In this episode we take a look at decentralized communication strategy using 2 way radio for emergency group communications, tactical communications, spotting, intelligence gathering and getting critical news and information over the radio, to the people.
We will look at HF Radios, hand held walkie talkies, SDR (software defined radio). We will also look at the best survival radio strategies for a civilian emergency response during war or occupation.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Julian, OH8STN, has a new video created to try to inspire radio operators to create their own portable/off-grid stations in Portable Ham Radio Motivation. Julian has written and vlogged a lot about off-grid emergency radio communications as well as portable radio operation as their much overlap between the two.
These are a series of portable ham radio station clips. Their purpose is inspiring and hopefully motivating ham radio operators, to build & ultimately deploying portable off grid ham radio stations for themselves.
With increasing limitations placed on our ham shacks, freedom of movement, personal liberties, … operating an off grid ham radio station might just be one way to take back our passion for ham radio emergency communications, and communications preparedness.
Julian, OH8STN, has another video on How to Ham Radio Off Grid.
Hello Operators. Todays video is very special, since it answers many of the questions we’ve asked about portable ham radio off grid. Operating a ham radio station off grid and or in the field is not something to be taken lightly. We need to look at our field communication goals, how long we’re going to be out there, the type of equipment we need in the field, and battery power for our ham radio, when off grid or in the field. If you’re a ham radio beginner or seasoned veteran adding additional skills and capabilities to your station, you’re going to love this series.
This is just a short post about the relationship between field communications, and portable power. Ham radio manufacturers would have us believe our goal is to go out and operate a couple of hours at a time, then recharge our batteries back at home. This may be true sometimes, but it’s not always true.
Ham radio manufacturers don’t recognize the importance of a decent operating run time from internal batteries, or the ability to recharge those batteries, without grid power. For example Elecraft offers one of the most amazing portable radios on the market, the kx2. Did you know it’s impossible to recharge the kx2 in the field without the Elecraft proprietary smart charger, connected to AC mains? This means if you’re off grid without additional batteries, or the ability to plug in a smart charger, you’ll have to use an external battery anyway. Despite how awesome the radio is, having to use that external battery diminishes its lightweight field utility of the radio.
The Yaesu ft-818 is another example. Its internal AA battery pack can power the radio for about an hour or two. Unlike the Elecraft kx2, the ft-818 can be recharged in the field from any DC power source 9 to 15 volts, (AWESOME). It’s Achilles heel is that it takes 8 to 10 hours to recharge its internal battery pack. What the heck is the point of having 2 hours runtime, and 8 to 10 hours recharge time? It’s freaking ridiculous! This means in practice, we need to use an external battery pack anyway.
Some operators have offered alternatives to these problems.
Carrying additional battery packs.
Using an inverter to power the smart charger.
Ration the radios usage so batteries last longer.
All of these ideas come from operators without a solid understanding of communications off grid. Off-grid communications requires us to be grid and energy independent. So when manufacturers tell us the only way to recharge the internal battery of their radio, is using their proprietary AC powered smart charger, we should tell them to go lay an egg. We should also tell manufacturers who have an 8 to 10 hour charge time on a relatively small internal battery, to do a little bit more engineering.
From where I’m standing, it looks like popular ham radio manufacturers have become complacent. We have become such Fanboys, that we continuously make excuses for why these functionalities are not built into their radios. Why don’t we demand amateur radio manufacturers create radios, which are grid independent!? Why do we still accept double AA packs inside our rigs, when a lithium ion or lithium iron phosphate pack are a fraction of the physical size, weight, and offer much higher capacity!? These ultra energy dense packs are standard in everyones mobile phones, tablets and laptops, so why not ham radio!? Why should I buy an Elecraft smart charger, when it’s simply a 3s lithium ion battery pack inside the radio!?
Most of the battery research and projects done on the channel, are in response to ham radio manufacturers not stepping up to offer viable solutions for the off-grid operator. Certainly Elecraft gives us low current draw, but what good is that when your battery is dead, and there’s no way to recharge it?
Although much of the research going into off-grid portable power on the channel, has been done for off-grid and field communications, some of the previous and upcoming projects, exists purely because ham radio manufacturers don’t understand our needs.
Yesterday I tried a new radio for the first time. It’s only the second time I’ve seen this functionality in a commercial radio. The functionalities are
Powering the radio from external power supply while
Simultaneously recharging the internal battery pack in a reasonable amount of time.
The two radios I’ve seen with this capability are the Icom IC-705, and the Xiegu X5105…(continues)
Julian, OH8STN, has a new video out about ham radio emergency communications for Groups.
Hello Operators. Todays topic emergency communications, ham radio is a little different than normally seen on the channel. Today we are discussing ham radio emergency communications for groups and small communities while bugging in shtf. The bugging in shtf part, is the self quarantine many of us are experiencing around the world the past few weeks. it’s obvious too many of us now bugging in is very different from the bugging out we may have expected and prepared for. Because of this, groups and communities wishing to learn ham radio emergency group communications, may be interested to learn this approach, and these emergency communications tools.
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.
The video starts off with an overview of my raspberry pi field computer, the QRP GoKit used in the field test, and some of the reaities of field communications when off grid. The video then moves on to discuss the reality of off grid field communications, and why we need to be smarter operators, with smarter yet easy to maintain gear.
Julian, call sign OH8STN, posted a new video last week about Ultimate Raspberry Pi Build. He uses the AmRRON Raspberry Pi scripts for part of the process and praises their work. Julian is using the Raspberry Pi with his radio to build a very light and portable radio communication system that could be used for emergency response operations or just for fun, portable operation.
Each of us has a different idea about what the ultimate raspberry pi build would be or look like. For my station, reducing the cable mess, replacing a large audio interface with a low-cost usb audio codec, and creating a lightweight, energy-efficient configuration for ham radio data mode operations. Also important was getting my raspberry pi to work off os 12 volts, just like my Yaesu FT-818 and Yaesu FT-891. In this video, we will go through all the hardware, hardware mods, hats, and software used to make this station the ultimate rasberry pi build for ham radio data modes in the field.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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…