My history with communications is similar to a lot of people. I always had a CB radio in my vehicles. I looked at it like this, as I often do. I would rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. I live in an area with spotty cell reception. Granted, when I started carrying a CB, cell phones were fairly new. I always figured that if, say in winter, I slid off the road, I would have a better chance reaching someone on a CB as opposed to yelling. Well, after about a decade of running CB radios, including a job where CB’s connected me to my work crew, I decided to move up to Amateur radio.
I do know that a lot of the older amateur radio guys scoff at cheap chinese radios such as the baofengs, but truth be told, lowering the barrier of entry to an affordable $30 made the jump to Amateur radio an easy one. I bought a Baofeng, started learning, mostly from youtube, how to program these radios, then went and started studying for my Technician license. I had no idea what I was doing, and went to the Amateur Radio Relay League website, arrl.org. Once there, I looked up where there was a test location and when. I searched online for the question pool, and began studying. The technician class is easy enough. I started using my radio on the local repeater. It was interesting because, in doing that, I ended up talking to my old middle school band teacher. Technician allows you privileges for local communications, say, with repeaters, mostly your county. If you have a repeater system, you can use your handheld radio for tristate. That is pretty neat.
After doing this for a couple of months, I wanted more. I wanted to talk around the world. I began studying for my General license then my extra class. The extra, for most people, is more than you need, but I wanted the extra so I could become a volunteer examiner, that is, someone who can help administer tests to people looking to get their license or upgrade their license. This is, indeed, a part of giving back.
There are a variety of different things you can be involved in with amateur radio. You can DX, do SOTA, POTA, digital, satellite communications and so much more. What I am more interested in actually plays into a lot of areas mentioned. Emergency communications. I am using a zombie apocalypse example, for which my next post will be on, for explaining this.
When it comes to emergency communications, something is better than nothing. If all you have is a CB radio, that is great. Far better than nothing. If you have cheapo walmart walkie talkies, that, too, is great because you have something. By the way, for whatever comms, I suggest you look into AmRRON and the channel 3 project. There are enough people knowledgeable about these to make it worth your time.
Anyhow, here is your pyramid of communication. It is very simple. Local, Regional and Long distance(national/global.) Let’s say people with in your group need to talk to each other, use you basic walkie talkies or a 2M/70cm radio. Keep in mind, the more common the mode of communication, the more likely to be overheard by non-friendlies. CB’s have 40 channels, so if someone else locally is running CB’s, they can easily find your channel. Walmart walkies have 16 channels, so again, pretty easy to find your channel. The benefit of these smaller radios is that someone has to be in your vicinity.
For regional and long distance communication, you can use the same radio, and have a couple of antennas. one set up for NVIS and a long wire dipole antenna. These are very simple to make, and with a little manual tuner, functional on multiple bands. NVIS means Near Vertical Incident Skywave. Pretty much makes your signal go almost straight up, reflect on the atmosphere, and can get you radio comms from around 100 miles to 4 or 500 miles. Some have even reported over 1000 miles. This really depends on band conditions, though.
I do not want to get into a really in depth discussion on radio communications, but more the practice of radio communications. In order to have a good communications plan in an emergency, you need to practice your radio communications. you have to practice with what you have. If you buy stuff, store it in a box and let it sit, then figure you will hook a wire to your radio and have communications, you will blow up your radio and you aren’t any better off. Using your gear is what you need to do. I am doing a field day this year to practice portable operations of my EmComm box. This box runs on batteries, a solar charger and solar panel. There are 2 antennas, an NVIS wire antenna and a buddipole (Does 40M to 10M.)
I have made plenty of contacts on this set-up, but I have never transported it, and had to setup in a new location, with unknowns I cannot predict. On top of this practice, I will learn what I forgot, since at home, I can go grab something. Just remember to figure out what your comms plans are. You do not need the world right away, but get something started. Practice your comms plan. Practice with your gear and get familiar. Just like anything else, it is a skill that needs practiced and kept up with.