I already had a discussion about the need for amateur radio in your EmComms plans as a prepper, but now I want to talk briefly about one specific aspect of your communications after a SHTF situation. Digital Communications.
When the SHTF and the whole world has turned upside down and no one knows what to do, gathering reliable information that will help you to determine your next move will be a priority.
Also, having a reliable communication system that the gang of thieves down the road is not able to listen to will be a must if you want to keep the supplies that you have so faithfully stocked up.
No, I am not talking about digital encryption, although it will amount to something almost as effective as encryption for keeping everyone from monitoring your communications. It will also improve your communications system overall giving you a much more effective EmComms system that you can rely on.
What I am referring to is simply utilizing digital modes of communication with your ham radio. There are many various digital modes that can be utilized which simply connect your laptop computer to your ham radio and whatever you type on your computer is sent digitally to the receiver and shows up on their screen.
If someone were listening in with a scanner or a ham radio, all they would hear would be various tones, or "noise" depending on which digital mode you were using. Unless they were also smart enough to get a ham radio license, and invest in a radio and the equipment, and training necessary to do the various digital modes, they would have absolutely no way of monitoring your communications. They wouldn't have a clue what you were saying.
Encoding your transmissions on ham radio to obscure their content or meaning is illegal, so that is NOT what we are doing. Using digital modes merely has that "side effect" to people that are not set up to receive the various digital modes.
Using digital modes on ham radio is 100% legal for any amateur radio operator to do right now. You do not have to wait until the SHTF and the rules are thrown out the window. If you wait until then to try to learn to utilize digital modes, it will be too late. Right now is when you should be utilizing digital modes, getting all the practice that you can. Then when the SHTF, you are already competent in using various digital modes so that you will have secure reliable communications when every one else is left in the dark wondering what is going on.
There is another aspect to utilizing digital modes on ham radio in an emergency situation. Transmissions sent via digital modes have a better chance of getting through than voice transmissions do. If you listen to a radio, you will hear a lot of static out there that your voice signal has to overpower for people on the other end to be able to hear. If your signal is not powerful enough, your voice just gets lost in all the noise. However if you are sending the message using digital modes, those signals require a lot less power to get through. Their computer screen will show the received message even if they were not able to hear your transmission.
Also, with some digital modes, a system is built into it that determines if the message was received correctly or not. You can't do that with voice transmissions easily. Message meanings can easily get changed if the person listening thought you said one thing when you really said something else. That is not a problem with error detection in the digital modes. If the receiving station does not receive the transmission error-free, it tells your station to resend the message again.
It does not have to be all that expensive to get set up to use digital modes either. You need a mobile ham radio, which I hope you already have and at least a Technician class operators license. Then you need to add on a SignaLink USB that will connect to your radio. I recommend GigaParts.com to purchase the SignaLink USB from, their prices are very competitive, their stock is large, and their service is customer outstanding.
The SignaLink USB connects your ham radio to your laptop computer via a simple USB cable which comes with the SignaLink USB. The software that you will use to encode and decode the messages is Open Source, which means it is free for you to download and use and can be used on a Windows or Macintosh computer.
Since you have your ham radio license, and you have a ham radio and the tools required to send messages using digital modes, now you need to practice, and I have a great way for you to get all the practice you need sending and receiving digital messages via ham radio.
Get involved with your local ARES or RACES organizations. They have practice sessions all the time where they will set up their portable radio stations, using battery power only, and practice sending and receiving digital messages via the ham radio.
Sounds kinda like what you should be doing as a prepper already doesn't it? I have heard a lot of preppers say things like they "don't trust the government" and things like that. ARES and RACES are NOT the government. They are groups of ham radio operators who are prepared for disasters and other emergencies so that they can assist with Emergency Communications (EmComms) when all other forms of communications fail.
Many of them ARE preppers themselves. Many of you would be surprised to find out how much you actually have in common with ARES and RACES members. They are a wealth of knowledge and resources that you can tap into to help get your EmComms system set up so that it is reliable and ready to go. You may even find members who want to come and help you put up your communications towers and antennas. They are a very helpful bunch of people, alway willing to help out a fellow ham.
Ok, that about all the time I have for today. I will do a more in-depth look at a few digital modes in future episodes. I wanted to just have this article as a primer for more editions that will follow later.
By the way, you may not realize it, but you can even send email from your computer to another computer, across town, or all the way around the world using amateur radio. We will get into that in a later episode.