Dialtone: Camp Comms

This is an older post from the Dialtone blog. Camp Comms talks about taking your radio gear outside to practice, the reasoning being that in a disaster/SHTF situation you may very well not be able to operate from your home/radio shack. This can be a tough one. You can spend a lot of time and effort training and/or exhorting your people (whether mutual assistance group, neighborhood protection team, assembly, committee of safety, militia, etc.) to acquire and use their radios. Assuming they do so, they become comfortable using them from home. You encourage them to upgrade to an external/mast antenna. Some of them may actually get excited about their radios and start doing upgrades on their own and getting into more advanced radio equipment and modes. So now maybe your problem changes to no one having communication equipment to they have it, but everything is perfect at home and they don’t want to take it to the field.

While there is a good argument for having some decentralized communication hubs in your area, there is always the possibility that your SHTF situation may not allow you to operate from your home/shack/otherwise stationary location. That may be because of opposition monitoring, because it is necessary to have mobile scouting or defense, because your home in uninhabitable, or numerous other reasons. If you have to go out, what equipment are you going to use and how will you use it? NC Scout’s RTO basic course takes this into account by getting you out of the classroom and outside, at least.  But you need to spend some time in your own area and weather to find what is going to work. Better to know now, then learn by trial and error and error when your life may be on the line.

In the arena of grid down communications, wilderness plays a big part. In a SHTF scenario you will most likely find yourself operating outdoors at some point. With this in mind, your training should focus on operating in a less than perfect environment.


Many men lost there lives in this wilderness. …..

If you go outside and look around, you are sure to find somewhere you can practice your craft. It can be a park or maybe your friend’s woods? It may even be your backyard. Wherever you choose, get out of the house! Leave the comfort of your shack and go test your kit. You will not know what works for you until you find out what does not work for you! You need to work out the bugs now, not when the sky is falling. You can go camping and take your comms kit. Get your kids involved, set up a base station and give them frs radios to go “on patrol”.


On patrol. ….

The more comfortable you are with your gear in a real life situations the better off you will be. You need to be able to hike in with your gear. If it’s too heavy, now is the time to work it out. Most of the equipment we use lends itself to field ops, it’s light weight and small. Even a small gel cell battery and a CB radio will do the job.  Recently, I went into the woods with a set up just like that. I took my uniden 510xl CB, MFJ tuner a small gel cell battery and some wire. I was able to get comms established in a wooded area under approaching darkness. This is just an example, I could have used my Yeasu 817 or any other portable rig.


Field Kit: Meets mission requirements.

You should also be doing this with your monitoring gear. You can pack in a scanner/comms receiver and set up a covert LP (listening post). You perform the same information gathering, just in the wild.  Bugs, dirt and snakes brings out the best in people,  throw electronics in the mix and now you have a party…..

Read the entire article here at Dialtone.

Brushbeater: Developing, Exploiting Signals Intelligence

NC Scout at the Brushbeater blog has an article up, Developing and Exploiting Open Source Signals Intelligence, in which he discusses the types of information that you should be collecting now for your data books on local communication capabilities as well as foreign.  A third of Americans expect a civil war in the next five years. If a civil war indeed happens, then it’s likely there will be foreign meddling. It’s easier to find out information about capabilities now than during any hostilities.

IMG_1309…Back in the early days of this blog I wrote short blurbs about the importance of things called Data Books– which should be nothing new for veterans of more elite units out there and for Long Range Marksmen. But Data Books are not limited to recording Data On Previous Engagements (DOPE) on our weapon systems– it should also serve as a quick reference on a large number of topics for us as we operate in an area. Things that really come in handy, such as:

  • Flora and Fauna, both good and hazardous
  • Key Terrain Features, including Human, in the Area of Operations (AO)
    • Local gathering sites
    • Local persons of influence
  • Equipment recognition guide and data cards
  • Technology present in my AO

That last bit is critically important- there’s a reason every Intelligence agency has a technology analysis branch. We have to know what a potential adversary’s capabilities are, beginning with his principle enabler- communications. As I cover in the RTO course, advancements in radio technology being fielded in all areas is changing at a rapid rate. Civilian data in the US is publicly published. Even military data is not terribly hard- the specifics take some digging but glossing over but FCC Frequency Allocations gives a great starting point as to what can be found where. It might be a really good idea, and one I cover in class, to write down all of the license free band frequencies; you know, like the frequencies those MURS, FRS/GMRS, and Marine are actually on? That way if I happen to come across a group talking on 151.82mHz, I know know they’re on MURS 1 and can begin communications mapping of their capabilities.

