Brushbeater: Directional Antennas for the Small Unit

NC Scout of Brushbeater has an article on Directional Antennas for the Small Unit. Using directional antennas for radio communication can increase the range of communication and decrease signal interception outside the beam path.

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 such as this Yagi seen here offer security by ‘beaming’ our transmission in the direction its pointed.

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.

Antenna Theory For Non-Technical People

Radio waves travel at the speed of light. So with that said think about your antenna as a type of lightbulb. The more efficient your antenna, the brighter the light (your signal). The more power plus efficiency, the brighter the light and the more range you get. While we measure light in terms of candle power, we’ll measure our signal strength in decibels (db) and our efficiency in terms of gain. Here’s where it gets tricky, but we’ll break it down simple.

A light in the darkness- it the same visual as you would see if an omnidirectional antenna emitted light. That light is a lot like your signal.

Picture yourself in a dark room with no windows. What most people consider antennas could be thought of like lightbulbs in the center of that room. They light it up, but there’s shadowy corners and nothing is as bright as it could be. Where that light goes is just like your signal. And everyone in that room with a set of eyes will immediately know where the lightbulb is. So maybe you don’t want a bright light in the middle of the room, maybe you just want a flashlight to see one corner- to “see” the person you’re trying to communicate with. You’d want a flashlight- and that light directed in one direction will go much further with the same amount of power (or much less) while not lighting up everyone else in the room. That flashlight is a directional antenna.

The antenna you see here is really only half of the picture- the body of the vehicle serves as its groundplane, otherwise known as a reflector. Being in the center of the roof it provides an equal reflection in all directions.

Now let’s explore antenna theory a bit more, now that we have a frame of reference. What most consider an antenna- that thing sticking out of the top of your HT or off the top of your truck, for example, is actually half of an antenna. It is the radiating element- where the signal energy from the radio actually comes out. You could also call this the “hot” side. That radiating element is exactly one half of your antenna. The other half is what’s called the ground plane, which reflects the radiated signal. This would be the “cold” side. So if you’re looking at a flashlight, you’d see the bulb and the mirror behind the bulb. Just as the mirror is a type of reflector, so is that cold side of your antenna. And now the trick is to get that reflector to reflect in the direction we want the signal to go.

Tying the Concepts Together

A directional antenna’s signal would look like this, versus the lightbulb example above.

So just as our flashlight takes a small amount of radiated light and sends it much further than a simple lightbulb in the center of a room would, so does our directional antenna. A lot of folks frequently ask “how much range will this thing get?” when asking about individual radios, and with line of sight gear such as the basic Baofeng, you’re going to get a heck of a lot more in one direction than you would with omni-directional antennas, while greatly improving your own communications security. If you can master the basics while thinking a little bit outside the box, you’ll be surprised at what can be done.

 

Brushbeater: No Encryption, No Problem – Analog Radio Operations For Guerrilla Units

NC Scout at Brushbeater blog writes about communications security in No Encryption, No Problem: Analog Radio Operations For Guerrilla Units

Since I started the Brushbeater blog project back in late 2015, a constant question I’ve got in emails has been about communications security and very often how to use encryption over the radio. Back when I got into the civilian side of operational communications and I no longer had uncle sugar providing my equipment, I had all those same questions and none of the answers. Encryption and communications security is generally verboten among the old-time Ham crowd. Asking about it immediately can gain a novice the cold shoulder- it’s just one of those things that’s best left unasked, figured out on one’s own, or asked once you’ve got in the good graces of the locals (community building, anyone?). For me it was and is a creative outlet, allowing all the fun stuff I did in the Army to be a useful skill and one I teach others.

Since communications in general, like patrolling, like TC3, and like basic survival are all topics woefully misunderstood by civilians, an area as complicated as securing analog transmissions can go way over people’s heads in a hurry. It’s a different skillset than what you’re either used to seeing or doing. It requires a little understanding about radio theory, a little understanding about the planning process, along with some other skills like how to use a compass and basic awareness of your operating environment. Above all, it takes experience; you can’t just talk about it, you gotta do it. That said, we also have to recognize that the equipment we have is the equipment you’re going to be working with when things go sideways. No magic gear fairy is going to drop you a bundle of PRC-152s, much less the working knowledge to use them. So learning to use what you have in hand to its maximum capability is a heck of a lot more important than hanging out in fantasy land with stuff pushed by hobbyists.

