A lil’ communications help please?

by Road Warrior on September 11, 2013

Happy Wednesday all!


So my father (who is also of the prepper mindset – it’s nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of) and I were sitting around jawing over a snort of single malt a couple days ago. The conversations ranged all over, from the upcoming hunting season, to my soon-to-be arriving new son, to, of course, prepping. We learned a while ago that yeah, it’s great to have guns and ammunition and outdoors skills (Dad trained us well in those departments from a very early age – my brother and I could start a fire outside when it was wet with one match before we were in the first grade), but, as we grow older, and our respective families grow and spread out, moving to new houses in new towns further away, we need to have a plan in the works for an emergency contingency.


Makes sense, right? We all want to be together in case of the S hitting the F, to be able to draw on the immense bond and comfort that is family. We originally had plans all set up that were pretty basic, like “if A happens, then we go to M and pick up S and go to Z” However, as we sit and watch the news, shaking our heads, and realize that there are more scenarios out there than we could possibly dream of, we had to simplify. It boiled down to “If anything serious happens, we will all communicate, agree this is an issue, and meet at point X with what we need.” That’s it…it’s a vague battle plan, but unfortunately, sometimes you have to adapt on the roll.


With this general plan, as we developed it over another two fingers of scotch, came the sudden and drastic conversation-stopper of a realization: a disaster will come at the worst possible time. Yeah, it’s a no-brainer, but it hit like a ton of bricks. I’m sure a lot of people prep thinking that immediate disaster will come when everybody is at home, after a nice yummy meal, while everyone is watching TV and the kids are on the floor playing with crayons: The TV announcer bursts over the reruns of “Seinfeld”, and he says, “sorry to interrupt George Costanza, but, well, gee whiz, looks like the bombs are on their way! Good luck everyone!” The father puts down his pipe, gets up, stretches, and says, “Okay, kids! Let’s go to the basement!” And everyone merrily goes to their safety. Doom averted, everyone lives happily ever after eating Spam and baked beans, watching “Seinfeld” on DVD with a generator-powered TV.


Sorry, wrong answer. What I’m sure will happen is this: I’ll hear on the radio at work (25 miles from home) that something has happened. Everyone in the world simultaneously has to get home. I run out the door with my truck keys in one hand, cellphone in the other. Gotta call Dad. Gotta call Mrs. Warrior. Gotta call my brother. We all gotta meet, right? That’s what the plan was. Shit. all cellphone towers are down. No way to call anyone. I get about a mile down the road before the traffic sets in, everyone doing the same thing I am. I fight my way down back roads, maybe even trails, to get to my wife’s work. She’s already left. Where did she go? Home? To my work to meet me? To the school to pick up our son? She didn’t leave a note. Then I remember Dad is away in Connecticut at a trade show. Do I need to get his stuff too and then go to the meeting point? Do I go home, where my wife may or may not be, get my mobile preps, then head to the meeting point? Do I wait for her? Do I pick up my son at school? Which classroom is he even in? Did they send them home or keep them at school?


Tick, tock. Tick, tock.


Granted, short of nuclear/chemical war, an invasion by another country, or an EMP blast, there are very few scenarios that would pop up that could effect my life that quickly, that drastically. But there’s just no way of knowing, is there?


Anyway, this was just supposed to be a short post (got carried away) about the fact that I need help…and if I do, I’m sure others out there need it too. How do we stay in touch when the chips are down? Having a plan helps, but as I just tried to illustrate, well, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. Everything these days revolves around cellphones as communications hubs, and I think that is a very, very weak link. What can we do beyond that? Smoke signals? Walkie-talkies? Tin cans on a string? What are there for options out there? What do you guys use? Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated…let’s knock this one around a bit.


Stay safe out there!



{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

JavaMan September 11, 2013

If you don’t alreay have one, get your Ham radio license. Then go buy a few of the really cheap (read Chinese) handi-talkies … they’re under $50 each these days and cover 2 meters and 70 cm (approx 144 Mhz and 440 Mhz). I think I’ve seen the Daewoo for under $40 on Amazon lately.

Then download a program called Chirp and get the programming cable for the radios, and you can programm them all identically. That way, who ever has one can say, “I’m changing to channel 62″, and you’ll all be on the same frequency.

