OH8STN: Zero Dependency Winklink

Justin, OH8STN, has a good post up about emergency communications, talking about Zero Dependency Winlink, or using communication modes that don’t rely on other grid-up resources like the internet.

Recently having a discussion with Dean K5MPG about Winlink Radio only networks. This topic is so important, I thought to turn my responce to his email into a blog post, albeit with a bit more context.

In emergency communications and communications for preparedness, we see the usual blogs and youtube vids talking about repeaters, winlink gateways, DMR, DSTAR, Fusion, … All of them are excellent for what they were designed for, but also heavily dependent upon the internet in some way, based of course on how we use them. They certainly work for simplex comms in a grid down, but with severe limitations. On VHF/UHF there is also a finite number of these services available, or in range of our stations. These are fine for soft events or “after the fact”, once grid power has been restored. This is the risk we take when basing our communications plan, on infrastructure dependent platforms. Not right or wrong, just not as robust as they could be.

Another approach, and one which brings the majority of hate to the channel focuses entirely on HF communications. Unlike its VHF/UHF cousins, HF communications has little to no dependency on infrastructure. If fact, other than station power, there is barely any infrastructure dependency at all! What we are talking about is Radio Only Winlink Networks. Networks with no services dependent upon the internet, not on cloud servers, and networks which can adapt to changing operational variables DURING THE DISASTER!

For personal preparedness communications, nobody gives a monkey butt about “disaster relief” while the hurricane is ripping the roof off, or forcing us away from our homes. That’s not a knock against emergency services, just a part of the puzzle which until recently, has been ignored. Disaster relief is what comes after the storm has passed. It is extremely important, but not until later. Most of us still require a layer of communications during the storm, after it has passed, and before emergency services arrives in the region. Even when disaster relief is on site, their equipment will be used for their own logistics and communications. Not for finding out where your loved ones are. This is where personal communications for preparedness becomes important. It is the layer which allows us to get in touch with family, friends, or coordinate meet ups while primary infrastructure is still down, congested or somehow unavailable.

MPS settings can be found in Winlink Express under Hybrid Network Settings. These settings allow a station to set primary secondary and a third alternate station to pick up messages, without connecting to the CMS.

The last week of March 2021, Finland had a emergency grid down communications training exercise. The exercise focused on creating a Winlink radio only network to handle message traffic, WITHOUT “any dependency on the internet”. Winlink Radio Only networks are not using cloud based services to store email for retrieval. Instead they act more like store and forward hubs, forwarding and storing messages on a primary MPS, secondary MPS, or a Third alternate if one is configured. This means messages come in from their senders, are forwarded to the recipients configured MPS (Mail Pickup Station) where they are stored. The recipient then retrieves messages from one of the MPS stations he or she configured. This works just as it would from the CMS, only without the need for the internet. Even if one of the configured MPSs go down, messages can still be retrieved from one of the others configured mail pickup stations. These mail pickup stations also synchronize mail between themselves, routing messages between them, when receiving a message intended for a recipient registered to another hub. It is actually quite ingenious.

History has taught OH-Land that some or part of the grid will eventually go down. This will happen either from a mishap, attack, or from mother nature showing us how small we really are. This is odd since OH has a reasonably robust infrastructure. Still, experience has shown us the need to augment traditional means of communications, is real. A need which can fulfil disaster relief, personal preparedness, or augmenting communications for regional services alike.

We augment traditional commercial communications methods , with slower but more robust HF networks. Networks which are able to adapt to a fluid situation. For this reason many operators in OH-Land participate once or twice a year in grid down comms practice, on a national level. This is a deployment and operation of a radio only hybrid winlink network, routing traffic correctly, discovering any weak points or bottlenecks in the system, testing peer-to-peer connections, …. There are a combination of radio only hubs set up for collection, dissemination, and temporary storage of messages. Outside connections to individual stations are still possible through any remaining gateways, or in the case of Finland through gateways in bordering countries. Although Chat and file transfer mechanisms over HF were not tested, I do hope individual radio operators find interested partners to test Vara Chat for file transfers, and JS8Call for near real-time tactical communications, stations tracking and to augment asynchronous messaging. https://www.instagram.com/p/CNFms6PDmsH/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=13&wp=500&rd=https%3A%2F%2Foh8stn.org&rp=%2Fblog%2F2021%2F04%2F05%2Femcomm-and-comms-preparedness-zero-dependency%2F#%7B%22ci%22%3A1%2C%22os%22%3A1199%7D

From a personal preparedness perspective, this should be our goal! A dynamic network made up of hubs. Some of them permanent, others field deployable as required. Then augment the hybrid radio only network with other tools like JS8Call for tactical comms, along with Vara chat for file transfers without unnecessarily congesting the hybrid network channels. This is how we build a robust communications layer, whether for emergency communications, personal preparedness or as a partisan communications network over HF.

