Amazon
    Quansheng TG UV2 89.00 Amazon
    Yaesu VX-65 265.00 Amazon
    Wouxon KG UV5D 115.00 Amazon

    Discontinued found on Ebay
    Kenwood TH-F6A 315.00 buy now or bid @175.00 – 2 days left
    Yaesu VX-5R 100.00 bid with 4 days left
    Yaesu VX-7R 225.00 Ebay buy now


    QYT KT 8900 83.99 Amazon
    TYT TH 8600 120.00 Amazon
    Icom IC 2730 359.00 Amazon
    Yaesu FT 8570 917.88 Amazon
    Yaesu FT 817 759.95 Amazon

    Discontinued found on Ebay
    Yaesu 897 910.00
    Icom 7000 700.00
    Icom 706 MKIIG 580.00 – 650.00

    1. Nice list- I’ll note that prices at hamfests usually are a little lower & negotiable, especially if you’ve got cash.

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  10. Bob

    What are those aftermarket antennas on the yaesu 5rs? How do they perform on 6m? Great work as usual.

    1. One is an MFJ and the other is an Opek. Neither function on 6. I use an short Maldol for 6m on my Yaesu VX-7Rs, but I’m only trying to talk over a very small area.

      If I’m being serious on 6, I use a groundplane antenna, also known as a Jungle Antenna.

      1. I was wondering about those antennas myself. I’ve been looking for a good triband antenna for the VX-5R. Any suggestions?

      2. On my VX-7Rs I use a Maldol MH-511 stubby duck. The reason I do this is I’m limiting the range on the 6m band (and the others too). In the field I don’t want my signal going far- maybe a half mile or so. I’m also carrying a jungle antenna cut for the frequency and a short run of coax to get far more range, if it’s needed. This is stuff I cover in the RTO course.

        Those long whips pictured are dual band 2m/440 antennas and don’t perform on 6. But if you’re looking for a longwhip on 6, look at the SRH-940.

      3. The factory antenna does ok in the field and I can dial back the output to reduce range more if needed. We used to have a lot of 6m repeaters in this area; but many have fallen by the wayside in recent years. So, I was looking for a long whip that actually works well to hit the few that are left.

  11. n2382

    Back in the day, my favorite wide band radios are the Micro Tel PR-700 followed by any of the many the Watkins Johnson surveillance radios with the capability do demod subcarriers. These fine radios were replaced by top end HP or Agilent Spectrum Analyzers with demod capability. To me these define the ultimate in wide band receivers. Any wide band receiver without the capability to demodulate subcarriers or follow rapid frequency hoppers are just so much boat anchor as the more interesting transmissions are usually well hidden.


    1. LodeRunner

      These days you can get a lot more bag-for-the-buck (and a lot more portability) with a decent SDR and a laptop than with the old HP bench gear. I own two SDR-Play RSP2 units – they are very well suited to portable work (durability as well as functionality), and I consider them an essential component of my intel/data collection system at this point.

      The RSP2 lists for only $169, and the RSP2Pro for $199. Electronically, both are identical in function and performance, the only difference is that the RSP2Pro has a metal case, whereas the RSP2 has an case made of injection-molded plastic.
      Both cover from <10Khz all the way up to above 2Ghz (2,000Mhz), have a built-in variable-gain preamp, and 10 automatically selected band-pass filters to prevent "ghosts" and "birdies" in the receive passband.

      SDR-Play just announced the SDR-Duo this week, which appears to be the functional equivalent of TWO RSP2 receivers in one package… I haven't had time to check any particulars on the RSP-Duo yet, but if it is as good as the RSP1 and RSP2/2Pro then I'm very interested.

      There's really no excuse when, for $500 or less, anyone who wants to can set up a decent SIGINT monitoring station – an RSP2, an inexpensive laptop, a few basic antennas, and a removable hard-drive (500GB to 1.5TB) for long-term storage/backup of your raw recordings as well as your various reports/products.