Granted, most of the time you’ll use them through a repeater, but even if the repeaters are down, you can get decent coms over at least a few miles with the right antenna. Your biggest problem will be when the S hits the F remembering that you have it (if you have it with you).

I now have more radios than people, but most of them are older, bulkier HTs.

I have the comms covered, it’s the rest of the plan that I’m scrambling to fill in gaps.


Gunslinger67 September 11, 2013

AR15.com’s outdoors forum has an excellent Ham Radio sub-forum .

I cant post a link in this reply ….system must have anti-spam filters .


Gunslinger67 September 11, 2013
Templar September 11, 2013

Ham radio in the 2-10 MHz range will do the trick. If close, groundwave comms will work. Up to about 400 miles, Near-Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) does the trick. A 10- or 20-watt rig that will cover 40, 60, and 80 meters is all everyone needs.


Babycatcher September 11, 2013

What Templar said. It can be operated by solar, is small enough, and light enough to fit in an Alice pack or BOB, and is usually the only means of communication that still works when the lights go out. We have a mobile unit in each vehicle, and even if I’m on the road to a client(sometimes two hours away) we can get in touch with each other. It only costs about 15 bucks for the license fee…one of the best deals on the planet.


Roseman September 11, 2013

What about CBs. What distances are possible with this technology?


Patrick September 11, 2013

Depends on a lot of factors – everything from the type of radio and antenna being used to the transmission mode and atmospherics. Anywhere between 4 miles and 100+ miles depending on how things are configured.



Babycatcher September 11, 2013

To find your nearest ham radio operators, and thus, a local class, you can contact the American Radio Relay League, (ARRL) http://www.arrl.org, or qrz.com for more info…the technician class is the staring point, even children as young as 10 or so can take the class. One of the local homeschooled families has 2 daughters, 11 and 8, who took the classes, studied, and passed the exam!they are the two youngest that I know of.


The Swarminator September 11, 2013

This topic was discussed the other day here:



Don AD0BR September 11, 2013

s mentioned Amateur radio will fill your needs but it is a little more complicated than that. A tech class license is the easiest to get but you are limited to 50 Mhz and above with a few spots in the HF bands. There are a lot of local repeaters reachable by a hand held but in an emergency these may not be reliable. Without a repeater an inexpensive 2M rig with a good antenna may carry 75 miles depending on terrain.

Next up and one I would recommend is a general class license. This gives you most of the HF bands and world wide communications with as little as 5 Watts. There are many good 100W transceivers out there for around $500 new and less used. There is no longer a code requirement for any amateur license. A wire antenna is cheap and easy to rig. The test is more technical than the tech class but doable with study and maybe a local Elmer.

I have an extra class license, much more difficult. I was an electronics engineer and still had to study hard to pass.


Ssshhhh! September 11, 2013

Before we moved a lot closer to the BOL, had a plan to mark certain known points along the BO routes with tape or spray paint to let the spouse / stragglers know who had passed by there already. Mark a certain road sign, tree, lamppost with a simple marker so the other(s) would know “got the kids, heading to the BOL” for example. Least you know they made it that far, and where to start searching from if they never make it. Probably should update that plan for our diff situation now…

VHF radios now, at least one in each vehicle and one in the kitchen. Always on. We use them maybe once a week, often less, and only short / friendly exchanges of mundane info. Our comm needs are only short-range, so this works well. Each radio cloned for channel and CTCSS tones, local repeaters programmed. Have some simple codes and duress signals, including one that simulates commercial radio traffic for use on business itinerant freqs.


Road Warrior September 11, 2013

Hey, I really like this idea of the markers. No batteries, airwaves orsignal towers needed! I’m definitely adding note paper, sharpies, and blaze tape to my BOB.


Patrick September 11, 2013

This is one of those ever present concerns, right? How do we communicate when we cannot communicate through the normal methods we use. Part of the answer comes in planning and coordinating before any event happens.

For instance – in our family, I work a good distance away, so my wife’s responsibility is to retrieve our children and retreat to the house. My main job is to just get home. It’s a matter of practicality – I work 40km from home, the kids go to school 12km from home. My wife is rarely ever further from home than I am when I am at work. In a worse case scenario, they could walk home in about 3 hours. My walk would take the better part of 10 hours.