Communications Security Begins With You, or, Encryption Won’t Save You

In a recent conversation with a friend and fellow well-seasoned vet, we brought up some of the obstacles facing would-be partisans that many preppers don’t take into account. Logistics being a HUGE one (if I burn through 500 rounds doing “supporting fire” aka just making noise, who resupplies my ammo?) but also the enablers a lot of the contemporary veteran crowd are used to having but cannot expect in the near future. NSA Type 3 AES encryption comes to mind here. We took a lot of resources for granted, especially in the commo department. We had/have an enemy who generally lacked any real electronic warfare (EW) capability, with the result being incredibly sloppy communications practices. The reliance on electronic security left a lot of the old common practices in the dust, many of which are once more very relevant today. Since about 80-90% of the prepping crowd’s electronic signal devices are limited to VHF/UHF dual band analog handhelds, you have to stop thinking in terms of simply press n’ talk if you want to even begin to be secure. The presence of a pattern of signals, even if encrypted, digital, analog or whatever, will give you away if you lack basic discipline. The saying everything that’s old is new again comes to mind, because a lot of the old hand practices developed in Vietnam for rural patrolling are the first place to begin. What was high tech for them is dirt cheap today. And the training value in their blood soaked lessons shouldn’t be lost on you.

But first, why do you need a radio? A lot of folks buy gear just for the sake of buying something. The first thing you should be asking yourself is exactly what your goal is and then work towards that instead of buying a whole bunch of something, because someone told you to, only for it not to be used. If that goal is talking with others in your group on the back forty, that’s one thing. If it’s rural patrolling, that’s another. Electronic communications, of any type, are the least secure method of communication. Messengers are the most secure. When getting started you’ve gotta figure out what it is you need to do. You might find you don’t need as much as you think; keeping it simple goes a long way. And for those of you only concerned with a homestead right now, COMSEC (communications security) is a very real issue for you whether you know it or not. A common surveillance mission for us was called “patterns of life”, where we watched a place for several days. Surveillance means everything, including the signals coming from the target, which in turn can provide a high amount of intelligence value due to shoddy practices. If you’re lazy, someone who learns a few signals intelligence techniques can not only find you very easily but listen to all your voices, get your names, know your timelines, and finally, disrupt you to the point of shutting you down, usually once they’re ready to attack. I know, I’ve done it in real life. So all of you only relying on those walmart FRS radios are very easy prey.

Contras on patrol hunting commies. Notice the handheld radio (HT) on the RPK gunner’s chest. Inter-team radios should be placed among the leaders of maneuver elements, including force multipliers such as your machine gunner / Automatic Rifleman / Support By Fire and Designated Marksman (DM).

It’s important to point out the difference between tactical communications and clandestine communications. Tactical communications require immediate action and either give short orders or brief reports and are local in nature. For preppers, these are for retreat security and short duration patrols; snoop n’ poop around the woodline to make sure nobody is waiting on us to go to sleep. The RTO Basic course focuses almost entirely on tactical communications. Clandestine communications are long term, far more in depth messages that usually use multiple layers of encoding- this is where the One Time Pads come in– and are sent to cells working over a region. These are referred to as cables in the intelligence field. Numbers stations come to mind, and that’s a whole other conversation entirely…(continues)

Off Grid Ham: Discussing Vertical And Wire Antennas

Here’s an article from Chris Warren of Off Grid Ham, writing about options for DIY antennas – Discussing Vertical And Wire Antennas

A topic so deep and wide.

I messing around with you. There is no such thing as an antenna specifically for off grid radio. But since off grid amateurs tend to be practical, do-it-yourself types, some vertical and wire antennas are more more appealing than others. What are the options, and how well do they work? We can’t possibly cover everything in one article, but we’ll go over the most popular types of antennas for off grid hams and talk about the function of each of them. vertical and wire antennas

Two basic flavors. vertical and wire antennas

There are two basic types of antennas for off grid radio: Vertical and wire. Yes, I am aware that there are many others: Beams, loops, etc. But remember we’re trying to keep it simple, practical, and relevant. A vast majority of hams end up using either a vertical or a wire antenna.

The reasons why are clear. These antennas are easy and inexpensive to build, and (for the most part) really do work. Think about all the advancements in technology. Radios have gone from massive tube farms to computerized communications centers with color displays and features that would have been Star Trek-ish just ten or twelve years ago! But at the other end of the coax, antennas have not fundamentally changed over the entire history of radio. You can compare a 50 year old ARRL Antenna Book to a 2020 edition and find nearly the same content in each of them. vertical and wire antennas

About the ARRL Antenna Book. vertical and wire antennas

It would be worth your while to own a print copy of the ARRL Antenna Book. It can be very technical and deep, maybe more than what the average ham is willing to digest, but wow, what a wealth of information. When you need to answer an obscure antenna question or look up a way-out-there math equation, the Antenna Book will come through. New copies can be quite expensive. I suggest buying an older used edition for a fraction of the cost. It doesn’t really matter because the information essentially never changes. My personal Antenna Book is nine years old and I have no plans to update it.