I first discovered Radio Only Winlink messages by mistake. I sent a radio only message (by mistake) to an OE station, which actually made it through. We talked about how that was possible for weeks. I understand technically how it worked, but still find it amazing.

IMHO, Radio only email is most effective for “regional “communications, when “hubs” can find a path to one another. Naturally “regional” in HF terms can span multiple countries, so we need to zoom out a little in comparison to VHF/UHF. The more hubs deployed, the the more robust our network. Still, once we start crossing plains, oceans, … it becomes more difficult. Even so, this is the beauty of HF. In part, it is also why my own focus is on NVIS/HF comms, over the infrastructure requirements of VHF and above.

Recently I mentioned on Patreon how the channel is stepping up the technical content once again. One of the projects mentioned was the RMS gateway. Since Dean brought up that topic, I suppose it is ok to let the cat out of the bag. The goal is to deploy a Radio Only network hub for the Northern Gulf of Bothnia region between Finland and Sweden. Naturally it will also route winlink email to the CMS, but that is a secondary function. In our world, many operators mistakenly believe Winlink works like Google mail, eg cloud based email server and storage. It certainly does have that cloud component, but it also has a robust network layer, based entirely on moving email along from hub to hub, until it reaches the Mail Pickup Station the mail is addressed to. I am hoping this change in direction will inspire other operators, bloggers and YouTubers in setting up their own “fill in” stations whether VHF/UHF or HF.

ARES, RACES and the like have this part covered, but Survivalists & Preppers often focus on buying gear, protecting gear, maintaining gear, … We rarely if ever see any videos or blogs about “deploying services”. There is talk about AREDN networks, which are very infrastructure intensive, but a nice attempt at recreating a fast, wide area network. Like VHF/UHF services, I’ll have to pass for now! My personal belief and strategy sees a basic traffic net as a critical requirement, before we start sharing “Nice to have” naughty videos over 5Ghz links. (I digress).

Bottom line, and the reason for the post.
Radio Only Network would work extremely well, if more of us put up our own Radio Only Hubs to pass messages through the network or on to other networks. If we start providing services to the network rather than just consuming resources from the network, we can create a much more robust radio only system. This approach will end up being more valuable to everyone. Think of it as a grass roots radio only traffic net. One which adapts to adding or removing hubs, balances congestion, and easily adapts as it grows or contracts. This as opposed to simply consuming resources as a user eg repeaters, gateways, … all of which have weaknesses most of us already understand. This is where the channel is headed!

Xiegu G90 oh8stn

Today we have good choices for reasonably priced low current draw, CAT controllable rigs like the Xiegu G90. We can combine them with any one of the increasing number of micro computers on the market today. Add a battery, solar power or wind generator, and we have the makings for own Hybrid Network Hub.

Let’s get off grid capable together!

Julian oh8stn

American Partisan: Water Purification in a Grid Down Situation

Lisa Vargas of I Need That to Prep has written a two part article at American Partisan on how to purify water in a grid down situation. Have safe water to drink is one of the most vital things you need to survive.

Water Purification In A Grid Down Situation – Part 1 (purification)

Water Purification In A Grid Down Situation – Part 2 (filtration)

An excerpt from the second article appears below:


In this post, we will focus on ways to filter water as opposed to ways of purifying water.  As you learned in Water Purification in a Grid Down Situation – Part 1 the first article of this series, I posted; purifying water and filtering water are two different things.

If you are stuck in a situation where you don’t have clean water readily available, it is vital to know these various ways to either purify, or at least filter the water so you don’t get extremely sick, or worse.

Filtering water is similar to purifying water except that we are using physical barriers to get rid of dirt and grime in the water as well as bacteria and other microorganisms.

Remember, filtering water will not get rid of as many microorganisms as purifying water, so if you can, always boil the water after you have filtered it for extra protection.

In a survival situation, I’m always a big proponent of talking about the items that we can carry with us. High-quality water filters from a store will ensure that no harmful pathogens or microorganisms are getting into your drinking water.