Our plan is to retreat to the house and re-assess from there (bug-in or bug-out).

If I can swing it, I would like to get my HAM license, but being overseas at this point makes that difficult. My plan for now is to not need communications in an emergency — we just act.



j.r. guerra in s. tx. September 11, 2013

That is a tough one alright. Yes, I’m sure communications systems will become overloaded too quickly. Both of us work with computers, so email could be sent as a backup.

I’m married, two kids. Luckily, one kid is at wife’s school so that helps there. I’m also fortunate in that she is very resourceful and will move Heaven and Earth retrieving my other child, who is about 5 miles away from her school as the crow flies. Not too much traffic between both points – she’d probably beat me home in fact. I work in adjacent city, maybe 8 miles from home (again as crow flies). It wouldn’t take me long to get there (does anyone else hear Murphy laughing ?:^).

Mom lives opposite side of town, brother works nearby so that will be of comfort. She is healthy but a 15 mile hike is probably asking a lot of her, especially in summer (> 100 temps). Winter would not be a problem – never snows here, a sudden bug out in white out conditions would be challenging.

I really don’t have an answer – this WILL BE an interesting discussion.


irishdutchuncle September 12, 2013

…also, text messages may get through, even though “voice” channels are tied up.


ThatguyinCA September 11, 2013

Ham radio/shortwave is a good idea, I gotta get on that. It’s known that cellphones in a disaster will most likely not work (system overload in 9/11). I do however have some cheapo long distance walkie talkies but they really aren’t half as good as the advertised range (although one time in the desert . . ). They are good for about 3 mile radius (at best!) around town when I stand on the roof. However, that is going under the assumption that electronics will work. What if we r dealing with EMP? You need pre-planned arrangements/contingencies. I like what ssshhhh! has going. But to start with; You want to establish meeting points and responsibilities. Keep a notebook handy at the rally points to update those arriving with current status, plus make sure a grease pencil is included in EDC (you can leave notes anywhere). First look at your situations, how far am I when at work?, how far is the school, etc. to come up with the plans. Find out the school’s program/protocols in an emergency situation. If your kids are old enough, they could probably get to the rally point on their own and won’t need any “gettin.” Chances are, no matter the event, it most likely won’t go really sour that quick for private citizens (businesses would be another story, ie, Katrina). You could even be a day away by foot and not have to worry too much for your family from the “golden hordes.” The key is a pre-determined plan that is as simple as possible. If you have that, then communication ability is just some icing.


Ray September 11, 2013

Well … If its EMP ,or a Nuke strike. the radios, cars ,lights, ‘Puters and any and everything with a microchip is gone forever. Pretty much everything made since about 1980 or so just died. Y’all better have a plan that everyone knows ,To rally up at a fixed point that EVERYONE knows how to get to. If you have small children have a designated person that heads out to fetch them, AND leaves “cookie crumbs” to let everyone else know they are getting that job done. Have everyone doing a job at the rally point(like “dad fills the water jugs” “Mom checks the food store” “Grandpa is first sentry”) you see where I’m going with this. Any plan may go in the pooper when TSHTF, but having a detail plan is way better than NOT having one.


Road Warrior September 11, 2013

So it looks to me that the most important communication is the one you have before disaster strikes. Guess we should get this stuff down, without the scotch.

…nah. With scotch. :-)


irishdutchuncle September 12, 2013

no scotch for the wife until after she delivers…

but decide in advance on a plan, and under which circumstances she should deviate from it.


Pineslayer September 11, 2013

On the go comm’s, CB, FRMS, VHF/UHF.
I have an “illegal” amp for my CB, it will reach out there.
Little walkies are great over short distances, but are really hampered by hills and buildings. They might be jammed up with other people too.
Just picked up a Baofeng 2 way radio, just like the cops use. It is loaded with features and cheap ( Chinese slave labor ) It is a bitch to program. Uses a repeater if there is one working, but will work OK without. So much depends on the distance and terrain that you need to talk over. You are supposed to have a license to broadcast with it, but we are talking emergency stuff here, right? Same with Ham radio, anyone can buy a set-up, but you need a piece of paper to broadcast. Ham has a longer learning curve.

