One of the common questions I get before, during and after the RTO Course is “how in the heck do you remember all those different connectors?” Well, the answer is nothing more than repetition- I know them because I’m built so many antennas over the years and needed the various connectors you come to know what they’re called.
Its a good idea to have a large number of spare connectors and adapters on hand. If you’re making external antennas for your equipment, they’re an absolute must have item. And unlike pretty much everything else we make our antennas from in the RTO Course, they’re the hardest to source in a working environment, so knowing what they are and having a bunch on hand now makes too much sense.
The Cobra Head
A story I tell in class is exactly how I discovered the real name for what I always knew as a Cobra Head. The Split Post BNC Adapter, or BNC Banana Jack Adapter, is widely known to Army guys as Cobra Heads- in fact, I never knew they were called anything else and couldn’t find them for a long time after I got out. I found them at a Hamfest in a big tray of connectors and felt like an idiot when I was told what they’re really called. It didn’t matter- I found them.
Why they’re important is that its the easiest connector to use when building improvised wire antennas. We were given them by the bagful in the Army to practice antenna building, and I came to really appreciate it. Simply cut your wire, match the radiating wire to the red end and ground side to the black, loop it around and you’re good to go. If you want to get the most secure with it be sure to use some ring terminals to connect the wire to the connector. Attaching BNC coax can’t be easier and more secure…
NC Scout at the Brushbeater blog has a brief article up looking at some FARC equipment – A Modern Look at Guerrilla Radio Equipment.
Watching a recent media piece on the FARC, I noticed a few shots of their radio equipment they were using to communicate between camps.
Look familiar? Its a Yaesu 817 being run from a Sealed Lead Acid battery. Here’s a better shot:
Interesting layout by one of their RTOs:
The old 817 appears to be very popular among the communist guerrilla group, and if I had to guess (based on their geography) they’re using VHF single sideband and HF NVIS to relay camp-to-camp through the mountains where they operate.
I imagine they’ve learned a lot in the communications department over a half century of civil war, and it looks like they’re keeping it simple, analog and robust.
NC Scout at American Partisan has started a series of articles on antenna theory called Directional Antennas for the Small Unit. If you’re just getting started in radio communication, or you’ve been using it for a while but haven’t spent much time getting to know your antennas, this is a good start.
One of the biggest misconceptions behind communications security revolves around misunderstanding not just the role of the equipment but also how it functions. A big part of that is the basics of antenna theory. For most radio seems to be a plug and play kinda deal- it either works, or it doesn’t. Antennas are a type of voodoo magic and the solution to security is electronic encryption. Except it isn’t, and doesn’t do anything except mask what you’re saying, but not the fact you’re saying it. Guerrillas must rely on not being detected- and no matter how high tech you think you are, it’ll not solve a tradecraft issue.
The reality is that we’ll be working with equipment that is common and off the shelf- no matter how much we want those microwave NSA-encrypted troposcatter radios made of unobtanium, a big part of local networking is done via plain old VHF and UHF amateur and commercial gear that’s common. Guerrilla communications have to be harder to detect. And at the strategic level when building an underground network, you have to understand how to plan. Even with the cheap equipment most of you likely have, incorporating a level of planning into your local communications will yield a much higher level of security and success. Knowing and understanding directional antennas becomes a key part of that planning, and as we cover in the Advanced RTO Course, there’s several options that each get the job done.
Directional antennas accomplish two goals for us. First, generally speaking, if you’re not in the direction of the transmission you’re not going to hear the traffic. Because of this it offers a big advantage in the security department. If two directional antennas are transmitting toward one another, they’ll be able to communicate with the only people hearing the full conversation being in the middle of the two people. The second advantage is that instead of all our energy going in all directional at once, as with an omnidirectional antenna, a directional antenna sends the same amount of radiated energy in one direction- greatly increasing our range and signal strength in that direction, so we won’t need nearly as much power to accomplish to reliably communicate over a distance you might not have thought otherwise possible…
NC Scout has posted an article at his Brushbeater blog from one of his readers about how to generate true random numbers (as opposed to pseudo-random numbers and non-random numbers) for one time pad (OTP) encryption – R-Pi OTP/DRYAD True Hardware RNG How-To. It is lengthy and technical, but does a pretty good job of walking you through setting it up on a Raspberry Pi computer.