But sometimes using store-bought, high-quality water filters might not be an option, unless you remembered to include a water filter in your bug out bag.

Meaning, if we are in a grid-down situation, you need to be able to utilize the things you have with you, or you need to be able to find items out in the open that you can use to pre-filter your water.

Filtering Water With A Cloth

Using various types of cloth to pre-filter water is going to be your best bet in any survival situation.   You can use socks, t-shirts, or anything that is cotton and tightly woven together.

You simply will pass the water through the cloth into another container in order to filter it.  This will remove many of the particulates and debris that you don’t want to drink.

One device that makes filtration super easy is the Millbank bag.  You can get one at Millbank Bags USA. They have a fantastic video below that shows step-by-step exactly how to use the Millbank bag to filter water.

It’s very simple and easy to use and is a perfect backup just in case something happens with your main water filtration method.

But just in case you don’t have a Millbank bag or something similar, I learned a great trick from an ex-military helicopter pilot that works wonders.  He showed me how to take a pair of old jeans, run one pan leg through the other, then use a zip tie to close off the bottom.

In this way, the old pair of jeans acts like a makeshift Millbank bag.  You can also use a primitive version of the Millbank bag which essentially is a cloth bag used to make nut milks.

You can add layers of sand and activated charcoal (if you have some in your bug out bag) in the sack to help filter the water.  You can learn more about making a homemade charcoal and sand filter here.

Once you’ve filtered your water, don’t forget to boil it if you can to make sure the water is 100% safe to drink…

Canadian Prepper: NASA Engineer Discusses EMP and Grid Down Events

In this video posted by Canadian Prepper, NASA engineer and author Arthur T Bradley discusses some grid down and other SHTF events about which he is concerned. Dr. Bradley also has his own video channel (and website) where he discusses preparing for EMP and other preparedness topics. The video below is supposed to be the first of a three part series.

California Power Outage Commentary

Canadian Prepper has a video up discussing some of the aspects of the planned power outage of many Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) customers in California – around 800,000 customers out of power by my last reading of the news. Many people are unprepared for the outage, and news sources show that many are unaware of how much in their daily life relies upon the power grid operating. Canadian Prepper discusses a little bit about why outage is happening as well as addressing the various “theories” floating around about it being a government test or a grid down test.

CalFire recently updated their communication plan and excluded amateur radio as a resource with the belief that other technological solutions have made amateur radio obsolete as an auxiliary service. As a result, many amateur radio repeaters will probably start to disappear as the financial support for them to remain in the antenna sites where they are currently located dries up. While this outage is relatively short, it will be interesting to see how communications are or are not affected and, if these planned outages continue into the future, whether any degradation of emergency support communications becomes apparent.

Amateur radio operator and off grid communications blogger/vlogger Julian/OH8STN also has some commentary on the outage and Canadian Prepper’s video.

I spend an enormous amount of time talking about off grid Communications, and Communications in a grid down scenario. Today many Californias find themselves, in an artificial grid down scenario. These Californians are without grid power, after PG&E shut down the grid for liability and safety concerns. These type of things can happen anywhere in the world. One positive aspect of situations like these is what the rest of us around the world, can learn from them.

The last video I did in the grid down Communications for preparedness series, was focused on emergency backup power for communications. It seems only fitting that I’ll share that video at the end of this post.

The Canadian prepper just published an excellent video, discussing the California Power Outages. I’m sharing that video here: Nate discussing the Massive California Power Outage: What’s Really Going On?

I often “feel” no matter how many videos we make on this topic, or how ever often we try to spread the word, people still believe they won’t find themselves in a grid down scenario. People say it’s too expensive, too complicated to this or that. Perhaps you’ll simply start with a renewable power source for your Communications gear.

San Francisco Chronicle: ‘I’m Overwhelmed’: PG&E Power Outage Leaves the Ill and Disabled Struggling

CBS: This is ridiculous: Residents Fume Over Power Outage

In an unprecedented move, nearly a million people have had their power cut in Northern California. The state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric or PG&E, is trying to prevent its wires from sparking wildfires, but that move is sparking anger.

The power outages began early Wednesday as California residents loaded up on essentials for what they say is a “man-made disaster.”

PG&E has been forced to shut off electricity to customers because a forecast of high winds and bone dry heat is expected to put pressure on its aging and faulty infrastructure. It is a desperate attempt to avoid what happened in November when sparks from power lines ignited the fire that tore through the town of Paradise, killing 86.