Have a plan ready to go. Who is picking who, where to meet, how long to wait before hiking home, how and where to leave a message at a location that you had to leave. What route to take and if you couldn’t take that route because of danger, what is plan B. I really need to get on it, my plan is full of holes. Learn Morse Code with a Ruger 10/22.


Geoff September 12, 2013

You’ve got a pretty high tolerance for doing illegal stuff over the airwaves. If I were you, I’d spend the $15 and get the technician class license. It’s easy, and you’ll learn why your illegal CB rig is going to make you a target. Don’t get caught using that 2M walkie talkie without a license, you’ll not like the fine.


Pineslayer September 13, 2013

Geoff, my tolerances aside, I have only tested the equipment and as of now it sits idle. I am aware of the legalities. As far as if they will come for me, I doubt it. We are talking emergency here and as an example of their willingness to track people down, a local illegal radio station was broadcasting everyday for 10 years, music, before someone from the FCC tracked them down and asked them to stop. No fines, no confiscation of gear. The only reason they were found, was they asked a local where they could find the Grateful Dead station and were pointed in the right direction. I am advocating such behavior, but in times of emergency all bets are off.


Michael September 11, 2013

I’ll probably never go out and buy some, but I’m going to go ahead and throw the idea of carrier pigeons out there again.


j.r. guerra in s. tx. September 12, 2013

My brother had racing pigeons when he was much younger, their racing club took birds as far as 450 miles and they would arrive within one day. The problem is they only go one way, so you would have to transport them from ‘home’ (destination) to your location.

Other than that, works pretty well. When we went to ranch, he would occasionally take a pair of them and release them. It was only 65 miles but they never got lost and were waiting in the cage trap when we arrived. Really amazing.


irishdutchuncle September 12, 2013

the only disadvantage to “ham” is the requirement that you disclose your name, and the physical location of your “shack”.

and like Don ADoBR and Pineslayer said: there’s a “learning curve”.


WoodsyMumsy September 12, 2013

Radio is still king in Canada, for remote locations.
Satellite communications are not great and wickedly expensive, even in the open it is difficult to get a strong enough signal in the far north.

Where I live, we still have messages that go out daily on the local radio station. They are messages like ” bob smith call Dr. jones” or “steve we will be 2 days late flying in to the cabin” or ” mary redsky call your Mom”.
They only recently stopped running the classified ads on the radio everyday, for those who do not read . I will miss the quirky ads done by the sellers. Little old ladies selling tupperware, and people selling cars for use in the bush or on reserve with no doors or windsheild and only one seat. It was very funny at times.
There are few roads, and very limited electricity and phone lines in many places in this area, and even where there are old phones lines, they are not reliable at all, and Bell refuses to repair them to work properly. They have promised fiber optic for years, but then skipped over us to get to the wealthy cottagers. You may also be last on the list, not important enough to rate repairs or additional towers.

Another thing many people do not know is that the range of a cell tower is greatly reduced when the tower is busy. When the seasonal cottagers and tourists fill the camps, the signal is so weak, it might as well be dial up. They all left last weekend, and we now have full signal again. You may not have the services you think you do, when you and everyone else decide to move out to the rural areas. We only have the one tower and it is 30 or 40 kms away, so we are on the edge of the service area, already. That great internet using turbo hubs is useless for us in the summer due to heavy traffic.


Geoff September 12, 2013

Dude — you’re already living in what most Americans would call SHTF conditions! Don’t change a thing!


Russ September 12, 2013

When I see the word “comms” I know it is all make believe and fantasy.

Getting a license will teach you nothing about operating a radio. Will your wife, GF, or kids get a license or do you think the local hams will be happy to let people without a license use the repeater because it is an “emergency”? That is a tragically unhappy ending waiting to happen.

You are going to be surprised your Chinese HTs barely have a mile range on simplex. Are you going to buy a 50 watt mobile radio and a power supply for your home and another radio for the car? How big of a battery do you think you will need to draw 20 amps when the power is out?

For HF you will need a couple of radios, tuners, antennas, and of course, power. NVIS will be a challenge mobile so expect to stop the car, put up the antenna, tune it, and try to make a contact.