      And YES, save your raw recordings the the maximum extent possible – they're excellent training material ***and*** when you get a new/updated piece of software, you can go back to those -previously un-decodable- bits of signal and take another crack at them. Retrospectively, everything can be decoded… the key is to have the skills, experience, and disciplined (monitoring) presence to prioritize, capture, process, and disseminate as much useful information per unit-of-time as possible.

      Like so many other things, now is the time to be spinning up a team on this stuff – now, while the "unit-of-time" is the day, the week, and even the month. Because when things get sporty, an hour by hour reporting cadence will be normal, and your team will be expected to produce at that level.

      1. n2382

        I too like the SDRs as offering a lot of capabilty fairly cheaply.

        Anyone, please tell me if you own an SDR that will decode a subcarrier transmitter. Some will but I’ve never seen an off the shelf commercial model with this capability that are not intended for speciality diagnostic purposes.

        For those not familiar with subcarriers there are a multitude of good discussions on the web. Also you might want to have a look at orthogonal frequency division multiplexing. Thanks PR.

      2. LodeRunner

        “Anyone, please tell me if you own an SDR that will decode a subcarrier transmitter. ”

        It’s simply a matter of software for an SDR to decode subcarriers – some can be decoded directly in the SDR receive software, others will need to be “piped” to a program specific to the modulation type (and encoding) used. If you can be more specific with your request, I may have a more detailed answer.

        Software such as MultiPSK, RDS-Spy, RadioRaft, Sorcerer, etc., already exist and are able to decode nearly everything you’re likely to hear (deCODE, not decrypt…encryption is it’s own specialty), so the hard part is done for most transmission protocols, but you will need a “tech guru” to assemble all the hardware, software, and operators into a WORKING SYSTEM.

        As for OFDM, yeah – that’s a world of its own… but not beyond reach, for a group willing to invest some hardware, software, and training into their Signals group.

  12. nick flandrey

    I spent some time during our second to last big storm doing some monitoring…

    And I found that one person (me) can effectively keep track of about 4 agencies, if none of them are the dispatch channels. Those run constantly. The amount of traffic, across the spectrum, during any sportiness is simply overwhelming.

    I’ve carried an HT for work most of my life, and am pretty good at ‘radio ear’ and being able to monitor the radio while doing my actual job. In one position I was expected to use all FOUR of the radios I was carrying, while running a crew and doing a very complex job. It is VERY difficult to keep any situational awareness with a bunch of radios running during any actual event.

    Other than general awareness of activity levels or very targeted intel gathering, for the types of monitoring that most preppers think of (or those who might be part of a liberty movement team), you are gonna need a full time team of listeners who are GOOD at the job, to cover anything OPFOR doesn’t want you hearing.

    I think that the idea of decrypting or doing traffic analysis is VERY optimistic, to the point of almost irrelevance. This is especially true given that our local LE has moved (and is moving) to data driven comms, with no voice traffic at all while LEOs are in their vehicles. They use their “MDU”s (in car pc) for everything. Only when the SHTF do they fall back to voice in a meaningful way.

    For less sophisticated threats, mobs of bubbas forex, it’s gonna depend on how chatty they are. For sophisticated threats, from non-traditional directions, How’s your spanish? The narcotrafficantes have long experience with guerrilla comms, and coordinated field forces. If they are the ‘golden horde’ moving toward your AO, or operating there, intercepting the radio isn’t gonna help if you can’t understand the language. For that matter, how’s your Farsi? Xha? Or whatever they gabble in in whatever sh!thole the UN peacekeepers are from….

    I think it might be much more important to have the ability to automatically DF signals and plot them on a map, without any concern (or much) for content, so you can see traffic physically moving around you in near real time. Knowing that mobile units are moving at walking pace toward me, or that they are moving at high speed might be more useful in a high threat environment. [LEOs have this for blue forces already, check out ]

    A couple of networked SDRs in diverse locations and some software integration might do the trick…


    1. n2382


      As you realize, many comm nets are organized in an hierarchal manner from strategic to tactical with dispatch channels tending toward the latter. I agree that listening only to the tactical side can be uber confusing if only from the pace of communications during times rapid change. When listening to more than one tac net, often all turns to mush. The Traffic Analyst must be familiar with the organizations being monitored and dedicated to the purpose.