There are only three ways that I know of to generate a truly random One Time Pad – for the “regular guy”: 1) The old-fashioned way with a set of dice (preferably 10-sided) and paper/pencil; 2) purchase one of AmRRON’s ADL-1 units from AmRRON.com (https://amrron.com/2018/03/18/amrron-dark-labs-otp); 3) The following method outlined in this how-to. Maybe there are others. I wanted to come up with a way for anybody to put one together with easily available components. So here it is. You shouldn’t need to procure any unobtainium to build it. (It was valid in May 2018 when I first put this together. It should be fine as Raspbian Stretch is still the current distribution.)
The script will print either numerical or alphabetic OTPs. Besides the standard OTP generating scripts, also included is a script for generating a DRYAD-type table (it does not have the formatting options of the OTP script) and a special, limited-use/audience OTP script for split keys and variants at the end of this how-to.
This how-to also includes a procedure for building an SD card from scratch purely for the production of secure OTPs. Prior to that is some helpful info for those who are interested. If you wanted to build a good OTP generator, then this is for you…
NC Scout at American Partisan has a short article up on Caching with PVC. You may be caching things at a favorite camping spot, remote cabin, bug out location, practicing geocaching, or for another reason. Here’s how to keep it safe and find it again when you need it.
PVC is one of those things no survivalist or prospective guerrilla should be without. It’s one of the most versatile items you can have around a retreat, being used for everything and anything including hydroponics, water routing and storage, shelter frames and even in one case from a student in the RTO Course, a ladder rack on his truck. It was really cool- and really well done. But one of the most common uses I have for PVC tubing is making caches for anything from weapons, ammunition and communications support items to basic sustainment items like extra knives, fire making tools, ponchos and tarps or medical items. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it though, and it’s not as simple is stuffing things in a tube.
One of the big advantages of using PVC is its simplicity. With a larger diameter pipe, a rounded end cap and a screw-in cleanout cap you’ve got a basic water resistant tube that can virtually disappear anywhere. You can find the smaller sizes at any Lowe’s, Home Depot, or ACE Hardware, but the larger diameters you’ll need to hit up the local plumbing supply store.
But with that said, caching with PVC in the long term is a little more complicated than it looks. Storage of anything for extended periods requires some care and a little more work than just stuffing things in a tube. And while we’re talking about DIY canisters, I follow the same rules for any cache container.
Caches do us no good if they can’t seal out the elements….
NC Scout of the Brushbeater blog will be holding his RTO Basic course again in Hamilton, MT (south of Missoula), on June 15 & 16, 2019. This is the only date on the calendar in 2019 that is in western USA.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for class inquiries and to register.
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
If you’e the person who has been put in charge of communications for your group, NC Scout at Brushbeater blog has an article up outlining the basic tasks that you should be working on – Tasks for the ‘Designated Commo’ Guy.
…that’s where the challenge of the designated guy begins- competently training your people to that baseline.
First things first, you can never, ever expect to get anywhere if you fly so far over people’s heads they ignore you. Members of your group have to see the relevance in what they are doing or else its a doomed effort from the get-go. With communications, the tendency is for new people to get quickly overwhelmed and all of them are explicitly not looking for a hobby, they just want their equipment to work. If they didn’t have interest in communications before, chances are very high there’s an end goal in mind and its not experimentation. They want validation that whatever this was they spent hard-earned money on based on your recommendations actually does what its supposed to do. What you told them it would do. And if they don’t see the results, you’ve got an albatross around your neck. Everything begins with the basics. As we used to be told over and over again, there is no such thing as super-duper secret techniques, just mastery of the basics. And I’ve found that to be true of nearly every task in life- what might seem rudimentary to one guy might be a tough task to another; the goal is to build everyone up.