Wait, what? Communications Mapping is not at all a hard concept- I listen for you, write down where you’re transmitting and a compass bearing (if I can get it) while also writing down any other pertinent information. Things like callsigns, male/female voices, times, languages, accents, emotions, the level of training, and if they’re even hostile from the traffic itself are all items that can tell us the level of organization (or lack thereof) of our adversary. And while it sounds simple, it takes discipline and training to execute correctly and to also remember- you’ll be on the receiving end of this as well

Read the entire article by clicking here.



Sparks31’s TECHINT blog post and his SIGINT class

Sparks31’s Police Scanner Workbook

Brushbeater’s Signals Intelligence Resources

Brushbeater’s SIGINT for the Small Unit

Forward Observer Interview with Sparks 31 on Communications Monitoring

Sparks 31’s Reference Material

Selco: Observe and Prepare for the Confusion, Panic, & Mayhem of SHTF

Numbers & Oddities frequency database and files

Electrospaces blog on SIGINT and telecommunication security

Sparks31: SIGINT and COMINT

Why such an emphasis on SIGINT, and in particular COMINT?

It is a good solution for two problems everyone needs to solve. The problems being a short and long term way to get useful information that you can then turn into tactical and strategic intelligence…There are many ways you can answer these questions. One of the easiest is with COMINT. Tactical COMINT is easy. It doesn’t take much to listen for interesting dispatch calls. Strategic is not hard either. It just takes listening and taking notes over a period of time.

AmRRON T-REX Radio Traffic

Following are some messages received via amateur radio for the AmRRON readiness exercise. Errors are as received.








And here you can find one participant’s after action report for the exercise.

AmRRON T-REX “News” for Drill

The following is made up “news” for the AmRRON readiness exercise being conducted this weekend (July 20-22, 2018).

The Pre-Exercise Breaking News and Pre T-Rex Message Traffic are used as a ‘build up’ to set the T-REX training exercise scenario. We are also providing resources to help you with your preps! We look forward to training with you! The “Grid Down” portion of T-REX 2018 officially begins Friday, July 20th at 1900 zulu.

Note: We will be simulating GRID DOWN for T-REX beginning at 1900z (12:00 noon pacific time). AmRRON Operators will be running practice nets using the Communications Signal Operating Instructions. Hope to see you on the air! 73!

///Exercise Exercise Exercise/// The AmCON level has been raised to level 2 due to overload of emergency systems.

The spread of Disease X has began to result in travel restrictions as the president has declared martial law and brought in the National Guard to provide quarantine in some large cities. Anyone who is planning to relocate to another location should do so immediately as the window of opportunity is closing quickly, possibly already closed depending on your individual location. Public areas and gatherings should be avoided if at all possible. Limit contact with individuals and do not consume meat products that have been obtained within the previous 3-4 months to reduce risk ofcontracting Disease X through the food supply. Avoid meats or use long-term supplies.  NC SIGCEN

Brushbeater RTO (Radio Operator) Courses Near Missoula, Sept. 2018

NC Scout of the Brushbeater blog will be holding his RTO course in Hamilton, MT (south of Missoula), on Sept. 8-9, 2018 and again Sept. 15-16. There will also be an advanced class held on Sept. 13-14.

EDIT: The 15-16th class has been cancelled because of a lack of sign-ups.

Click here for registration information.

The Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) Course is designed to take the individual of any and every experience level and teach them the basics of effective small unit communications in a field environment. Students will learn what it takes to set up a plan and implement communications in an improvised setting be it anything from a retreat to a security patrol to regional communications networking groups. A heavy emphasis of the course is on improvisation and antenna building- each student will construct antennas from improvised materials which they keep. This is NOT a “ham radio” class. No equipment or previous experience is required; only a notebook and a good pair of shoes. It is the only course of its kind offered anywhere, in a friendly, laid back and respectful environment.

This class will teach students the basics of communications at the Team or Squad Level in the field. Topics of instruction include:

  • Identifying Equipment Requirements
  • Writing a Signals Operating Index
  • PACE Planning for Communications
  • Basic equipment capabilities
  • Traffic handling
  • Improvised antenna types, uses and construction
  • Setting up and running an NVIS HF station
  • Message Formats
  • Setting up and communicating from a Hide site

Two day course will culminate in an field training event running a TOC station and Hide site in the field. Students will each build an antenna and demonstrate competency in team communications basics during the field exercise. Amateur Radio license qualification is helpful, but not required. This is NOT a ‘ham radio’ class but each student will come away with a basic understanding of a team’s communications needs in a tactical environment and how to best meet them under less-than-ideal circumstances. No equipment is required for this course; however, if students want to get field practice with their own gear, it is highly encouraged but done so at their own risk. Instruction is completely off-grid.