I don’t have a real high opinion of ARRL books in general, but the Antenna Book is an exception. It’s stellar. Every ham should own one.

The vertical antenna.

My very first antenna was a vertical, a Hy-Gain 14AVQ to be exact. I bought it used because, well, when you’re fourteen years old cobbling birthday & odd job money together for radio gear, that’s how you roll. The 14AVQ has been in production since at least the 1970s and is still available on the market today. I had a blast with that antenna and made many solid contacts on it. vertical and wire antennas

Vertical antennas offer an omnidirectional signal pattern, take up very little space, and are easy to install. They do not necessarily require support structures such as trees and buildings (I mounted my 14AVQ to a pipe pounded into the ground). Functionally they have a low angle of radiation, which is favorable to DX. There is also some evidence that vertically polarized antennas are better for short range (ground wave) communications.

The cons of vertical antennas. vertical and wire antennas

On the negative side, vertical antennas are harder to home-build and tune compared to wire antennas. Complicating that, commercially made verticals can be expensive. The Hy-Gain 14AVQ of my youth sells new for about $230.00. That’s a lot of money for what is essentially just an aluminum pole with some coils in it. The research & development costs, which I acknowledge can be very high, were amortized off the books decades ago. With that debt long paid off, the 14AVQ represents huge profit center for the manufacturer. This pattern can be repeated for almost any commercially made vertical antenna. Once the R&D costs are recovered, these antennas are basically money presses for the manufacturers.

Lastly, vertical antennas usually require ground radials. Where will you put them? If your antenna is mounted at ground level, you can just bury them in the dirt. Roof mounted verticals may be more tricky. There is no absolute rule for how many ground radials are needed, but more is better.

Wire antennas.

vertical and wire antennas

PUBLIC DOMAIN GRAPHIC

There is little to dislike about wire antennas. They can be easily made from materials most hams already have around the shop. Wire antennas done right really do work! The dipole is the “Mother antenna,” the antenna all others are based on. Wire antennas can be bent and shaped to fit your space. If you have to bend or droop a wire, it’s generally not a problem. Horizontal wire antennas also have a low angle of radiation, but it is dependent on elevation from the ground. This is why amateurs interested primarily in NVIS communications should not mount their wire antennas more than 30-50 feet up. There is such a thing as “too high”.

The bad news.

Wire antennas have two main disadvantages. First, they usually require two or more support structures. For a fixed station, this means having buildings or trees in the right places to hold your antennas up. For portable use, it means picking a site with trees or other tie points, or bringing a support system with you. By the way, many public parks prohibit affixing anything to natural features, even temporarily. Be respectful and verify what you’re allowed to do before you start tossing wire up in the trees.

Although wire antennas can sometimes be bent and shaped to fit a defined space, doing so may affect performance. Antennas are designed to be a certain shape for a reason. Anything that messes with the physics of an antenna is going to change the way it works. Changing the original shape of a wire antenna does not necessarily degrade performance, but it may result in a situation not favorable to your operating needs, such as when the radiation pattern is altered. Many hams have no choice and must do some antenna gymnastics to make their stations work. Although imperfect, these alterations are usually tolerable.

What about store-bought wire antennas?

I generally advise against buying commercially-made wire antennas. They do work well, but with a few exceptions they are not a good value for the money. One well known company is offering a portable “tactical dipole” for $400.00. Granted, it’s very well planned with a slick carry case and other handy features, but in the end it’s still just a dipole. A four-hundred dollar dipole! This illustrates a trend in the prepper/survivalist community where including the word “tactical” in a product name makes that product cost 3-5 times as much as it should.

The “Hail Mary” random wire antenna.

Wire antennas have one more big plus. A “Hail Mary” antenna can be any available length of wire. In more formal language, they’re called random wire antennas and they are exactly what the name implies. In an emergency, you can literally toss a random length of wire out the window, correct it to 50 ohms as best you can with an antenna tuner, and go. It won’t be very efficient, but you will get a signal out.

I have a random wire antenna as part of my go-kit. It works surprisingly well with my 5 watt FT-817. It would never be my first choice, but I’d be very happy to have it as a last choice.

Resources.

QSL.net has this amazing wire antenna reference that lists nearly 400 different wire antennas and diagrams on how to make them. Some of the designs are kind of way out there and I’m not sure they would work, but experimenting is part of the fun. The website cuts out complicated math and lengthy explanations; it just gives short & simple recipes on how to make some great antennas.

WA2OOO has a very cool calculator to determine the size of several popular wire antennas.

