One important piece of my preparations includes the ability to communicate with the outside world in case of emergency.
Most of us rely on our cell phone for communication and those are great. But, there are some limitations. What happens when the battery goes dead, for example. I’ve had that happen to me and have since added a lithium ion battery pack to recharge my phone when it goes dead. Another scenario I can see is perhaps needing some sort of solar recharge ability… but that’s in the future still.
But, what happens when the cell towers are down or overloaded? That trusty cell phone won’t help much in that case. And, an even more SHTF situation where the electric grid goes down will make cell phones useless.
Take for example where Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, knocking out power and communications across the island. A team of HAM radio operators were sent by ARRL to provide critical recovery efforts. They were able to provide critical communications including moving health and welfare messages from San Juan back to the states, connecting the various shelters and hospitals around the island, operating the communications for the police, first responders, and utility company since their systems went totally down, and helping dispatch water and electricity where needed on the island.
In years gone by I enjoyed the hobby of cb radio and used it to talk to others in my area or on the road when I traveled. But that doesn’t seem so popular now. Then a few years back I picked up a couple Audiovox QMRS602PK walkie talkies that worked in the FRS and GMRS bands for communication aboard a cruise ship that worked pretty well. They still work but have a very limited range.
The next logical step was to get my ham radio license and a radio with a bit more ability.
I’m no ham radio expert and don’t foresee fully jumping into the hobby so an inexpensive entry level radio is what I needed. I was surprised to discover the advancements in radio technology in recent years with the numerous HT (hand talkie) radios available. One very popular radio I found in the prepper community and elsewhere is the Baofeng UV-5R V2+ Plus – Dual-Band. This little radio was recommended nearly everywhere and was priced between $25 to $30, depending on the model. I also discovered a huge online community of users posting YouTube video on how to use the radio, how to program the radio, and much more.
This radio operates in the 2-Meter (VHF) band offering the longest range and the clearest reception. A basic ham radio will have a 30-mile range, but can talk much farther with the use of repeaters. The 2-meter is the most popular Ham radio and operates in the 144.000-148.000 MHz range. Another popular Ham radio band is the 70-cm (UHF) operating in the 420.000-450.000 MHz range, and the Baofeng’s cover that as well.
After doing a bit more research, I decided on starting with an upgraded radio with more power (8W vs. 5W) and an improved antenna which improves the overall performance of the radio. The antenna is one of the most important parts that allows you to reach out a bit farther. I chose the Nagoya NA-771 15.6-Inch Whip antenna which is advertised to increase the radio’s gain by 2.15 dBi. Now, quite honestly, I’m not sure this antenna is really and improvement over the improved rubber duck antenna supplied with the BF-F8HP radio. I also purchased a roll up, J-Pole/Slim Jim antenna tuned for both 2m and 70cm (VHF & UHF) made by Nelson Antennas (on eBay). I’ll be testing this antenna around the house but the plan is to incorporate it into my BOB as it very portable. The upgraded radio had a couple more minor enhancements making it the latest in the UV-5R line… the Baofeng BF-F8HP. This radio is fully backward compatible with the plethora of UV-5R accessories and addons.
Now, that was a pretty painless and inexpensive step.
There’s a bunch of good info about the BF-F8HP radio on the Miklor website.
What I’ll probably do in the future is pick up a few of those lesser priced UV-5R’s for throwing in my BOB, glove compartment of my car, and perhaps a “comm gear” package I can give to close friends and family members in case the SHTF. I like what this guy suggests –
Emergency Communications Part 1 for putting together and using emergency comm kits.
Next… the license. Another pleasant surprise was how easy it was to obtain a Technician class license. Learning Morse code is no longer a requirement and you’re only required to pass a relatively simple 35 question test conducted by volunteers in your area. You may have to pay $15 to the testing site but the FCC does not charge anything more for a license. The ARRL website is a good starting point for learning more about getting licensed and more. There are many online resources where you can study for the test and even take sample tests using the exact same questions you’ll need to pass the real thing. I like eHam.net.
Now, with the testing complete and the receipt of my call sign (KZØVAB), it’s time to learn to use the radio. Some people might think they only need to have a radio to use in case of emergency, but if they don’t know HOW to use it, they’ll find themselves in deep doo. It’s more than pushing a couple of buttons and talking. You’ve got to know what frequencies to use and how to connect to repeaters in your area if you want to reach out beyond just a couple of miles. That’s one BIG piece of the communication lifeline that most unprepared radio owners will stumble on. So, learning to use the radio effectively is probably more important than owning a radio.
Now, with the addition of a few accessories to keep my radio live (batteries, chargers, etc.), I should be set to keep myself informed of what’s going on in my region and have the ability to reach out for help or other info.