RTO Course: $300 per Student in advance or $350 at the door

The Advanced Course picks up where the RTO Basic Course leaves off, with training focused on:

  • Advanced SOI/CEOI Planning
  • Planning & Coordinating Transmitting Sites/Directional Transmitting
  • Uses of Resistors and Constructing Directional Wire Antennas
  • Data Bursts
  • Advanced HF techniques
  • Basic Signals Mapping and Communications Intelligence

Advanced RTO Course: $300 per Student in advance or $350 at the door

$50 deposit required for the in advance class prices by August 15th.



Brushbeater: Montana RTO Course and Other Admin Notes

Near Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) Simplified

NC Scout has a new article up at American Partisan about NVIS radio communications. If you were confused by some of the terms used in our Suggested Radio Equipment for Community Security article, this has some additional explanation of line of sight and beyond line of sight communication as well as, of course, NVIS which was briefly mentioned in that article.

HF radio wave propagation can be shot nearly straight into the Ionosphere, hence the name Near Vertical Incidence. What goes up, must come down. Knowing that all things have equal and opposite reactions, the angle coming down is also nearly vertical. Then it goes back up, and down again, and over and over. Like this:

Near Vertical Propagation

And it gives you a range Beyond Line of Sight, at the tactical level, like this (minus the TACSAT in the photo):

Tactical Coverage of NVIS Comms

With a regional picture looking something like this (which goes along with Planning your Footprint) pictured below.

Washington DC
Regional Coverage Using NVIS

So what does this give us? We now have Beyond Line of Sight Communications that do not rely upon repeaters. Once operators are decently trained and have a good amount of time working in this method under their belt, it can be very reliable.

Important to note is that not all HF bands work well for this. Generally speaking, 160-40M work best due to the way the frequencies themselves refract off the ionosphere. Experience as a Radio Operator should tell you when to use which band based on noise level, the amount of heard traffic, and beacon propagation near your operating frequency will give you a good idea if your traffic will be successfully transmitted or not.

Click here to read the article in its entirety at American Partisan.



Near Vertical Incidence Skywave Communication: Theory, Techniques, and Validation by Fiedler and Farmer (pdf)

Suggested Radio Equipment for Community Safety

Several people have asked what our recommendations are for radios; not only amateur radio equipment, but also scanners and shortwave monitoring. Communications are a vital aspect of our every day lives. Communication will be just as important, or more so, in a disaster or emergent situation. Having reliable equipment relieves the end user of much frustration and could be a life saver.

First, a very brief discussion of radio frequency is in order for those readers who have not made any study of radio previously. Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation which moves at the speed of light from the transmitting antenna. This radiation takes the form of electromagnetic waves. Higher energy waves have a higher frequency (number of waves per second) and a shorter wavelength (distance between each successive wave peak).  Lower energy waves have a lower frequency and longer wavelength. Frequency is measured in megahertz (MHz) or millions of waves per second. Different portions of the entire frequency range are grouped together and given shorthand names to aid in their discussion.

Electromagnetic wavelength

The portion of spectrum which interests us for purposes of this article runs from approximately 3 MHz up to 3,000 MHz. This range has been grouped into three sections.  High Frequency (HF) runs from 3 MHz to 30 MHz. Very High Frequency (VHF) goes from 30 MHz to 300 MHz, and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) runs from 300 MHz to 3,000 MHz.

HF is primarily used for long-range communication. HF signals are reflected from the ionosphere which allows them to propagate beyond the horizon. HF signals may take several reflections off the ionosphere and off the earth to travel great distances. This kind of atmospheric reflection is referred to as skywave propagation. VHF and UHF are considered line of sight frequencies. VHF and UHF are limited to distances not much greater than the distance to the horizons, assuming no obstructions to the line of sight. In certain atmospheric conditions, VHF signals may be reflected by the atmosphere, allowing for greater range, but this happening at UHF is exceeding rare and neither should be relied upon for communication. Most VHF/UHF signal propagation is direct wave or surface wave propagation, and reflection.