American Partisan: Three Avenues Of Approach – Baofeng’s BF-R3

NC Scout at American Partisan has a brief article on the inexpensive Chinese radio Baofeng BF-R3 and its increased utility over the UV5R model. Besides signal intelligence value, having a third band can make a difference operationally as well. In an RTO class that I attended, we found that one of the bands did not work reliability in the terrain and among the structures where we were operating, but switching to the alternate band worked fine.

As I tell students in the the RTO and Signals Intelligence Courses, its not necessarily what can be monitored (everything has the capacity to be monitored) but rather, how your adversary can exploit it. This in turn points to the criticality of the ability to plan and act based on that plan. And often enough, the difficulty lay not just in detecting an adversary to monitor, which can be hard enough, but taking that a step further into implementing tools that are outside his capabilities.

In the last RTO Course out West, a couple of the students had brought in a new model of Baofeng- a triband model called the BF-R3– a tri-band radio that matches all of the functions of the old UV-5R but with an additional spread of transmitting capability on 220-260mHz. This enables users a whole third option for receiving and transmitting in a vastly under-utilized frequency spread.

It is backwards compatible with all of the standard Baofeng UV-5R cables, batteries and accessories, including my favorite, the H-250 dogbone mic. On top of that, its fully Chirp supported for all of you that use that software. At about the same price as the standard two band Baofeng but with expanded capabilities, its hard to see why you wouldn’t want to have a few.

Get ’em while you can and while you’re at it, come get training on using it in a tactical environment. Might be important here soon.

ARRL: Hurricane Watch Net Re-Activating as Isaias Approaches Carolinas

Update 8/3/20 from ARRL: Hurricane Watch Net Reactivates as Hurricane Warning Posted for the Carolinas

With the National Hurricane Center (NHC) expecting Tropical Storm Isaias to become a hurricane again later today and make landfall this evening, the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) reactivated at 1600 UTC on 14.325 MHz. HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said the net will shift operations at 2300 UTC to 7.268 MHz, where it will remain until no longer needed by the NHC. A hurricane warning is in effect from the South Santee River in South Carolina to Surf City, North Carolina.

“The center of Isaias will then approach the coast of northeastern South Carolina and southern North Carolina within the hurricane warning area later today,” the NHC said. The center will then move inland over eastern North Carolina tonight, and move along the coast of the mid-Atlantic states on Tuesday and into the northeastern United States by Tuesday night.”

The HWN initially activated on July 31 at 1500 UTC, when Isaias was about 245 miles southeast of Nassau. “During the next 41 hours, we relayed the latest advisories to those in the Bahamas, south Florida, as well as mariners and shortwave listeners, Graves said. “Because Isaias was forecast to regain strength to a Category 1 hurricane, and hurricane watches and warnings remained in effect for the Florida coast as well as areas in the Bahamas, the Net remained activated.” After the NHC dropped all hurricane watches and warnings on Sunday morning, and the storm was no longer believed to become a hurricane, the HWN secured operations on Sunday, August 1.

“During the course of 41 hours, we never received any reports from the Bahamas,” Graves said. “We did hear from many south Florida stations, but the storm was not yet close enough at the time for [that area] to be adversely affected.

As of 1500 UTC, Isaias is forecast to make landfall tonight as a Category 1 hurricane and is expected to bring strong winds and heavy rainfall from the eastern Carolinas to the mid-Atlantic coast tonight and Tuesday. The storm was some 90 miles east-southeast of Brunswick, Georgia, and some 220 miles southwest of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Maximum sustained winds are 70 MPH, just a shade below Category 1 hurricane strength.

“We are slowly moving into the heart of the 2020 Atlantic Basin Hurricane Season, so, please do not drop your guard,” Graves advised. “If you haven’t done so already, now would be a good time to review your Family Emergency Plan and review your Emergency Supply Checklist. We have links to download both on our website.”

South Carolina Amateur Radio Volunteers Ready

Although Isaias hasn’t turned into a monster hurricane, radio amateurs from all over South Carolina have been preparing for days as the South Carolina Emergency Operations Center geared up for the storm. Isaias was predicted to make landfall on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina.

“We have been in direct communication with our emergency support function (EFS-2) partners along with many other organizations to ensure our level of readiness is sufficient. Radio checks have been performed at SCEMD (South Carolina Emergency Management Division) and more conference calls among ARES leadership are planned,” said ARRL South Carolina Section Emergency Coordinator Billy Irwin, K9OH. Irwin said information about frequencies in use may be found in the Tactical Guide on the South Carolina ARES website.

