I had the incredible experience of being a guest on authors Glenn Tate and Shelby Gallagher’s Prepping 2.0 podcast and radio show, and along the interview we covered common issues that I see a lot of preppers just getting into communications have. Since I’ve been running classes for over three years now getting people up to speed, there’s a several issues I see repeating over and over. But fortunately in every case, the answers are more simple than you think.
Understand Your Real Needs
I always point folks to their primary needs- creating local infrastructure. We can’t really control much outside of our primary Area of Operation (AO) or Area of Influence (AI), but what we an do is work to build up local infrastructure within those areas. And if that’s all you can do, but you’re actively doing it, then you’re lightyears past what others are doing. This means VHF and UHF capabilities, which are both very common and pretty inexpensive for basic equipment.
What should I buy?
This is the first question most people ask. Its the same with guns, trucks, tires, and anything else you can spend money on. The answer I come up with in class is that its not the equipment, its the capability; that means frequency ranges. That $25 Baofeng UV-5R operates on VHF and UHF frequencies, both licensed amateur (ham) and license free (MURS, FRS, etc). It’ll work just fine with talkabout handhelds on the FRS frequencies should someone join your group and that’s all they have. With a few of those you’re able to stand up a local network rapidly, while keeping it simple enough to be effective and laying a foundation to build on if need be.
I highly suggest also having a higher powered mobile unit as a base. The QYT-8900 in the title pic has been serving me well for over a year with no issue, and its been in an outdoors shed and in my ruck the whole time I’ve had it. For its size and power output at 25 watts, it serves as the local base station while everyone else uses their handhelds to relay traffic. Costing less than $80 shipped, it is incredibly easy to run off grid with a sealed lead acid battery, truck stop coax cable, and an antenna you can build yourself for next to no money.
Start Humble and Keep It Simple
None of this has to be expensive, and often folks shut down when they start looking at the cost of more sophisticated equipment. It doesn’t have to be. For a basic homestead you can be up and running, equipping several teams for less than $300, equipment, batteries, and wires combined. Will it be the absolute best in the world? No. But will it work? Yes, absolutely. In the big scheme of things, keeping your equipment simple, actively using it and having a few spares will go further than blowing your budget on a $1000 rig and then never doing anything with it. That cheaper gear, along with equipping your local network and becoming active with it, works towards the end goal better than having one radio and nobody to talk to.
On that simplicity note, don’t get wrapped too far around the axle with numbers. Sure, we want peak performance, but at the same time we also don’t want folks to glaze over the second they have to do math. Because you’re the designated commo guy for your group, that means its your responsibility to bring the other team members up to speed, and you can’t do that by getting bogged down in the specifics. Their knowledge will come in time and remember, you’re not working with folks who are necessarily looking for a hobby, they’re looking for their equipment to work.
Don’t Overlook The Value Of License Free
This is an issue that is prevalent among Hams in the preparedness field- they normally look past the license free options out there (CB, MURS, FRS) in lieu of Ham-only options. The problem is that many folks are not going to come to amateur radio. That’s ok. If you’re standing up a local network, many will be turned off by the need to study for a test or really just not see the relevance. But if I go to my neighbors a few miles away and say “Here, take this radio and on Sunday afternoon be on this frequency for our community net”, they’ll probably be more receptive.
Now I say that with a caveat- license free stuff is what it is for a reason. It will only get you so far and in many cases you’ll have limited results. Being able to get on the air with the most options is really the best answer. But if the end goal is getting your group on the air and building that community now, focus on what your people are actually going to do rather than what you want them to do.
Stop Talking About It And Do It
Communications, just like basic rifle marksmanship, physical fitness and land navigation are all skills that have to be built and regularly practiced to get right. And you’re going to make a lot of mistakes along the way. That’s ok. It’s part of the learning process. But if you’re just reading about it, or simply talking about doing it, or the worst, buying gear and not using it, you’ll come up short when it counts. There is no substitute for experience.