Good luck.


R.C. September 13, 2013

“You are going to be surprised your Chinese HTs barely have a mile range on simplex.”

I have and use Baofeng UV-5R’s and use them for simplex comms during triathlons. I get 4 miles range from where I am, to where the base station is.

Not sure what you are using, but your assumption that all Chinese HTs are junk is obviously false.

Now I agree with your pessimist beliefs that getting involved in ham radio comms means all your people need antennas, rigs, etc. Sure, that is true. But short of sending up smoke signals, what else are you going to do?

One thing many don’t know is that in areas where you have phone DSL, if your family uses a tool like retroshare, and the power goes down, the phone line is generally still there. I have fired up my DSL during a power outage, and been able to contact my family, as well as surf the web.

Not sure if cable modems would work as I don’t have satellite or cable.

Don’t think in absolutes. You limit your options.


Russ September 13, 2013

“I get 4 miles range from where I am, to where the base station is.”

I suppose the base station has an outdoor antenna larger and higher than a rubber duck. You are not an especially close reader as I specificity said “your Chinese HTs…on simplex” and I never said a syllable about the quality of Chinese radios.


Jason September 12, 2013

I have planned this for at least 20 years. I lead the charge and everybody stays put and I round them up first and foremost. If communications work, I text then email and call last.

When that is the case I direct everybody and my 20 year old is 2nd in command and he is well trained.

I have already told everybody “panic” is not an option or a choice. Ou can be scared, nervous and petrified because it is normal but panic is an emotion and a reaction to the afore and only clouds judgement.

As a kid and well into my 30′s I surfed huge waves (25-30′ faces) every winter, dozens of times. I learned very quickly that panic will get you in trouble and deeply limits viable options, appropriate actions and thinking. Being physically prepped, knowing the possibilities of “escape” and general conditions (tides, rip currents, reefs etc) is the best hedge against disaster. Don’t get me wrong, I have been bounced off the bottom, washed up on reefs, almost drown once (my wetsuit got ripped off in such a way that it wrapped around my head and I was trapped by water. I kept my head while I was scared and figured out how to rip it off while tumbling under water). Much of it was an act of controlled lunacy but the rush is what kept me going and what a rush!

To me this thought process and prepared mindset is relative and provided me with invaluable survival skills …. and I thought I was out having a little fun with a sport – ha!


irishdutchuncle September 12, 2013

…panic is first on my list of options, although it’s really more of a “flow chart”.
failure is option #2. (and always a genuine possibility)
“good outcomes” begin a little further down.


Jack September 12, 2013

Like most things in life, an effective communication plan is a tiered strategy. Start with the basics and a “local” solution, and work your way up the food chain from there.

What I would recommend first is either a CB radio, or a VHF radio. These are fairly cheap to come by, don’t require a license, and have decent local range. If you live near water, or you plan to bug out via waterways, then I’d default to a VHF radio. Whereas, if you are a landlubber, then I’d suggest the CB route.

I prefer and suggest these two options above FRS-type radios, because these offer the opportunity to communicate to OTHERS, too. Sometimes, you can “relay” a message through the good ol’ neighborly system, to get your message over-the-horizon and beyond the line-of-sight range of your handheld unit. Plus the VHF and CB radios have some standardized stations for emergency notifications, weather broadcasts, public broadcasts, etc. e.g. there’s indeed a method to the madness. CB radios have been used for decades to warn fellow drivers of speed traps ahead, dangerous road conditions, etc. You just can’t get that kinda intel from a pair of GRMS or FRS radio. Their ease-of use is also easier for newbies to accept. No complicated jargons, no “rules” on what to say, when to say it, etc. Ham (armature) radios can be a bit too complicated and daunting to newbies.

Sure, in a “perfect world,” I’d suggest everyone jump right into a handheld ham radio, and “unlock” it to allow it to communicate over any/every band (including CB and VHF.) Technically, you aren’t SUPPOSED to broadcast on those frequencies from your ham. But, during a SHTF moment, does that really matter?…
Thus, one of these unlocked handheld hams is the “do-all” Leatherman of radios! But, it’s still a bit complicated for the novice to deal with.