HF Skywave Propagation


VHF/UHF Propagation; Direct wave, Surface wave, and Ground reflected wave

Continue reading “Suggested Radio Equipment for Community Safety”

Sparks31: Monitoring Exercise

Sparks31 put up a couple of posts on running a monitoring exercise (MONEX) designed to use basic radio receiving equipment, get you experienced in listening, test your gear, and give you an idea of who is operating in your area and their frequencies. The first exercise in part 1 uses a portable broadcast FM radio and the second an AM radio, which just about everyone has. These are exercises that you can do on your own and only require the ability to receive. You do not need a license to receive radio communications.

MONEX Part 1

MONEX Part 2

MONEXes (Monitoring Exercises) are important because they help you understand what your listening equipment is capable of doing, they help you improve your skills in both COMINT and OSINT, and they help you figure out what frequencies in your area are useful for keeping an ear on events. Communications monitoring equipment is not something you can purchase and toss in a go-box for when the balloon goes up. You need to get proficient with the equipment before the s[tuff] hits the fan. Information gathering is as important a survival skill as firearms proficiency, or growing your own food. MONEXes are the way to COMINT proficiency.


Consolidated Frequency List (pdf) This contains a long list of to whom various frequencies have been allocated for use. (H/t Sparks31)

Brushbeater: The Prepper’s Signal Kit

NC Scout at the Brushbeater blog has an article up discussing recommendations for line of sight radio equipment – that is suggestions for VHF and UHF transceivers.

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.

Click here to read the entire article at Brushbeater blog.

Brushbeater: The Brevity Matrix

NC Scout at the Brushbeater blog has an article up about using brevity codes in your communications and how to do it. These are like amateur radio Q-codes or police 10-codes, but tailored to your own needs. Here’s an excerpt from The Brevity Matrix.

20151013_153203…[O]ne of the common questions I get is regarding the length of the reports when they’re sent. If interception is a concern, and it always is, how do we shorten this up or obscure it to the point of being useless to listen to? There’s a few answers to this question, including going high tech/more complicated/more expensive with equipment, more efficient antenna construction for directivity, and finally, creating a BREVMAT.

A Brevity Matrix, or BREVMAT, is a randomly generated series of codes that are commonly understood by your group and shorten the transmission. In the amateur radio world we use Q codes, and 10 codes are the most widely known in both the CB and public service realms. Like I state in class, what you and your group do is up to you- if the basics are observed and everyone is on the same page, then it’s not wrong.

remote setup.jpgTactical BREVMATs are created and included in your Signals Operating Index (SOI), they are recycled each time the SOI changes (which is usually a set period of time, and for missions, mission-specific). This information can then be encoded into a One Time Pad (OTP) message and sent to higher analysis and control element (ACE) if coordinated over a region.

The following is a sample BREVMAT sent in by a very well seasoned reader (it’s much appreciated my friend, stay frosty) and a template for you to follow:

Continue reading at Brushbeater by clicking here.

Sparks31 Releases Commo Book

Sparks31, a frequent internet writer on emergency communications, has released a new book titled Commo.  It is available in print and as an eBook on Lulu.com.

Hardcopy – http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/commo/2…

Digital (Free Download) – http://www.lulu.com/shop/sparks31/commo/ebook/prod…

Sparks31 has previously written Communications for 3%ers and Survivalists and also Down-Grid Communications.

Follows an excerpt from the introduction:

Imagine, for a moment, that right now the grid goes down, either accidentally or by design. Would you be able to:
• Communicate with family members to determine their safety/well being, and have them initiate contingency plans?
• Alert and mobilize the members of your group?
• Collect intelligence information to find out local conditions?
• Collect intelligence information to find out the geographical extent of a disaster or similar event/situation?

Now lets go to the actual present, our status­quo dystopian reality. Are you able to:
• Communicate with family and group members in a manner that minimizes your footprint?
• Collect intelligence information to find out local, regional, national, and worldwide conditions/events via alternative means?
• Minimize or eliminate your surveillance footprint when necessary for privacy reasons?

Communications skills in a down­grid situation, meaning both now and in an uncertain future, is an essential survival skill for anyone interested in maintaining control over their own destiny. You don’t need to be an electronics expert, although your group or tribe will
certainly need one. You do need to have a certain level of
knowledge, dependent on your aptitude and general skill­

Brushbeater: Integrating Inter-Team Communications Into Your Kit

NC Scout from Brushbeater blog has some good notes up on Guidelines for Integrating Inter-Team Communications Into Your Kit.