#1. Create a Local Network
The first big hurdle to cross is to establish communications among your people. Not in the tactical sense, but in the practical sense. Realistically, your neighbors and people who live within about a 30 minute drive are what you have access to as far as people go- should the balloon go up tomorrow, they’re the ones who matter…
Edit: NC Scout posted an update article based on questions that were sent in about the article above, Practical, Tactical: Training Questions from a Reader.
I got these questions from a reader based on the last couple of posts and its questions many have but don’t quite understand. There’s a lot of different reasons people begin to focus on communications, but when you boil it down, its one of two real necessities: either networking your group over an area, or, supporting tactical needs. The two goals are different, and while there’s some overlap, its a different mission set with different techniques.I’ve began reassessing communications needs because like you said in an article recently, I as a ham have been ignoring the benefits of using non-ham comms somewhat.This is a really common attitude. A lot of folks forget the advantages of license free options once they get a ham license. The thing about amateur radio is the great pool of resources and nearly unlimited options you’ve got on the table. But not everyone in your group is going to get up to speed or even look into a hobby- it’s easier to defer to you, the subject matter expert, and do whatever you help them set up or suggest. Which normally means going license free.I feel like there is a line between too little radio comms and too much though. I’ve always thought of it as a team leader and up sort of equipment, I.E. not every rifleman needs a radio. Even then, you still probably only need one radio that’s capable of communication outside the general area of the squad, in order to send reports etc. But on the flip side, in a MAG type setting, people need to be able to communicate with each other as well. So if you were to use FRS radios for your local non-tactical nets, wouldn’t that exclude them from use in a tactical situation? And then also GMRS as well, since it’s basically the same chunk of spectrum as FRS? And I don’t like the idea of relying on MURS with only 5 channels for tactical comms, although it would be simple. So other than CB, which is also channel based, I think I’m out of non-ham options, please correct me if I’m wrong though.And this is getting into the heart of the question. There’s definitely a line between too much and two little, and it all revolves around the mission…
NC Scout has an article up at his Brushbeater blog on communications tips for new preparedness groups, mutual assistance groups, or other groups needing radio communications – Commo Tips for New Groups.
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)…
NC Scout is full of useful information, and luckily he is willing to share that information with us all. In his post Situational Awareness and Wargaming Your AO, NC Scout gives us a short explanation about how to about thinking over how critical infrastructure in your area could be attacked. He’s particular interested in communication infrastructure, but the same targeting process can be used toward anything.
The most important questions you should be asking right now are not the hypothetical or abstract simply naming ‘SHTF!’, rather, it needs to be rationally rooted in the MOST LIKELY and MOST DEADLY courses of action (MLCOA / MDCOA). What causes this “SHTF?” Who will be taking advantage of it? One of the overtones of my recent classes has been discussing the growing local antifa movement and (somewhat) wargaming/red celling capabilities, with emergency services communications systems coming into question. Think on that one for a second. It’s a dangerous proposition that many overlook- there’s a real threat to the robustness of emergency service equipment and as we become more and more complex, they become more and more vulnerable. From my perspective, this makes understanding and maintaining my own off-grid communications and action networks that much more important. And it should you too…
.Building independent, self-sustaining communities is paramount, as well as being the strongest survivalist plan, but its important to recognize that threats are more than just simplistic catch phrases. You still live in the real world, not that lustful libertariatopia, and are subject to the ramifications of threats external to you. I take people at their word- and the Left’s core, the ‘instant gratification‘ groomed social justice warriors, a manifestation of all of the fingers that threaten Western Sovereignty- are the future of their movement. They see no benefit to the current order and through willful ignorance find solace amid revolutionary ideals whose only logical end is violence. I believe them. And instead of useless projecting, you should be asking serious questions about what they’re capable of pulling off. I bet some folks in Nigeria today wished they had done a bit more in retrospect. I’d be willing to bet some of you will too- Antifa thugs, Islamic thugs, same types of people. They both want you, Christian Male, exterminated.