So, I’d suggest STARTING with either a CB, or a marine VHF radio. But, I’d even go one step further than that. Nowadays, they make a radio+GPS combo. One of them even features an automatic “friend locator” feature on the GPS portion. e.g. share you IDs with one another, and it will AUTOMATICALLY locate them on your GPS screen!!! Thus, you never have to communicate your locations or rendezvous points “into the clear.” Instead, you can just see one another, and start closing distances to meet-up.

REMEMBER!!! Regardless of your radio type — BIG BROTHER IS ALWAYS LISTENING (and recording ALL conversations.) But, if you just assume EVERYONE is listening, then you should be “fine” — in that you wouldn’t say/disclose anything self-incriminating.

Whether you choose CB, or VHF, your next step is to multiply. e.g. First make sure every bug out bag has a handheld unit. Then make sure every vehicle (car/boat) has a semi-permanently mounted unit (higher power supply,) with a better/decent antenna. Then, install some sort of “base station” unit and a BETTER antenna (plus backup antennas) at your home as well as your bug out location.

Along the way, create a TRUE communications plan. e.g. what standard time of day will you routinely broadcast if the family isn’t regrouped yet? e.g. maybe you will ALWAYS broadcast at 11:00pm local time — into the blind — until the whole family has been reconnected? Thus, family members aren’t wasting their batteries by trying to scan/listen all day. Instead, they turn their radios on about five minutes before 11:00pm, and then listen/wait/communicate. After about 15 minutes, the will go offline (to preserve batteries) — and wait to try again tomorrow (same bat time, same bat channel.)

Radios have been used for DECADES (and still used today) for airplane and boating location-finding. (It’s pretty easy to radio-locate broadcast signals.) So, make sure your communications plans include SHORT broadcast durations, and random broadcast locations. During “disaster” SHTF situations, try NOT to broadcast from your “home” or your “base camp” or your bug out location. Instead, go a few miles in any direction, and broadcast from somewhere nearby, instead. Better yet, broadcast while moving in a vehicle.

You might even try a somewhat more advanced “standardized” broadcast policy? e.g. Broadcast daily based on the day of the week. e.g. on the first day of the month, broadcast at 0001hrs (1am locally.) On the 15th day of the month, broadcast at 1500hrs (e.g. 3pm locally.) This way, every day, you are broadcasting at a different hour (less predictable.) Granted, there are only 24 hours per day, and 31 days in some months. So, you kinda have to “do the math” to realize that on the 25th day of the month, your are back to broadcasting at 1am, again.

A similar policy should be applied to what channels you will broadcast on (or listen to.) Sure, you could have a standard/common “default” family frequency. In the VHF world, everyone seems to default to channel 69 (go figure.) (wink) But, there are some channels restricted to commercial actions, or restricted to emergencies-only, etc. So, if you are going to create a roaming-channel plan, make sure you take these things into consideration. Your number of channels will also affect this plan. (e.g. CB radios have fewer channels/frequencies than VHF radios.)
We opt for seven channels (one for each day of the week.) And, we make sure all seven of these are <40. Thus, our communications plan will worth the same whether we are using CB radios, or VHF radios.

Have an agreed "code" for changing channels, too. e.g. after you establish contact on your "base" channel, you will likely want to subsequently change to a new channel. Example: You might spend 5-10 minutes "broadcasting into the wild" trying to "ESTABLISH" communications with your family. Others may hear these repeated attempts, and begin their efforts to locate you. If you STAY on this channel, you could lead them right to you (or your family.) So, once you indeed successfully "make contact," you should QUICLY change to a different/unique channel. For us, we use birth months. e.g. if I say "change to channel Jack," that means change to Jack's birth month (e.g. channel 12, since Jack was born in December." If I say change to channel "Arlene," that means change to channel 5, because Arlene was born in May. The rest of the world doesn't know when our family was born. So, OUR Jack's birth month, is probably different than THEIR Jack's birth month.

