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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Emergency Communications - What you should do now to prepare

As a comment to an article written by Brandon Smith and Stewart Rhodes on the Oathkeepers website I would like to submit the following. Here is their article:
http://oathkeepers.org/oath/2012/05/16/economic-alert-if-you%e2%80%99re-not-worried-yet%e2%80%a6you-should-be/

I would like to comment and give some references about the communications aspect of becoming prepared for what this article warns us about.

As many of you know, I am in the communications business full time and have been for over 19 years now. I am also a general class amateur and a volunteer examiner for ham radio licensing. Here in Eureka we have been adding new ham radio operators at a steady pace for over 3 years because of the looming crisis the above article lays out.

I have always insisted that the FCC rules from the very beginning have been designed for emergency and safety communications and allow licensed ham radio operators to do things that others can not do. That includes operating out of band, or with otherwise prohibited power when people's lives and property are in danger.

To back that up I present here a letter from the ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League) that clarifies this issue per the FCC rules.  http://www.lincolncountywatch.org/hamguidelines.pdf

Notice that I said "licensed amateurs". There is a reason for requiring that radio operators be licensed to operate on the ham bands and in emergencies.

Ham radio can be either a tremendous asset or it can be a big liability, depending on whether you know what you are doing, or not. By that I mean that a bunch of people who don't know what they are doing can create so much interference with orderly communications protocals that the frequency becomes a hodgepodge of chatter and unusable noise. For evidence of that just tune in the CB band. It can also mean that people can become endangered by the very communications that are purposed to help them save the lives and property they were trying to benefit.

There is no excuse for anyone not getting their ham license. The license is free, the study course cost only about $30, and the test materials cost only $5 - $12 in most places. The test is multiple choice. On the techinican class test there are only 35 questions, and you can get 9 wrong and still pass the test. There is no longer any reqirement on any ham test to learn morse code. We have given the techinicans test to people as young as 8 years with good results.

For a great place to study for your ham license examination use the interactive software at http://www.hamtestonline.com

At this point I always get the same question. Why should I trade in a right for a privelege, and why would I want to let government know who I am? Let me try to answer.

First, radio waves do NOT respect any borders. They go where they will. You can argue that government should not be involved in making rules about radio saying that it's "not in the US constitution". There are a couple of things about that. One is that it IS in the US Constitution that government must protect our borders. That includes invasion. Radio waves can be used to invade also. I believe that it is within the relm of government constitutionally to protect AMERICA'S INVENTION of radio from invasion and incursion by ANY foreign power, and to that end there are treaties with other countries involving the allocation of frequencies and usage of those that are rightly entered into by the FCC.

The second point is this. You don't want to unnecessarily twist the tiger's tail. People do that with the driver's license VS the right to travel, and some end up in jail for a while, when there are much more important issues to fight about. The same applies here. I don't see any licensed hams going to jail because they want to use radio in and emergency.

The third is about staying under the radar where federal agencies are concearned. Guess what. There are almost one MILLION licensed hams just in the US alone. That, friends is good cover, and cover enough for the purpose of preparedness. What are they going to do? Do you think they could try to make criminals of all those hams with the stoke of a pen, and if they did, do you think they could physically enforce that? On the contrary, they would be way in over their heads, and they know it.

If you want to find any ham radio operator that has a license just do a search here with your zip code. http://www.qrz.com
Go study, and when the interactive software says to schedule your test look up some local hams with the qrz.com site link and ask them when the next test will be and where. The rest of this will deal with what to do after you have your license. You don't have to have the callsign to own the right equipment, or to listen to what is going on out on the ham bands. You do need it when you push the transmit button.

What kind of radio should you buy?
To start with you will need a handheld dual band FM transceiver that covers at least the 2 meter and the 70 CM bands. And it would be best if that radio was also type accepted by the FCC to cover the business bands just above both of those bands. Band refers to a group of frequencies designated by the FCC for certain purposes.

The 2 meter ham band covers 144 - 148 Mhz (that is megahertz, or million cycles per second) The business band above that is the VHF business band and covers 150 - 174 Mhz.

Correspondingly there are two bands on UHF also. The ham band is 70cm (centimeters) from 430 - 450 Mhz, and the business band above that at 450 - 470 Mhz. All these frequencies (bands of frequencies) can be covered by ONE radio. We recommend and are using the Wouxun KG-UV2D which fills all these requirements. Find it here: http://www.fm2way.com/fmhand.htm
 
You will be very pleasantly surprised at how well these small radios perform. I have talked up to 10 miles with just a handheld, to another handheld, and much further to a base, mobile, or repeater.

What is a repeater? It's a radio that is located at a very advantageous location like the top of a mountain, that listens on one frequency, and instantly transmits what it hears on another higher or lower frequency, live and in real time. That allows you to extend your range up to the footprint of that particular repeater. Most of our repeaters are either solar powered or have a battery back up system that will allow them to stay on the air for weeks during an emergency. Some of our repeaters have a footprint of up to 150 miles or more.

All of these handheld units use FM modulation. Modulation is the method of putting an intelligence on the signal that can be converted back to audio so you can hear what the guy on the other end is saying. FM is frequency modulation, or varying the frequency of the signal a very little bit so a detector in the receiver of the listening radio can re-create sound. FM is very impervious to noise, and to other weaker signals, so it's usually either pretty clear, or it's not there so it can be heard.

That makes for very quiet radio operation with little interference from things like alternators in a vehicle, or power lines, like you would hear on CB.

Groups of hams can monitor several frequencies at the same time by using a feature called SCAN which rotates around several channels (with a different frequency in each channel) and when someone talks on one of the channels being monitored the scan stops and locks on that channel. At that point if you want to continue on that conversation you can press an exit key or touch the transmit button and the radio stays on that channel. When you are done listening you can start up the scan again and monitor all again.

Suffice it to say that with proper training, and the right equipment, you will be a big asset to your community and the safety and well being of your neighbors as well as your family in any emergency. To that end I hope you will ask lots of questions about Ham radio, and here is the phone number you can call to get personal attention to those questions. 800 889 2839

Paul Stramer   http://www.fm2way.com/
Commo for Oathkeepers.


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