What to do now is get serious about a training schedule while spending some time understanding more about your individual area. There’s a lot of opportunities out there, and the more arrows you put in the quiver the more resilient you’ll be later on down the road.
NC Scout at American Partisan has written another article discussing the jungle antenna – The Jungle Antenna Revisited: Task and Purpose for the Partisan and Prepper. NC Scout has written about this antenna and its usefulness previously.
Going back to the early days of the Brushbeater blog, the Jungle Antenna post has been and continues to be one of the more popular posts I’ve done. And for good reason- I wrote it to be used. It’s the antenna every student in the RTO course builds and one of the designs they get hands on with, and it’s the one that they know works from the demonstrations we do with them. But often, as with everything, a context for the task and purpose has to be clarified.
Many preppers who contact me fall into a similar trap. I have a goal and recognize a need. What can I buy that does for me what I want it to do? How do I do this in the most cost-effective way? And finally (but what should be first) how do I obtain the skill to best use the gear I’ve purchased? It’s a problematic point of view for a lot of reasons but one I get frequenct questions about nonetheless. And that’s ok. I’ll normally answer it the same way- Use your stuff. Learn to use it even better, and never stop!
One of my objectives bak then, as it remains in my classes and writing today, was emphasizing the skill of building your own equipment…
NC Scout at American Partisan has an informative article up, Signals Intelligence: Capabilities for Anyone, discussing readily available and simple equipment that anyone can use to build their signals intelligence capabilities. Signals intelligence is one of the best, if not the best, ways to know what is going on around you, whether that is in the aftermath of a disaster or during a civil disturbance/conflict.
One of the points I’ve stressed for a long time is the value found in using simple equipment to the maximum of its potential. Whatever it might be optics to weapons to electronics, my own combat experience has fostered an appreciation for Keeping it Simple, Stupid. And that’s the very paradigm I teach my class from–taking what’s common and simple to understand and learning the techniques of using it to its peak potential. The same is true for building signals intelligence capabilities among preppers and/or potential partisans. Not that long ago the RAND Corporation published a white paper on the very topic; what they found was that not only does the capability exist to monitor most real-world threats in any given environment, anyone can do it.During our market scan, we found examples of SIGINT capabilities outside of government that are available to anyone. The capabilities we found have applications in maritime domain awareness; radio frequency (RF) spectrum mapping; eavesdropping, jamming, and hijacking of satellite communications; and cyber surveillance. Most of these capabilities are commercially available, many are free, and some are illegal. In our view, the existence of both legal and illegal markets and capabilities results in an environment where SIGINT has been democratized, or available to anyone.
(Weinbaum, Berner and McClintock, 2017)
From experience monitoring the Taliban on a decade old Radio Shack Pro-96 in Afghanistan, an undisciplined adversary will usually tell you everything you want to know over the air. Even if he thinks he’s secure with electronic encryption, the presence of the signal itself can be detected as soon as he keys up. After working with several private groups and teaching techniques to not get found in my RTO Course, I can positively say that a lot of people are at a distinct disadvantage in the communications department not through equipment but through a complete misunderstanding of the actual function of their gear. As anyone who’s trained with me knows, tactical communications is a whole other animal from nearly everything folks think they know. The first rule of Signals Counterintelligence is to have a competent plan and not set patterns. But what about collection? Those same mistakes we aim to correct through training are likely to be repeated by the opposing force. Even if they have all the technical enables in the world, a lot can be done with basic equipment…
NC Scout, writing at American Partisan, has a good introductory article to sharpening stuff, Survivalist 101: Knife Sharpening. Like NCS, and probably many readers, I, too, have received some good cuts because of using a dull knife. Most often this happens in someone else’s kitchen because someone is afraid that having sharp knives will lead to cuts when the opposite is usually true. Yes, you can cut yourself with a sharp knife, but the cuts I have given myself with my own knives have tended to be around the severity of a paper cut, and can be blamed on my own inattention to the task at hand. With a dull knife, you end up applying more force than should be necessary and the knife or the object to be cut rolls and something like a finger is suddenly the recipient of a heavy, dull knife whack.