The only problem with THIS particular plan, is that it limits us to channels 1-12. So, we have an ADDITIONAL method of communicating other channels (e.g. above 13 and above.) Our plan is a three-step hop. e.g. Step 1 = establish "base" communications at a particular time, on a particular channel. Step 2 = switch to something a bit more impromptu, and less "monitored" (e.g. the birth month channel of choice.) If we need to talk longer and in further detail, we will then use our "code" to change to a channel 13+. (For extra credit on this lesson, have both VHF and CB radios, and change radio-type in route.) e.g. Your code-word for CB radio might be "highway" (e.g. road-based communications.) Whereas your VHF code-word might be "rivers" — since they are marine-based communications. You might then use "mile-markers" to determine a channel? So, if I tell you to meet me on the Mississippi River at mile marker 66 — that REALLY means to make contact with me via VHF radio on channel 66. If I say to meet me on highway 32 — that REALLY means to make CB radio contact with me on CB channel 32. Granted, you can get fancier by transposing numbers? Or, adding/subtracting a "fixed" set of numbers (that only your family knows.) e.g. maybe you add the current year to every channel? Thus, in 2013 you would add "13" to the channel IDs? So, you might say meeting me on the Mississippi River at mile marker 79; or respectively, meet me on highway 45.
This method changes your code (automatically) every year. Whereas, if you add the current MONTH to the code, then your code will automatically change monthly.
BEWARE not to make it TOO complicated, however! During times of stress and emergencies, the mind begins to falter. The last thing most people want to do once they have indeed successfully made contact, is to purposefully BREAK that contact!… Remember, you don't HAVE to change channels, unless you are truly concerned about OPSEC. But, you SHOULD have some sort of communications plan! It should include "standardized" times to make communication (but, these times don't have to be static each/every day.) It should also include a semi-easy method of channel-hopping as-needed. (e.g. you might jump to a channel that already has other people talking? So, you might have to channel-hop several times? — to Corey's birthday, or Ralph's birthday, or Susan's birthday — until your find a clear channel.)

Your communications plans should have other instrumental keywords and phrases, too. e.g. something to identify whether you are indeed safe/clear, or functioning/broadcasting under stress/supervision. Maybe using the name of a living relative or movie star is an "all clear" sign (as in "alive and well.") Whereas, using the name of a deceased (dead) relative or movie star is a signal of distress?

Ditto for keywords to identify predetermined rendezvous locations. Maybe it's based on something like fairy tales? Big Bad Wolf location = grandma's house. Rapunzel = the castle bug out location. Wizard of Oz = no place like HOME. Cinderella = our old home; or step parent's home. etc. Or, you could maybe use the rooflines? (Hip, gable, etc.) Or, the roofing material (of they are different) = clay tile location; asphalt tile location; slate location; etc. Or, maybe something like county locations (if they are all different?) The main thing, is to have SOME SORT of method-to-the madness, that everyone can indeed EASILY remember and recall (even under stress.)

We ALSO have a code system for discussing times-of-day; and dates. This way, when we discuss a date/time to meet over-the-air, we don't unwillingly share it with others. Again, don't make it TOO complicated. We actually practice this one in our daily lives (via our cell phone conversations and text messages to one another.) This way, it's learned and reinforced — BEFORE there's a disaster!

So, once you have all these "basics" covered, it's then time to kinda "spread your wings" a bit. What I'd do first, is get the "other" type of radios. e.g. if you started with CB radios, then buy/acquire VHF radios this time. (or, visa versa.) Reason: Whatever your justification is for the FIRST type of radio, then the second type of radio offers you the OPPOSITE via privacy. There are very few VHF users driving down the highway. (Granted, technically speaking, you aren't supposed to use VHF radios inland, either.) But again, during a SHTF situation, most of those rules will be overlooked, or tossed completely out the window. Thus, while people are chattering away on every available CB channel inland — YOU will have relative privacy on the VHF frequencies. Similarly, out on the open water, most boats don't really use CB radios. So, you would have the CB frequencies almost exclusively to yourselves. Having BOTH on all of your vehicles is VERY helpful in everyday life. When we launch/recover our boat at the boat ramp, instead of YELLING back & forth to one another like disgruntled rookie newlyweds, we peacefully speak to each other over our radios in our respective cockpits. Ditto on road trips with more than one car, etc.

If you still have money burning a hole in your pocket, by all means, expand into ham/amateur radios!!! These frequencies and network of repeaters and such can indeed provide you with over-the-horizon communications! Plus, there are all kinds of radio-to-phone services you can use (both old-school, and Internet-based.)

