Many preppers have the belief that they will get their Technician class amateur radio license and purchase a cheap Chinese made $30 Baofeng dual-band handheld VHF/UHF radio from Amazon and they are all set with their Emergency Communications, also known as EmComms. I am going to set the record straight and burst some of their bubbles here.
Getting your Technician level license is just the start, it is not the finish line that you should be striving for. With each level of licensure from the Federal Communications Commission, you receive more privileges with the addition of available frequencies, and additional modes that you can use on the various frequencies.
In an emergency or after a disaster, otherwise referred to as a SHTF situation, you will need all of the information that you can get about the situation so that you can better know how to proceed. You may also need to reach out to others for assistance.
If your only way of communicating in an SHTF situation is a dual-band handheld VHF/UHF radio which operates on on 2-meter or 70-centimeters, your communications will be limited to only your local area within a few miles of you.
Most likely repeaters will already be down, or will go down fairly quickly in a major disaster which disrupts electricity. A few repeaters have emergency backup generators, but even then they will only last a day or two. Most repeaters have no emergency backup power system and will be down immediately.
Now you are basically limited to line-of-sight radio communications. Which basically means that if you are close enough to them to see them (if no obstructions were in your way) you will be able to speak to them with your radio. Your range limit will be about 4 or 5 miles, depending on terrain and obstructions like buildings which will block the radio signals.
But what if you need to know what is going on in a nearby city, perhaps the next county over, or the next state? Your $30 handheld dual-band radio will be basically as useful as a rock in this situation. Long distance radio communications is possible, just not with that radio.
If you want to be able to transmit and receive over long distances, you will need to use different frequencies, which means a different radio. You will want to get down into the HF band frequencies which, with a Technician license, you are extremely limited. You have a very small range of the 10-meter band (28.3MHz to 28.5MHz) where you are able to use single sideband voice communications.
This means you will have to have a 10-meter HF radio that has single sideband capability (I would recommend a 200 watt transceiver) as well as a 10-meter antenna that you can put up to communicate with. Now keep in mind that a 200 watt radio like this will typically run you over $1,000. You can find 100 watt 10-meter mobile radios in the $200 to $400 range, but they do not have the sideband capability and single sideband is the ONLY way a Technician level license holder can communicate on 10-meters.
Now, why did I recommend a 200-watt radio for 10-meters? If you remember earlier I said that your handheld radio was going to be limited to about 4 or 5 miles. That is caused by a combination of the frequency range you are using, and the transmitting power of the radio, and the antenna, A handheld radio is about 4 to 5 watts depending on your radio, a couple can go as high as 8 watts on maximum power. A quick way to think of it is about a mile a watt, but there are other factors which can affect radio signals.
Now, what if I told you that it is possible for you to communicate over long distances, like thousands of miles using a very small amount of power, like a watt or two. Do you think that would be useful in a SHTF situation?
Transmitting at very low power (referred to a QRP) over long distances even on noisy radio bands is possible with certain modes, like data, and morse code.
Morse code (also known as CW) even works in situations where data communications may not be possible. Remember, to use data communication modes, you need to have a computer attached to your radio which may not be possible in a disaster situation.
For CW no computer is needed. All you need is a small signal keyer which can be as small as a pack of cigarettes attached to your radio. You do however need to know morse code to utilize this mode.
If you are able to communicate with CW, you would be able to utilize an additional portion of the 10-meter band (28.0MHz to 28.3MHz), a portion of the 15-meter band (21.025MHz to 21.200MHz), a portion of the 40-meter band (7.025MHz to 7.125MHz), and a portion of the 80-meter band (3.525MHz to 3.600MHz). With a Technician license, you are not able to use voice communications on these bands and are limited to CW only.
The 160-meter, 60-meter, 30-meter, 20-meter, 17-meter, and 12 meter bands are completely off limits for Technicians. If you were to upgrade to a General license, all of these HF bands are available to you.
The higher the band, the lower the frequency. For instance, the 160-meter band is the 1.8Mhz to 2.0MHz range, and the 2-meter band is the 144.0MHz to 148.0MHz range. The lower the frequency, the less wattage is necessary for communications, especially if you are utilizing data or CW.
So, what all of this boils down to is this. For effective and reliable long distance emergency disaster communications you would need to upgrade your license to a General class and learn to use CW. Then you would have a good EmComms plan that you can trust will be there when you really need it.
I will be doing future posts in my Amateur Radio Series on upgrading your license to General. It is not as difficult as many people make it out to be, but it does require a lot of studying on your part. If you are willing to put in the study time, you can easily upgrade your license and receive all of these additional privileges.
Will The Power Be Out Tomorrow?
In upcoming episodes we will also take a look at "Water Purification & Sanitization" as well as "Vacuum Sealed vs. Mylar Bagged Food Storage". We will also take a look at the shelf-life of "Home Canned Foods" and the viability of using them in our emergency supplies. We will also have future episodes on Emergency Communications or EmComms.
Also we will have an episode on the need for a Wilderness First Aid training even if you live in a city. We will also take a look at the need for "Sanitation After A Disaster".