From the American Radio Relay League on 7/31/20, Hurricane Watch Net Activating as Hurricane Isaias Approaches US East Coast:

The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) activated on 14.325 MHz on July 31 at 1500 UTC as Hurricane Isaias [pronounced: ees-ah-EE-ahs] heads toward the US on an uncertain trajectory.  The Volusia County, Florida, and State emergency operations centers were reported at a Level 3 (Monitoring) status.

“For years I’ve said, ‘Just when you think you have Mother Nature figured out, she changes her mind,’” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said. “Shortly after Advisory 11 for then-Tropical Storm Isaias was issued [at 0300 UTC], an Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter aircraft found that the tropical storm had strengthened to a hurricane. The maximum winds had increased to 80 MPH with higher gusts making the storm a Category 1 hurricane.”

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecast for 0900 UTC called for Isaias to strengthen into a Category 2 hurricane during the next 24 hours.

“Unfortunately, Isaias appears to be taking a somewhat similar track along the US east coastline, such as Matthew in 2016 and Dorian in 2019,” Graves said. “Interests throughout the Bahamas, Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, and farther north need to keep a close watch on Isaias. This means the Hurricane Watch Net could be running another marathon activation.”

An NHC Advisory issued at 1500 UTC included a Hurricane Watch for portions of the Florida east coast from north of Deerfield Beach northward to the Volusia-Brevard County Line. A Tropical Storm Warning has been issued for portions of the Florida east coast from north of Ocean Reef northward to Sebastian Inlet and for Lake Okeechobee.

As of 1500 UTC, the NHC said the center of Hurricane Isaias was located near latitude 21.7 N, longitude 74.5 W, moving toward the northwest near 16 mph (26 km/h), and a general northwestward motion with some decrease in forward speed is expected for the day or so followed by a turn toward the north-northwest.  On the forecast track, the center of Isaias will continue to move near or over the Southeastern Bahamas today. Isaias is forecast to be near the Central Bahamas tonight, and move near or over the Northwestern Bahamas Saturday and near the east coast of the Florida peninsula Saturday afternoon through Sunday.

“On the forecast track, the center of Isaias will continue to move near or over the Southeastern Bahamas today. Isaias is forecast to be near the central Bahamas tonight, and move near or over the northwestern Bahamas on Saturday and near the east coast of the Florida peninsula Saturday afternoon through Sunday.

“Tropical storm conditions are possible along portions of the Florida east coast beginning Saturday, and a tropical storm watch remains in effect. While storm surge watches are not currently needed for this area, they may be required later today, if the forecast track shifts closer to the coast. Heavy rains associated with Isaias may begin to affect south and east-central Florida beginning late Friday night, and the eastern Carolinas by early next week, potentially resulting in isolated flash and urban flooding, especially in low-lying and poorly drained areas. Isolated minor river flooding is possible in the Carolinas early next week,” the NHC said. “Hurricane conditions and dangerous storm surges are expected in portions of the Bahamas today and Saturday, and hurricane warnings are in effect for these areas. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”

The HWN seeks “observed ground-truth data from those in the affected area,” including wind velocity and gusting, wind direction, barometric pressure, and, if available, rainfall, damage, and storm surge. “Measured weather data is always appreciated, but we do accept estimated,” Graves noted.

QSO Today Virtual Ham Radio Expo, Aug. 8-9, 2020

QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo

Participate in this ground breaking, virtual international amateur radio expo. Packed with world renowned speakers, exhibitors, and special conference rooms built on a virtual reality platform. Attend from the convenience of your desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
Coming to your laptop, tablet, and smartphone on:
​ August 8 and 9, 2020
Hours
August 8th, 0100 Zulu (GMT) – Keynote by Dr. Scott Wright, K0MD
August 8th and 9th,  1500 Zulu USA Speaker Tracks Start
Check individual Exhibitor Booths for their hours – most will open a 1500 Zulu on Saturday and Sunday.

Despite the current Covid-19 situation, ham radio operators are more active than ever and want to continue to learn and engage with their community.  To meet this need, we’ve organized the first of its kind, virtual ham radio expo designed to allow everyone interested in amateur radio to engage with amazing speakers, leading suppliers of equipment, parts and services, and fellow attendees.  Our virtual expo platform provides a visually captivating and easy to navigate user experience that recreates the look and feel of a physical amateur radio convention.

Attendees have the opportunity to:  

  • Listen to and engage with 70+ internationally recognized ham radio luminaries that have committed to lead expo sessions. Click here for the speaker list.
  • Walk through our virtual exhibit hall filled with popular amateur radio suppliers. Watch new product demos, interact directly with booth staff using video, audio, or text conferencing.
  • Engage with fellow hams without leaving your home ham shack. And save thousands of dollars since you don’t have to worry about travel, food, and lodging!
  • Return over the next 30 days to re-visit, explore, and re-engage exhibitor offerings.