Personally, I think knowledge is power. I'd rather have CB and VHF scanners, than ham radios. (e.g. so we can snoop on the activities of others/neighbors.) "Yes," we have ham radios (and also hold our licenses to operate them.) It only takes about a weekend of study to get your basic license. Honestly, however, I wouldn't worry too much about the licensing (for SHTF scenarios.) During these moments, it won't really matter whether you have a license to operate your radio (or not.) As they say, however, practice DOES make perfect. So, if you want to be comfortable using your ham radios, then you SHOULD get your licenses, too!

Lastly, I don't want to turn a completely blind-eye to smartphones. These little suckers do more today, than they used to!!! There seems to be an "app" for almost everything (radio scanning/monitoring and communications not withstanding.) There's a kewl little app that leverages marine VHFs+GPS to show the nautical traffic throughout the US/oceans. It's pretty AWESOME! It shows the name of the vessel, pics of the vessel, last port of call, destination, current heading, current speed, top speed, etc. It even shows a breadcrumb trail of the vessel's actual route. It displays ALL of this and ALL of the vessels in an easy-to-read interface, superimposed right onto a zoomable map/chart — real-time! "Yes," if they can do ALL of this with a simply "app" on your smartphone, then BIG BROTHER is capable of so much MORE!!! So, even when you are NOT "broadcasting," your radios are STILL giving away your location, your heading, your speed, your past locations, etc. Just THINK how much more your smartphone is tattletaling about you, your family, your location, your history, etc…

Also, there are "apps" to listen-in on police, fire, ambulance, taxi, and just about any/every other frequency, too! Granted, many of the police-bands are now being encrypted/scrambled. But, when they have to communicate with sister organizations and such, much of the security gets tossed out the window, and they broadcast into the clear. We launch this app anytime there's something semi-newsworthy near us, or when the power goes out, etc. We can hear the chatter of the radios from the utility repairman, etc. Why dial some 800 number and hear lame excuses and "stale" data, when you can hear the REAL story — straight from the horses mouth?!!!

There are also "apps" for listening to local ham stations and repeaters. Just a nice way to eavesdrop and learn by listening to others.

Had enough yet?…

Here's another hint for those of you living in apartment communities, or condo complexes, or cities with lots of people packed-in tightly. Buy a QUALITY scanner that also covers frequencies of cordless phones, and baby monitors. You can then get a LOT MORE juicy details about your neighbors! (wink) Or, maybe even view their nanny cams or security cams? It's AMAZING how many signals are just flying through the air — in-the-clear — every day. We are CONSTANTLY bombarded by these. They are invisible and inaudible to the masses in everyday life. But, with the proper scanner/tuner, there's a WHOLE NEW WORLD of information at your fingertips. It's kinda like trying to explain and FM stereo broadcast or over-the-air TV signal to someone from the 1800s. They just don't realize what can happen "over the air." Well, your TVs and FM stereo and smartphones are just the tip of the iceberg of what's REALLY out there to listen and see.

Satellite phones: I don't really recommend them unless you are planning to circumvent the globe on a sailboat. Instead, opt for a satellite broadband service like "Excede." This service is decent enough to offer voice-over-IP service! Sure, there's a bit of latency (like speaking to someone abroad.) But, it's acceptable. Best of all, it's semi-mobile. You can deploy it in a temporary bug out location, aim it, and use it — without becoming geo-located by locals. PLUS, it gives your broadband Internet service for accessing almost unlimited data online, or sending/receiving emails, etc. Granted, it's a US-only service (unlike the global network that services the satellite phones.) But, when it comes to a stealth method of keeping your remote bug out location "on the net," there's no better way that I can think of.

Peace. (and keep on preppin')


MATTLBS September 15, 2013

WOW!!! I learned so much from this reply. Thanks for posting. You should submit this as a post for all to see. Lots of good stuff here!!


izzy September 13, 2013

Excellent post. If TSHTF no one will miss their commutes. Of course in a SHTF situation the roads will probably be out. America’s fastest hikers only average about 45 miles a day. A three-hour commute could put your family a week apart.


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