      There are a variety of automated df solutions with the more sophisticated using a time of signal arrival (or signal phase) to an array of precisely spaced antennas with greatest precision deriving from the more widely spaced array. Due to the small time differences in a common signal arriving at three or more different antennas even 100 yards apart, it is apparent that this methodology requires a sophisticated clocking mechanism (read expensive).

      Over the years there have been a number of automated df loop methods of tracking mobile transmitters using intersection methodology but even though simple in concept, execution requires some sophisticated engineering.

      At the lowest level of mobile signal tracking, humans man the df loop from known positions and relay signal bearings to trackers who then manually update chart positions.


      1. nick flandrey

        Thanks for the thoughtful response!

        The safepoint system at the link uses Time of Flight, and geographically dispersed antennas. I don’t know what they use for a time base, but there are very accurate and sophisticated systems based on GPS signals for network timing and billing applications. They are available on the secondary market (ebay.)

        There is so much power in small projects now, stuff based on SDR and razzberry pi, that some sort of safepoint like system shouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility…. but since I’m not building it, I’m only tossing it out there for awareness. There’s no reason safepoint couldn’t turn their system to tracking OUR emissions too. And heck, the only reason I know about Safepoint is a whole system came up in the surplus auctions here a couple of years ago…

        The monitoring situation has changed over the last couple of years. The push to get everyone on massive trunked and digital systems is mostly complete. The move to get the MDUs in every car is mostly complete. The former public safety UHF and VHF bands are very different now (during Harvey) than they were a couple years ago during the Tax Day storm and flooding. This time around I heard very little on most freqs and nothing on the FEMA interop analog freqs. I think you’d have to agree that Harvey was a big deal, and every swinging Richard with a radio was busy talking… and I still got very little. Analog voice is the fallback and there was traffic, but nothing like previous events. What I did hear was harrowing. One common intercept was hearing a radio call to have someone do a phone call. They know they are being monitored and would move to cell when they wanted privacy.

        All that said, any info is better than no info, any training is better than no training, any gear is better than no gear, and anything that advances any of those things is a great help, no matter why we are prepping.


    2. LodeRunner

      Nick, I agree completely – “you are gonna need a full time team of listeners who are GOOD at the job”, also agree on 4 or 5 agencies being the functional limit for one person monitoring voice traffic during busy times.
      And, while I accept your proposition that most encrypted VHF/UHF/Cellular traffic is beyond the reach of a typical individual “prepper” to intercept, decrypt, and effectively use such information; I don’t agree overall that “the idea of decrypting or doing traffic analysis is VERY optimistic, to the point of almost irrelevance” – it’s been my experience that one “Radio/Computer guy” with a decent amount of savvy can do the heavy-lifting to set up a very effective monitoring/decoding system; but then he needs to train operators, so he doesn’t get bogged down in operations but can remain focused on “the big picture” of the group and its operations.

      In any survival group the rule is simple: “everyone has a job to do, and every job needs doing”. The SIGINT and Commo functions give non-combatants the opportunity to be force-multipliers, increasing the survivability and effectiveness of their group.

      WRT Radio Direction Finding: Agreed, RDF is an essential component of SIGINT, but RDF is an art of its own, and should (ultimately) have its own team. Practical experience weighs heavily in the measure of an RDF operators effectiveness, so it’s highly advisable to train your groups 8~15 year old kids on RDF basics, and select the ones with “the gift” for more advanced training – same as you would with riflery, field medicine, etc., etc.

      Obliquely, but not off-point, is the fact that your “S2 Section” should also have a “map curator” – someone who takes all the intel your group obtains, and plots the relevant data on maps of various scales, along with a log of all Dates/Events which have plots. It’s essential to plot “baseline” activity of local agencies – where do crimes happen, where do units spend their breaks, which streets are most/least heavily traveled, etc. – so that operational planning has objective data for selecting routes and contingencies. This applies equally to the activities of gangs and religious/ethnic enclaves which may present a threat to your group, although those are (generally) harder to secure useful streams of intel from.