The ability to keep a good edge on a blade is a principle task to anyone spending time in the outdoors. The old saying, “A dull knife will cut you” is absolutely true and I’ve got the scars on my hands to prove it. Once before loading the birds for an air assault I flayed the tip of my left ring finger to the bone cutting 550 cord for dummy lanyards for my guys. Wrapped up in electrical tape and stuffed in my glove, it was a painful reminder that a working with a dull knife takes more effort to cut, meaning less controlability and probably a little less care- proving that age old idiom correct. Had I known then what I know now, I’d have had a better working edge on that old Buck-Strider like it has today.
One of the takeaways from the various schools I’ve attended and classes I’ve taught is that knife sharpening is becoming a lost art. Outside of folks with some serious culinary training, like chefs and traditional butchers, knife sharpening seems to fall into one of two categories- either deferring to a marketing gimmick or handing the blade off to someone who knows what they’re doing. Often that’s an old timer with patience and skill that’s been fostered over the years and probably handed down a few generations. That said, sharpening is not hard. It takes time to find and perfect your technique. The key to it all is consistency- sharpness is a function of symmetry between the edge geometry.
For the entry level sharpener, starting with a simple blade is critical to learning the craft. I suggest picking up a Old Hickory knife in 1095 and learning how to sharpen on it. They’re cheap, durable, and disposable and you’ll learn a lot more from a simple blade than something wildly complicated. Knife edges come in a handful of different types depending on the intended purpose. For me, I tend to favor full flat grinds or convex for both general purpose needs and relative ease of sharpening. But for the beginner finding a flat ground knife is probably the best to learn to sharpen on. The learning curve is low and you’ll get better results faster which will in turn raise that confidence level. The other thing to know as a beginner is that while different types of steels suit different purposes, they also have varying degrees of difficulty with common sharpening tools…
NC Scout over at American Partisan has an interesting article up titled Tinker, Tailor, Journalist, Spy: Jamal Khashoggi and the Story Not Being Told, explaining more about Khashoggi’s (spy?) background and how it may have contributed to his recent demise.
On 2 OCT 2018, Washington Post journalist and middle eastern political activist Jamal Khashoggi went missing after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Some in the course of the last news cycle has alleged this to be a much deeper incident than it appears on the surface; a vanished journalist, murder, international intrigue, a Saudi administration in conflict with Turkey; both jockeying for power in a region bound for widespread war in the coming years. Over a year post-living in exile after being banned from the Kingdom of al Saud, Khashoggi returned to the assumed security of the nation of his familial ancestry while continuing a career of revolutionary praxis through media in the mideast region. Needing a legal certificate of divorce from the Saudi government, Khashoggi felt safe approaching the embassy- in and out, no harm, no foul.
How wrong he was.
Embassies and consulates are nerve centers for declared spooks of a nation. Formal intelligence officers working in a nation must be declared. Journalists, on the other hand, can get placed into positions of unique access and are often conduits for sensitive information. In any country where intelligence operations are being run (and that’s all of them) a nation’s embassy serves as the hot spot for intelligence and in turn, counterintelligence. With Khashoggi, we find an example of split loyalty divided between revolutionary Marxism and a convenient ally found in the politics of revolutionary Islam. Possibly best examining this juxtaposition is his quote from a WaPo piece in late August:
The United States’ aversion to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is more apparent in the current Trump administration, is the root of a predicament across the entire Arab world. The eradication of the Muslim Brotherhood is nothing less than an abolition of democracy and a guarantee that Arabs will continue living under authoritarian and corrupt regimes. In turn, this will mean the continuation of the causes behind revolution, extremism and refugees — all of which have affected the security of Europe and the rest of the world. Terrorism and the refugee crisis have changed the political mood in the West and brought the extreme right to prominence there.