Continue reading “QSO Today Virtual Ham Radio Expo, Aug. 8-9, 2020”

Off Grid Magazine: Emergency Communications – Handheld Radios

Off Grid Magazine has an article up on Emergency Communications: Handheld Radios

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?

Click here to continue reading at Off Grid Magazine.

OH8STN: How to Ham Radio Off Grid

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avGBTzWAqbo

OH8STN: Portable Power and Field Communications

Julian, OH8STN, has another good post up about using portable power during field operations and a couple of radios with versatile power options – Portable Power and Field Communications.

Hello Operators.

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)

Click here to read the entire article at OH8STN.

New AmRRON Videos

The American Redoubt Radio Operators Network (AmRRON) is a network of Preppers, Patriots and Redoubters who have volunteered to keep each other connected when other means of communications are unavailable or unreliable. It was originally formed to server only the Pacific NW states comprising the “American Redoubt” but has since spread across the nation and into Canada. Around 2014 they also merged with The American Preppers Radio Network. They have recently released several videos to explain a bit what they are but more what they are doing currently and planning to do in the future.

You don’t have to be an amateur radio operator to be a member or participant and membership is free. The communication plans include non-licensed radio services as well as amateur radio.

Communications Academy, Seattle, Apr. 24-26, 2020 – Cancelled

UPDATE from Communication Academy 2020:

*** URGENT NOTICE ***

WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT DUE TO THE RECENT COVID-19 OUTBREAK,
AND UPON ADVICE FROM THE WASHINGTON STATE DEPT. OF HEALTH,

THE 2020 COMMUNICATIONS ACADEMY WILL OFFICIALLY BE CANCELLED.

WE ARE TAKING THIS PRECAUTION TO PROTECT THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF ALL OUR ATTENDEES

THOSE OF YOU THAT HAVE PREREGISTERED ALREADY WILL AUTOMATICALLY RECIEVE A FULL REFUND

 

The 2020 Communications Academy will be held on April 24-26, 2020 at South Seattle College.

The theme for 2020 is “If Cascadia rises, will we fall?!” This will be a theme for three years, leading up to the Cascadia Rising 2022 National Level Exercise.

The Communications Academy delivers education, resources and training opportunities focused on interoperability across the communications spectrum. The Communications Academy this year is three days of training and information on various aspects of emergency communications.  Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES©); Auxiliary Communications Service (ACS); EOC Support Teams; Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES), Civil Air Patrol, Coast Guard Auxiliary, REACT, CERT and anyone interested in emergency communications are encouraged to attend.

Location:

South Seattle College

6000 16th Avenue S.W., Seattle WA 98106 in the Olympic Building (OLY) and Jerry Brockey Student Center, at the south end of the campus.

Free parking is available south of the buildings.

Schedules:

Friday, April 24 (masters level classes)

Saturday, April 25

Sunday, April 26

2020 Registration Fees:

Rates: 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day
Early Bird Rate (Feb 23 to Mar 29) $36.00 $64.00 $95.00
Normal Rate (Mar 30 to Apr 19) $45.00 $80.00 $119.00
Register at Door (After Apr 19) $55.00 $100.00 N/A*
*Friday Masters Classes Pre-Register Only


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.

 

ABC Australia: Amateur Radio Skills Prove Useful During Bushfire Emergencies

From ABC Australia, this article details how amateur radio operators have provided communications in areas where the local communication infrastructure has been damaged by fires.

Amateur radio enthusiasts have proved themselves useful during the recent bushfires after traditional telecommunication channels broke down.

Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, is a skill and international hobby whereby enthusiasts use specific radio frequencies to communicate with each other.

In Australia, users must complete an exam to obtain a license through the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

It was volunteers with these skills who were called in to assist during the recent New South Wales bushfires.

Neil Fallshaw is vice-president of WICEN NSW Communications, a group of volunteers with amateur radio licenses who can help in emergency situations.

He said about 30 members provided a temporary radio system in the Bega, Cobargo, Narooma, and Bermagui areas after some of the local radio infrastructure was damaged or had lost power.

A man sits at a desk operating a radio
Photo: Neil Fallshaw says radio operators were able to step in when mobile phones went down. (Supplied: Neil Fallshaw)

“We deployed one of our radio repeaters on the mountains. We put a radio repeater system on that mountain to cover a portion of the south coast,” Mr Fallshaw said.

He said that radio system assisted the NSW Volunteer Rescue Association and Bega Valley Shire Council staff to communicate from bushfire-affected towns like Bermagui and Cobargo.