Ron Blasingame lost his power at 2 a.m. and he could be in the dark for days…

OH8STN: Emergency Power for Communications

Amateur radio enthusiast, blogger and vlogger OH8STN (Julian) has posted the second video in his Grid Down Communications series. In this video he addresses peoples’ concerns with how they will keep their communications online when the grid is down, including batteries, solar generators, solar panels, and other alternative power.

OH8STN: Grid Down Communications for Preparedness

Amateur radio enthusiast, blogger and vlogger OH8STN (Julian) has posted a video on Introduction to Grid Down Communications for Preparedness. As he says, planning for a grid down scenario covers around 99% of the scenarios that a person may face (earthquake, pandemic, civil unrest, etc.) Julian covers a lot of useful information in the video, not just for amateur radio operators but anyone trying to prepare to communicate in such a scenario.

Here is the first video of the series:


Suggested Radio Equipment for Community Safety – but there is no “one size fits all” communications solution as pointed out in OH8STN’s video above. Julian’s video discusses some of the assumed background information of this article in more detail. This article discusses the equipment that is working for the LVA.

Sparks31 Introduces Basic Grid-Down Communications Class

Sparks31 has introduced a new class which will debut in Watertown, CT – Basic Grid-Down/Down-Grid Communications (combined with his SIGINT class). Sparks will be bringing some classes to Washington state (including Yakima and Seattle) in 2019, and hopefully this class may be added to the lineup. Communication is critical in a disaster. Can you still communicate with those you need to if the internet and phone system go down?

This is a one-day class that covers all the basics you need to set up your monitoring post, collect signals intelligence (SIGINT), get on the air with amateur radio and personal communications services (FRS, GMRS, MURS, CB, Part 15), and establish communications networks and interoperability with other like-minded individuals.

Topics of instruction include the following:

  • Learning about Electronic Communications – A Primer
  • Communications Monitoring HF-to-UHF
  • Intelligence versus Information
    • Intelligence Requirements
  • SIGINT – Signals Intelligence
  • Listening Posts and SIGINT Operations
  • Communications Services
    • Amateur Radio
    • Part 95 & 15 (license-free or “license by rule” services)
  • Communications Networks
    • Interoperability – What it is, and how to make it work.
  •  Increasing System Performance
    • Antennas
  • Grid-Down versus Down-Grid Realities
  • Basic Crypto Systems and When It Is Legal to Use Them
  • Alternatives to Radio Communications
Cost for this class is $100. Please enroll via our storefront at https://squareup.com/store/sparks31/.

American Partisan: Medical Care When the Lights Go Out

An American Partisan staff member who is a surgeon has written Who’s On Call: Medical Care When the Lights Go Out about the basics

…We tend to think of collapse scenarios as abrupt, but through history they have often occurred in slow motion. One could argue that our health care system is already in a state of partial, ongoing collapse, especially since 2009. Anyone currently working in that sector knows it, as from a boots-on-the-ground, practical standpoint the PPACA may have actually reduced effective access to care and utilization and has engendered a rather unique set of patient and provider survival skills for the prevailing medical landscape that share commonality with the grid down world. The most important of those are mental, emotional and psychological. Long wait times, restricted access to providers, high deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses, third-party bureaucracy, system consolidation (i.e Aetna + CVS) and increasing use of non-physician providers (not a denigration of them, so please no hate mail, I love my NP) are all potential barriers to care that have parallels in the austere environment. Developing skills for self-care and outright avoidance of the system are increasingly necessary, as things are inexorably getting worse, and it’s not just domestic. The Gray Lady just outlined slo-mo collapse of health care in China.

Primacy of basic, mundane grid-down issues such as water purification, sanitation and disinfection cannot be understated. They are the three most important areas to address; dismiss them at your peril. Grid-down medicine, like all things military and surgical, is mostly boring and even mind-numbing. It’s not all sexy trauma stuff. Most of that will leave you dead. While the products of human violence will most certainly be faced, failure to provide clean water, properly address latrinage, and keep wounds clean will kill many more than bullets and bombs. Monsoon rains after the Haiti earthquake led to a cholera outbreak (traced to Nepalese relief workers) that killed thousands. Dysentery is a big inflictor of suffering and death after disasters. Modern trauma care is very complex, needful of extensive resources and still can not prevent all death. In a grid-down world, my specialty will likely be reduced to Civil War-era skillsets: draining pus and amputation…

Click here to read the entire article at American Partisan.