He goes on:
There can be no political reform and democracy in any Arab country without accepting that political Islam is a part of it. A significant number of citizens in any given Arab country will give their vote to Islamic political parties if some form of democracy is allowed. It seems clear then that the only way to prevent political Islam from playing a role in Arab politics is to abolish democracy, which essentially deprives citizens of their basic right to choose their political representatives.
…There are efforts here in Washington, encouraged by some Arab states that do not support freedom and democracy, to persuade Congress to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. If they succeed, the designation will weaken the fragile steps toward democracy and political reform that have already been curbed in the Arab world.
The point made by that last paragraph is critical. “Freedom and Democracy” is a common phrase touted by Marxian-inspired revolutionaries. And Islamist revolutionaries are exactly that. Thriving in the swamp of Washington DC, Khashoggi no doubt not only found himself among willing peers but cheerleaders among the Deep State apparatchik, with those ties neither recent nor random. His tale is one of deep alliances with what we now know of as the Deep State, made of the Marxist-inspired and academia-groomed bureaucracies of the Washington elite. The Muslim Brotherhood to which he refers is the revolutionary party of Egypt, spearheading the so-called “Arab Spring” which plunged the stable nation into chaos and directly endangered the control of the Suez Canal, keeping fuel prices affordable, in the hands of Islamists. Mohammed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, found a quite inviting home in the White House and among the leftist administration of Barack Hussein Obama. Wasting no time eliminating political rivals and religious minorities, most notably Coptic Christians, the Egyptian Army stepped in to remove the leftist cancer that had been installed as a proxy of the Obama administration…
Earlier this month I attended Brushbeater’s RadioTelephone Operators course taught by NC Scout. Other people have done reviews of the class (see here and here), so I am going to structure this a little differently. Rather than give a blow by blow of the course as others have already done, I’ll try tell you why you, as a prepper, or member of a Neighborhood Protection Team (NPT), or member of a Mutual Assistance Group (MAG), should take this course.
The purpose of the RTO course is to teach you how to communicate via radio and do so effectively as a member of a communications team. Communication is the act of transferring information from one place to another. Successful communications means that the information has been correctly and effectively transferred from the sender to the receiver. How many ways can that go wrong in radio communication? You may be surprised. The RTO class attempts to identify and rectify some of those common problems.
First, you may not be talking to the right person in the right place. For this, you need a communication plan, or Signals Operating Instructions (SOI). The plan tells you how to identify/authenticate to whom you are talking. It tells you where (what frequency) to contact them. If you can’t speak to them on that first, primary frequency, then you have an alternate frequency and then a third, contingency frequency. Finally, the plan lays out an emergency method of communication. You may have one plan that you use week in and week out for practice with your team or for supporting public service events, but you should practice changing it as well. And if you are preparing for some sort of TEOTWAWKI SHTF WROL WTFBBQ where your NPT is fighting off the golden horde type of event, you’ll want to change it every day.
Choosing the correct frequencies for the location and distance across which you need to make contact is a part of this planning, too. Will line-of-sight frequencies be appropriate or are beyond-line-of-sight frequencies required? What frequencies do everyone’s radios cover? To what frequencies does any possible adversary have access? If our radios cover a frequency, is the antenna on the radio sufficient to make the contact? If not, can you build a field expedient antenna that will be better?
Make sure you can talk to the person you want, and that it actually is the person you expect – check.