“They normally use just mobile phones, but the mobile phones in the area were down because of fire damage,” Mr Fallshaw said.

Members of WICEN NSW also provided support operating regular radios at fire control centres in towns like Glen Innes, Port Macquarie, and Kempsey.

“They needed people who would be able to operate the radios in a communications environment which can get pretty hectic,” Mr Fallshaw said…

Tony Falla, an amateur radio user in central Victoria, said ham radio skills could be particularly useful when there were significant power outages.

For example, like that on the NSW south coast on New Year’s Eve when mobile coverage, the national broadband network, and the local ABC radio transmitter all dropped out.

“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.”

Three people on the phone in a call centre.
Photo: WICEN operators also help with answering calls at the RFS headquarters in Sydney. (Supplied: Neil Fallshaw)

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.”

Rainier Redoubt: WA Emergency Mgmt CEMNET Radio Network

Rainier Redoubt has a short article out describing the Comprehensive Emergency Management Network (CEMNET) operated by the Washington State Emergency Management Division. This provides useful information for your monitoring center in the case of disaster.

The Emergency Management Division (EMD) operates a statewide, very high frequency (VHF) low-band radio system, as the primary backup communication link between the state EOC and local EOC’s throughout the state. It also serves as a link to other agencies such as the state departments of Ecology and Health, the UW Seismology Lab, and Harborview Medical Center.

The following map [the map is on the second page of this linked pdf – LVA] depicts the location of the twelve mountaintop base stations that comprise the backbone of the network. The CEMNET base stations are controlled from the state EOC through the Washington State Patrol microwave system.

CEMNET operates primarily on three (3) frequencies, designated for accountability purposes as F1- 45.200 MHz, F2 – 45.360 MHz, and F3- 45.480 MHz. In radios set up primarily for CEMNET use, this will usually correspond to channels 1, 2, and 3.

The State Emergency Operations Officer (SEOO) located within the State EOC monitors the network on a 24-hour basis. For operational purposes, the state has been divided into five regions (see table below), with a channel designated for use within that region. The State Emergency Operations Officer (SEOO) will monitor the designated channel (frequency) for both routine and emergency traffic and respond accordingly. Should traffic build-up cause a problem within the network, the State EOC will act as Net Control.

CEMNET is tested weekly with local emergency management jurisdictions on the following schedule:

Western Washington stations: Tuesday, 0900 hours
Central Washington stations: Wednesday, 0900 hours
Eastern Washington stations: Thursday, 0900 hours

Local emergency management jurisdictions are authorized to use the designated CEMNET region channel for local operations.

Northwest Southwest Central Northeast Southeast
F1 (45,20 MHz) F2 (45.36 MHz) F3 (45.48 MHz) F1 (45.20 MHz) F2 (45.36 MHz)
Clallam Clark Adams Ferry Asotin
Island Cowlitz Benton Lincoln Columbia
Jefferson Grays Harbor Chelan Okanogan Garfield
King Lewis Douglas Pend Oreille Whitman
Kitsap Mason Grant Spokane
San Juan Pacific Franklin Stevens
Skagit Pierce Kittitas
Snohomish Skamania Klickitat
Whatcom Thurston Yakima
Bellevue Wahkiakum Walla Walla
Kent Tacoma
SW Snohomish Lacey
Seattle Shelton
Auburn Puyallup
Kirkland
Snoqualmie
Port Angeles
Redmond

Local jurisdictions should use the region channel assignment as identified in the preceding table for local “base station” to mobile / portable communications in support of local day-to-day and emergency needs. Each local jurisdiction is authorized at least five (5) mobiles per license.

Additionally, MAST helicopters from Fort Lewis and/or Army National Guard may communicate on Channel F1 on their FM systems.

Although the CEMNET frequencies are outside of the Amateur Radio band, it is still worth monitoring the net to listen to Washington State Emergence Management traffic.

ARRL: ARES Standing By After Strong Earthquake Near Puerto Rico

From the ARRL:

A strong magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit Puerto Rico early on January 7 on the heels of a smaller magnitude 5.8 tremor a day earlier. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority reported widespread power outages after generating plants automatically activated protective shutdown systems following the earthquake. Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced urged citizens to remain calm.

“The entire government is active and in action,” Governor Vazquez said in a tweet. “I ask our people to remain calm and urge you to remain safe.” Government offices have been shut down for the day.

The director of Puerto Rico’s Seismic Network, Víctor Huérfano, told The Associated Press that it’s been difficult to obtain reports of damage or injuries because communications are out over much of the island. Geologists had warned of additional seismic activity following the January 6 earthquake. Tremors have been occurring in some areas of Puerto Rico since December 28.