The cornerstone of why you need communications in the field is unit coordination. Teams must have a way to relay what they see and update the situation to other partner teams in the field and to a command location. This is what’s known as Inter-Team Communications and should be thought of as your lifeline for the Small Unit. One of the topics briefly covered in the RTO Course is how to integrate squad-level commo gear into your kit. After training with several groups I’ve noticed that this normally is an afterthought, so it’s something that I address through demonstration of my own gear during the second day. While I don’t require anyone to bring anything to class other than a notebook, pen, comfy shoes and a good attitude, on the FTX there is a little bit of team movement and scratching the surface on Small Unit Tactics (SUT) that I cover elsewhere. There’s a lot of reasons I do this, but its mostly to prove to the student they’re effective with almost nothing.  Everything else is an enhancement to the skill they’re building. Basics never change, and proper adherence of the basics will get you through most situations. The point is not that its an SUT class- its that you’re using your training and gear in the intended environment and showing me that you can apply what you just learned. An RTO (Or RATELO for you Marines) is a critical element of the small unit and as a recent Scout class learned, can be the hardest job on the Team. Together we lay the foundation and provide a context, so that everything else becomes easy and you can add to it to suit your group’s needs. Among the takeaways through a hands on approach is how to integrate Inter-Team communications efficiently into your own personal Second Line or ‘Deuce’ gear (also known as ‘kit’). One of the biggest issues for those looking to conduct patrolling is how to effectively integrate basic communications equipment into their patrolling kits- there’s a right way and a less-right way, centered around making life just a tad easier while moving tactically…

Click here to read the entire article at Brushbeater.

Brushbeater: A Few Notes on the Current ‘Happenings’

From NC Scout over at the Brushbeater blog comes his musings on current happenings, the non-event of the coincidentally timed annual MARS-ARES interoperability radio exercise, doom-sayers, North Korea, and instability in our own government. Here is an excerpt from A Few Notes on the Current ‘Happenings.’

Wild times we’re living in. And a lot of uncertainty coupled with real reasons to prepare. A big part of that is being well informed. There’s good stuff out there and a lot of well meaning people, and then again there’s a lot of throwback fear mongers and blatant disinformation that people should really know better than to pay attention to. Don’t believe most of what you read and only about half of what you see. Pretty good rule, right? One of the reasons I started this blog, all the way back to the beginning, was to point out some simple codified ways for Right-leaning folks to a) collect & verify information and b) share it sans-grid. In fact one of the first things I wrote was how to do so for Sparks31’s old blog [a re-run of that post can be found here] So naturally, as its gained attention over the past couple of years, things come across my desk that inspired the whole reason for me to begin writing in the first place…

Click here to read the entire post.


Emergency/Tactical First Aid Class

Full Spectrum Training

Forward Observer

Why Small Team Tactics

Is This What You Call Being Prepared?

ARRL: Radio Amateur on St. Lucia Relays Hurricane Reports

From ARRL.org, Radio Amateur on St. Lucia Relays Reports of Hurricane Devastation on Dominica, a reminder of the usefulness of alternative communications methods during a disaster:

As “potentially catastrophic Hurricane Maria” is headed for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Frans van Santbrink, J69DS, on St. Lucia checked into the VoIP Hurricane Net to relay damage reports he gathered via repeater conversations with hams on Dominica, which was hit by Category 5 Hurricane Maria.

He recounted a damage report from Kerry Fevrier, J69YH, in Roseau, Dominica. “Trees down, river has flooded half the village, cars are all over, most houses have lost their roofs or are destroyed, the area between his house and the church is just flattened…in his words, ‘devastation is total,’” van Santbrink told the net.

He also heard from J73CI, who has lost his roof; J73WA on the northern end of the island, who lost his tower and was uncertain how he was going to weather the back end of the storm, and J73MH, who also lost his roof and was “just hunkering down and hoping for the best.”

Click here to read the entire article

ARRL: Emergency Net Active in Wake of Central Mexico Earthquake 9/20/17

From arrl.org, Amateur Radio Emergency Net Active in Wake of Earthquake in Central Mexico.

The FMRE National Emergency Net has activated on 7.060 MHz following a magnitude 7.1 earthquake in the central Mexico state of Puebla at 1814 UTC on Tuesday. The net also uses 3.690 MHz and 14.120 MHz as well as IRLP reflector 9200, channel 08.

The epicenter was some 75 miles southeast of Mexico City, which felt the temblor. Preliminary reports indicate a lot of collapsed buildings and missing people.

The FMRE net has been handling traffic to make up for the loss of some cellular networks, FMRE President Al Tomez, XE2O, told ARRL. The earthquake came 32 years to the day after a 1985 magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck the Mexico City, killing some 9,500 people in and around the capital city.

Just one week ago, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck off Mexico’s southern coast, killing more than 60 people and causing considerable damage.