The 2021 Comm Academy will be held online this year on April 10 & 11, 2021. In the past this has been an excellent venue for learning more about emergency/disaster communications, especially with amateur radio.
Two days of training, talks, and information on emergency communications on this year’s theme: Disasters Here, There, and Everywhere – Are We Ready?
Headquartered in Seattle, Comm Academy is two days of training and information on various aspects of emergency communications. Organizations attending include:
All those interested in emergency and amateur radio communications are welcome. Learn, network, and share your experiences with others.
As it has in all of its 22+ previous iterations, the conference will feature expert speakers on a wide variety of topics, from radio and messaging technologies to communications techniques to tales from the “trenches.”
More than just a collection of online presentations, Comm Academy 2021 will be an interactive event, with participants able to converse with presenters and other attendees.
Ham Radio Crash Course has an interview up with former US Army Special Forces SGM, former Office of Global Affairs and founder of Fieldcraft Survival Mike Glover wherein they are Explaining Tactical Communications. The interview begins with an overview of SF communications and gear, but the moves in communication planning, PACE (primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency) planning, direction finding, comms preparedness and more. Mike Glover is also behind American Contingency, an organization designed to create a trusted network of support and teach people training they might need to survive in today’s uncertain times.
Amateur Radio operator OH8STN, Julian, talks about grid down ham radio and the recent Texas winter/ice storm and power outages.
Today we are talking about grid down ham radio communications, while the Texas power outage is fresh in our minds. This short film should add some much needed context about our grid down communications preps, training, and ultimately sustaining ourselves while supporting our group, during a grid down scenario.
Amateur radio operator and vlogger Julian, OH8STN, has a short post up on Effective Communications, especially in emergency communications.
As the field of content creators increases each day (a good thing), it is still important to separate the bull-hockey, from what’s real.
Here are two areas any preparedness comms related content creator, should be able to demonstrate:
How can we as a community, measure the effectiveness of our communications plan?
Are you able to get messages in or out “at will”,, without grid power, from any location, at any time of day or night?
The fact is, It may be a nice and fun to watch distraction, but we can’t bet our lives on buzzwords, the “I’m not an expert” disclaimer, or on content created solely for entertainment purposes. Preparedness communications related content should be educational, and MUST add value to the discussion. If it doesn’t, we certainly shouldn’t be modelling our own comms strategy, based on what we see in a staged video or post.
So how can we combat this? I believe most content creators come to this topic, with the best intentions. However, to keep us on the straight and narrow, it is important that you the readers, viewers, followers consuming this content, constantly (but politely) call out creators. Challenge us to explain, to demonstrate, to show the process of discovery, and to answer the questions “how & why?”. Any honest Elmer with good intentions will welcome the challenge, since it helps us improve our own communications preparedness, over the long term. Anyone showing resistance to this idea is probably just a parrot, emulating what he or she sees from those who are actually putting in the work.
A true measure – Someone recently said their comms gear was “effective”, because they were able to have a QSO with a random operator. An operator who probably did most of the heavy lifting, for the modest QRP station. In this example, station effectiveness is a misconception.
A random, unplanned QSO will never be an example of station effectiveness, unless that contact can be consistently repeated, any time of day or night, from any location, without pre-scheduling. This is our number one goal for EMCOMM & Preparedness comms.
This is the reason I don’t rely on Parks on the air, Summits on the air, RaDAR, or contesting field days as a measure of communications preparedness. They are nice as a method of practice for setting up or tearing down a field station, but not for preparedness. Even this might be a stretch, since these events are rarely done in poor weather conditions. We can tweak these events to make them more effective, for our own needs (recommended).
The reality is, Ham radio as a “hobby” is generally about meeting other operators by chance, over the air. In contrast, communications preparedness or EMCOMM is more about reaching out to a specific station, from any location, despite the time of day or night. Reaching that specific station is much more difficult, than having a QSO with someone you happen to meet on the air. We might not even know which station is “the station”, until we are knee deep in mud, trying desperately to get those messages in or out. When we can do this with a great percentage of success, we are on the right path.
So, make us work for your views. Content creators will thank you for it down the line.
What’s the key factor that has made humans the dominant species on Earth? Many would say it all comes down to our ability to use tools, dating back to the first time our cave-dwelling ancestors crafted a blade or smacked two rocks together to spark a fire. But that claim overlooks a much greater advantage: our ability to work together through sophisticated methods of communication. Enter the world of handheld radios.
As the English poet John Donne put it, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” We have succeeded through collaborating to build societies, and none of that would be possible if we hadn’t developed spoken and written methods to communicate with each other. Although television shows and movies often portray the quintessential survivalist as a grizzled lone wolf, totally independent of the crumbling ruins of humanity, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Alone, we’re vulnerable; together, we can support one another.
It’s critical to have a plan for emergency communication if something goes wrong, especially for those of us who venture out into the wilderness and distance ourselves from society. We’ve all heard the stories of lost hikers who wandered off-course or got injured in a remote location, nearly dying because they were unable to call for help. The irony behind these stories is that long-range communication these days is easier than ever before — our ancestors would be astonished by the capabilities of the cell phones we carry in our pockets. However, those same cell phones can lull us into a false sense of security. If your phone’s battery dies, its screen is smashed, it’s out of range of the nearest cell tower, or a widespread disaster has disabled or overloaded local infrastructure, is your only backup plan to start sending smoke signals?