ARRL Puerto Rico Public Information Officer Angel Santana, WP3GW, said the earthquakes have damaged homes in communities including Guánica and Guayanilla, with aftershocks felt minutes later from today’s event. A tsunami advisory for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands was canceled minutes after being issued. Santana said the PREMA Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has been activated.

Santana said VHF and UHF repeater systems having emergency power carried reports of power outages and other information. ARRL Puerto Rico Section Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF, told ARRL that no Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) activations have been necessary, as commercial telecommunication systems remain functional.

“The situation is scary, with houses, schools, and roads collapsing,” Resto said, with many structures — including a school and homes in Guánica — damaged.

Related:

Washington Post: Puerto Rico earthquake Tuesday morning triggers blackout, reports of injuries and at least one dead

Off Grid Ham: Go Boxes

Dan Passaro’s shack in a can.

In this article, Chris Warren of Off Grid Ham spends a little bit of time talking about ham radio go boxes. For ham radio enthusiasts, the radio go box is mostly commonly used when responding as an emergency communications volunteer or for fun, portable radio communications while camping or hiking. But the go box holds a place for preppers, too, even if you aren’t an amateur radio licensee. Even if your plan for emergencies is to “bug in” (stay put at home) there are disasters which may force you out of your home, and you will want some kind of portable communications ready to go – whether that is ham radio, FRS, GMRS, MURS, CB or just a kit for keeping your cell phone charged up.

Go Box Zen 2.0

I didn’t realize it’s been over three years since the last time Off Grid Ham specifically addressed go boxes. If the internet discussions and on air chatter are any indicator, it’s a very popular way to operate. It’s way past time to revisit the humble ham radio go box and come up with some fresh ideas.

In the last three years I’ve noticed an uptick in ham radio go box deployment. There are even entire social media pages dedicated solely to go boxes (or bags or whatever your thing is). I think there are several reasons why. Many operators live under homeowners’ association rules that severely limit having a fixed antenna. Theses operators may have no choice but to hit the road. Others want something they can take camping, for SHTF purposes, or EMCOMM. The various special event stations from parks and other significant places may be driving the trend too. There’s also new equipment manufacturers offering low cost gear. This opened possibilities to people who could not otherwise afford a dedicated go box.

As before, this is not going to be a step-by-step how to on building a ham radio go box. There are too many variables and too many individual choices for me to come up with a plan that works for everyone. Instead, we’ll go over some concepts to consider and questions you’ll need to answer before you begin.

Defining priorities.

What is the Number One priority for your ham radio go box? It it portability? DX-capability? Data modes? Keeping the cost down? Before you can construct a go box, you have to decide what trait is the most important. From there you can work in secondary needs. As with everything, there will be compromises, and some things are mutually exclusive.

The main reason ham radio go boxes do not live up to expectations is because they were not built to expectations in the first place. Or possibly, what you thought was a Number One priority turned out to be not such an urgent issue after all. Years ago my first go box was a huge fail because my Number One priority, cost savings, meant giving up so many other smaller things that they made the cost savings not worth it.

ham radio go box
The main parts of my new & improved, much lighter ham radio go box. Left is a 27 watt folding solar panel. Top is a DC power box which includes a 13 amp-hour lithium battery and the charge controller. Right is a random wire antenna. Not shown: Alpha Antenna FMJ.

I used an old Yaesu FT-757 GX II radio. I also dug up an inverter, a solar controller, an FT-2900 2-meter radio, a 100 watt solar panel, and some various plugs and connectors. All of this stuff I already had. I built a nice wood box to mount everything in. My out of pocket cost for the entire project was less than $100.00, and most of that was for a 35 amp hour SLA battery. It looked impressive. I felt like a boss!

Well guess what? I achieved my goal of keeping the cost down, but my ham radio go box was so clunky and heavy that I didn’t care. Between the battery, the wood box, and all the other stuff, I could barely move that beast by myself. There wasn’t much “go” in that go box, unless I invested in a forklift too. I thought saving money was my Number One priority but I gave up too many other attributes to make it worthwhile.

That was my lesson in not only defining priorities, but also considering what else I have to give up to attain that priority. I inadvertently buried the cost savings under all the other problems. I used that go box only once or twice, then dismantled it.

What comes next?

After admitting defeat in my first attempt at a ham radio go box, I reexamined my priorities…

Click here to continue reading at Off Grid Ham.

Related:

OH8STN: Grid Down Comms

Instructables: KE0OJE’s Ham Radio Go Box

Instructables: Radio Go Box (Ham, MURS, GMRS, FRS)

HARC Net: Amateur Radio Go Kit (pdf)