Next, you need to transfer all of the information without forgetting or leaving out anything important. Here the RTO course emphasizes standardized report formats. Most of these have come from NC Scout’s prior military experience. You can modify these for your own group or make up new ones; the important thing is to standardize them and to not modify them to leave out anything important. Many experienced radio operators or prior-military service personnel are familiar with the SALUTE report (size, activity, location, uniform, time, equipment) for reporting enemy information, but there are many other useful reports as well.
A good example is the arrival report, used to tell the command element that you have arrived at the location where you were sent. In my own experience with public service and emergency response, your arrival is typically only sent with something like, “Net control, this is Wxxxx. I have arrived at Spokane Memorial.” While having an entire report for arrival, may take more air time, it can convey critical information. For example, you can add that there was a rollover accident blocking interstate 90 so take the 5th Ave exit to get to the hospital. Or you were sent to the Red Cross building on McClellan, but they had moved services a few blocks away to the high school at 5th and Stevens and you taking up your post there. Deviations in final position as well as deviations on your route the location can provide important information for higher up decision makers and shouldn’t be left out.
The RTO course covered and practiced sending and receiving several different types of eports. Just as important as sending all of the information is receiving all of the information accurately. NC Scout emphasized that the receiver should repeat back the entirety of the report to the sender to ensure accuracy. Just saying, “Report received” doesn’t cut it and results in time wasted, or worse — lives lost, because a response was sent to the wrong location or the wrong assets were delivered.
Make sure that all important information is accurately delivered – check.
Finally, if your group or team is going to run efficiently and effectively, your command and control must be organized. Units being sent out must know why they are being sent and what they are expected to accomplish. The command element/post must remain available and actively monitor any operations in progress. Enough radio operators must remain with the command element to communicate with all of the remote units without being overwhelmed. How many radio operators that is will depend on your specific circumstances, including your size, the number of remote units to be sent out, the type and size of the situation to which you are responding, the capabilities of the radio operators and so on. For example, a command center for a peacetime parade may have one radio operator, communicating with twelve remote radio operators, but a large marathon may have several different teams operating on their own frequencies with their own net control. Similarly, a Neighborhood Protection Team with one control point and one roving patrol can operate with one RTO in the command center, whereas a community under siege in a civil disturbance scenario may have several scouting teams out and a need for a command center RTO for each remote team.
The RTO course again uses some military procedures to help with the command function. Warning orders and operations orders are briefly discussed as methods to impart the goals and mission-specific procedures to the teams being sent out. Similarly, NC Scout briefly discusses what are intelligence and intelligence requirements and the inclusion on the requirements in mission briefings.
Control your communication teams effectively – check.
The RTO course teaches to all levels of experience. If you are new to radio communications, the class will cover the basics of radio operation, antenna theory, and propagation for line of sight and beyond line of sight communications at a level that is understandable for a beginner, yet provides insights to more experienced radio operators as well. The class I was in had people from no prior radio use at all the way up Amateur Extra ham radio operators and ex-military radio users. Everyone appeared to have gained something valuable from the class.
In a disaster or SHTF scenario, you will need to talk to someone. That someone likely won’t be standing right next to you all of the time. How are you going to talk to them when they aren’t in talking distance? Why might you use UHF instead of VHF to talk to them? Why might you need HF? Why might you want to use a digital mode instead of FM or SSB? What’s the best radio for my team? Who needs to have a radio? Who needs to know how to use one? Should you use FRS or MURS? Should you get an amateur radio license? Is burying a box of Baofengs enough to cover my communications needs in the future? If you’re not sure about the answers to any of those questions, or are confused about what some of them mean, then you should take this class.
Occasionally I teach classes for people to get their Technician amateur radio license, and I plan on using some of NC Scout’s antenna explanations in the next class. The training about reports has made me re-evaluate how our radio communications should be conducted. I drove seven hours for the class, and it was worth it.
Dialtone: Puzzle Pieces – Gear to have in your kit for field expedient antennas.