Thankfully, there’s an inexpensive, reliable, and highly capable alternative to cell phones. Despite claims to the contrary, handheld radios are anything but obsolete, and while there’s certainly a learning curve involved, they’re not as difficult to use as you might think. In order to get up to speed on how to effectively use a radio in a survival setting, we signed up for an Intro to Emergency Radio Communication course hosted by Independence Training in Arizona. Guest instructor Ted Harden covered a huge range of topics, from the absolute basics of selecting a radio and making a distress call to more advanced techniques. Read on for an overview of some of the lessons we learned at this class.
Before You Get Started
We’ll begin with an important disclaimer — it’s essential to understand your radio’s capabilities as well as local and federal laws before you begin transmitting.
Harden made it extremely clear that it’s easy to inadvertently break the law with many common handheld radios (HTs), such as the Baofeng UV-5R used by most of the students in his classes. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has imposed fines of $25,000 or more on individuals who got caught breaking the rules, and serious offenses can even lead to jail time. Admittedly, the likelihood of getting caught by the FCC for a one-time infraction is minimal, since their investigators are primarily looking for corporations and “pirate” radio stations who illegally broadcast high-power signals on a daily basis. Improper use of your radio may also lead to contact from local law enforcement agencies — Harden says the Department of Fish and Game might monitor the airwaves to track down poachers, especially outside hunting season.
Above: Many handhelds come with a short “duck” antenna, like the one seen here. For an easy upgrade, replace it with a longer whip antenna.
Aside from the financial and legal ramifications, misusing your radio can interfere with important emergency services. In April 2017, an unauthorized radio signal triggered the tornado warning network in Dallas, Texas, causing sirens throughout the suburbs to blare for 95 minutes until workers cut power to the system. On a smaller scale, broadcasting on the wrong frequency can interrupt communications between EMS, fire, and police agencies who may be responding to urgent calls.
If you’re in a true life-and-death emergency, these rules can be bent or broken. In any other case, it’s wise to exercise caution and read up on the laws in your area before you buy or use a radio.
Understanding the Bands
The class began by discussing common bands, or segments of the radio frequency spectrum, as well as the radio categories within those bands. There are three bands you should be aware of: HF, VHF, and UHF. See the sidebar for definitions of these and other key terms.
HF is primarily useful for intercontinental communications, since it can bounce off the ionosphere to cross extremely long distances. This so-called skywave communication can be inconsistent due to changes in atmospheric conditions and is less useful for emergencies, since someone on another continent probably won’t be able to come to your aid.
VHF and UHF are our primary areas of operation, and each has its advantages. VHF’s longer wavelength is better at pushing through brush and trees in outdoor areas; UHF’s shorter wavelength is better at bouncing off buildings and other metallic obstructions in urban areas…
Discounts available for:
Early Registration beginning:
Military personnel (active or reserve)
Students (age 18 years or under)
Late registration at the conference is higher but very limited so don’t delay!
A buffet luncheon with a variety of sandwiches, salads, deserts, and beverages is included with your registration.
“What I think amateur radio people have going for them is their ability to contact people outside the threatened area when there’s no contact inside the threatened area and pass on messages of a health and welfare nature,” Mr Falla said…
Mr Falla believes amateur radio skills could become more useful with the increased likelihood of extreme weather events leading to power outages.
“Amateur radio is considered old fashioned; why would you want a radio when you’ve got the internet?” he said.
“We have proved this year that the situations in place right now aren’t adequate in the extreme.”
Mr Morley said there were some within emergency services in Victoria who were unaware of the skills amateur radio enthusiasts could provide.
“You have a lot of different staff coming in during emergencies, and while some people know what WICEN can do, probably many don’t,” he said.
Mr Gibson said the small size of WICEN NSW limited their ability to assist, but the work they had been doing was excellent.
“Since November 9, the WICEN group has completed 2,900 hours of radio communications, and that was only done by 30 members,” Mr Gibson said.
“WICEN, as a communications network, you won’t get any better.”
Today I’m sharing another video from Gil F4WBY, the Radio Prepper. The topic is disaster Communications. More specifically preparedness communications vs traditional amateur radio emergency communications. Gil does a very good job of going over the mission differences between Communications for preparedness, versus emergency communications for disaster relief. This is something we’ve all talked about on the grid down Communications for preparedness series.
It’s important to remember it’s not a competition. There isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be), a one or the other mentality here. Radio operator should be quite Versed in the guerrilla nature of preparedness Communications, in addition to the more structured and traditional emergency communications, as laid out by organizations like ARES. It’s a good discussion and one I think all of us should be watching.
Julian at OH8STN.org is full of useful amateur radio information. In the piece excerpted below, he talks about winter emergency communications and the difference between preparing for emergency communications when there is a large logistics tail on the move to support you and emergency communications in a long term or grid down scenario. Here’s a bit from Grid Down EMCOMM Winter Edition:
EMCOMM VS Communications Preparedness
There’s a huge disconnect between the yellow vest wearing emergency communications Community within amateur radio, and those seeking to learn and or develop skills for communications preparedness. They both have completely different methodologies, but they are overlapping.
With EMCOMM (North American Edition), we almost always have an expectation of a large Logistics deployment machine, deploying resources after the fact. Hopefully this will change after the horrific lessons of Puerto Rico.
With Communications Preparedness, our focus is grid down Communications in the thick of the disaster. There’s no Logistics, no one’s coming to help right away, so we are left on our own, getting information into and out of an active disaster zone.
Right now neither the EMCOMM community or the Communications Preparedness crowd are speaking the same language. They simply don’t understand one another. I suspect anyone reading this blog, or watching my videos has a firm grasp of both sides of this “Niche within a niche” as my friend John calls it. This disconnect between the two communities is critical for understanding and ultimately deployment in the field…