      The US Army has 5~8 support troops for every Combat Arms soldier. Maybe your group can cover it with a 4:1 ratio, without cutting corners… but you’ll never know if you don’t do the work. Again, everyone has a job to do, and every job needs doing. Assuming any sustained level of sportiness, your non-combatants are going to be just as busy, and probably even busier than your TAC squad(s). They need training, support, and infrastructure NOW so that they can be force-multipliers when the time comes.

      1. nick flandrey

        Thanks Loderunner for your thoughts!

        I guess it will depend on the nature of the beast whether it’s worth doing or not. During big storms I listen to get an idea of op tempo, what agencies are in the clear, where stuff shows up (sometimes in weird places- during Harvey the talkgroup normally used by the states attorney’s office was an interop dispatch group, iirc), what I can hear, who is loose lips, etc.

        During normal days, the school bus drivers are very chatty. They have road closure, accident, and personal conversations during their drive time. During Harvey, since they were using schools as shelters and school buses for transport, those talkgroups and freqs had a lot of traffic, and the operators were not trained in opsec. If it every comes down to rounding people up, as in “Don’t get on the bus!” time, I’ll bet that the drivers (whoever they are) use the radios in the buses.

        As noted elsewhere in the comments, there are a lot of ‘secondary’ sources that pop up for good info. Linemen, city traffic management, tow trucks, news agencies, they all are more likely to be in the clear, moving around, and chatty than the local jackboots…..

        WRT maps, this is something I have been looking into in depth. Our local city and county .gov puts an astounding amount of info online in the form of ArcGIS maps. Sewers, infrastructure, demographic info, policing info, nuisance complaints, property, building permits, disease instances, all kinds of stuff. Normally it’s available thru a web portal, but for the city stuff, it’s all also available as downloadable files. One of the many things on my list is to get an open source mapping solution up and running, and snapshot all that available stuff….. then I can add more layers (like where there are nifty transmitters and antennas monitoring stuff like creek heights, where there are solar panels, cable tv generators and UPS systems, etc.) This is the same sort of data that you see when you use the mapping app to see all the hams in your area, or the antenna finder app. SO MUCH stuff available now, just knowing what to look at is hard enough…


  13. Another great article NCScout!

    I have a Yaesu 817ND which I use when I am treking into the wilds of NE PA. In hindsight, I wish I had purchased the Yaesu 857D instead of the 817. The ability to TX at a higher wattage on the 857 Vs. the 817’s 5 watts is worth the extra ~2 lbs. Of course I could always add a linear amp but this would be a drain on my battery (s). Trade offs!

    Now with that written, don’t get me wrong now, I have made a bunch of contacts on the 817 using my QRP dipole antenna.

    You just need to pick the best tool for the job not unlike using 62 gr. 5.56 at 200 yards Vs. 77 gr 5.56 at 600 yards. 😉


  14. Bob

    Another suggestion for a write-up. I would be interested in your take on setting up a simplex repeater or a station for cross band repeat. This would be to cover extra distance or terrain obstructions between two stations using VHF/UHF.

  15. Brian

    Clearly some smart brains and good experience clutched in here – as always very informative. Common practice in an Ops room environment was to have two audio feeds – one to each earpiece – you soon get to train your brain to focus on the important net subconsciously picking up which one is crucial at the time. I seem to remember also having a whistle to blow so that you got the attention of everybody in the room if some big threat had popped up !

    I also ‘remember’, long time ago in a far away land, intercept and analysis of unguarded local taxi drivers gabble delivering crews to a dockyard in the process giving excellent prior warning of forthcoming ship deployments. Think of it like when you are hunting/ambushing in the forest – you might not be able to see the quarry but the birds in the trees do and you pick up on their alarm calls.

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