A short (and I hope FUN) article directed primarily toward
the ham radio and relay operators of AmRRON.
Quite often on other prepper boards, when the topic of “COMMUNICATION” arises, it usually turns pretty quickly to ‘talking on the radio’ and that’s as far as it goes. Here at AmRRON we are a communication service organization, and we realize that for daily use around the home, ranch or farm, “just talking’ is probably enough. However, experience shows, that when an extraordinary event such as hurricane, large scale loss of infrastructure or a Bundy Ranch situation occurs, the need is for accurately COMMUNICATING MESSAGES, not small talk. Remember: the operator on the other end of the link may have a shortage of electricity, a busy schedule and be working with little sleep in an uncomfortable situation. There will be a high probability of miscommunication if we don’t follow some basic guidelines. So, ‘just talking on the radio’ will not get it done. Write it down, print it, cut and paste it into computer memory, but don’t ‘just talk’ and then ‘wing-it when asked what was said.
I would advise you to -whenever possible- write your messages, sent and received. If using a computer, SAVE the message to memory, print it – whatever – but don’t let it disappear. Using message formats previously agreed upon, can make this much easier to do even when using voice over radio. The AmRRON Communications SOI has instructions and message formats shared on our network. If that is not possible, try to at least have the operator on the other end WRITE your actual message and YOU write theirs. However, there are often serious problems trying to convey a complex message, letters, numbers and etc. using voice over radio, especially during weak signal/high noise conditions. Even a SIMPLE message can easily be misinterpreted.
CAN sound like –
The Power of Correction
Many of the digital modes available for FREE in software like Fldigi and WINMOR have POWERFUL error correction that happens automatically, causing very accurate message transfer to happen even with very weak signals. Some modes even work when the signal is weaker than the radio noise! Imagine that; when the signal is buried under static it still prints very accurately. This can be critical, saving time, precious electricity and stopping confusion before it happens. Unfortunately, the same does not go for weak voice signals, as we’ve seen above.
If you are able to drive your communications equipment to a place with electrical power or can run it from a car battery, then laptop computers and sophisticated ham equipment can be used. Here is an example of one large, roll-around, Deployable Communications Console I built for a local county emergency response agency. Size and weight were dictated by their existing equipment. This is designed to be moved in the back of a vehicle and used at a command post communications center. It is deployable in minutes – including the quick-up NVIS antennas I made for the system – complete with poles (packaged separately). The laptop computer, operating accessories and etc. are in the large steel drawer in the bottom of the console. Much of the same capability can be built into a much smaller, lighter, airline carry-on sized container, with little or no reduction in performance.
A Simpler and MUCH Less Expensive Alternative
Written messages can be easily transmitted veeeery long distances and written down by a Morse Code operator of even modest skill. I would rather receive an accurately written message at 14 words per minute with pad and pencil, than to have gibberish at 300 words per minute via a high-tech mode. Also, unlike digital communication over radio, Morse Code requires ONLY a simple radio and your brain, which is easily recharged for a few hours with a cup of coffee.
NOTE: Pouring coffee into your laptop does NOT have the same result.
That would be a BAD thing.
While I was testing that large, deployable emergency communications command station, I kept a regular radio schedule with a friend several States away, everyday using Morse code. He was using a very simple, inexpensive “QRP” rig that he built himself. The entire station, including multi-band radio transceiver the size of a pack of cigarettes (oval), solar panel (rectangle), rechargeable batteries, key paddles, external speaker (I use ear buds) , antenna and more; fits into the side pocket of his ‘cargo pants’ and looks like this:
We’ve been doing this for years and have maybe had one or two days per year when it was just too rough to keep communicating in Morse. However, those days were RARE. That is very reliable communication and is a very small burden if times are tough, electricity not available & etc. whether in an emergency or during a hunting trip. If you are planning to be on the move and MUST use minimal electrical power for maximum communication, I STRONGLY suggest making the time to learn Morse code. It’s easier than it ever was, because of FREE software programs that guide you and reenforce your learning. The comparison of voice to Morse is that it takes roughly twenty times as much power to convey the same message in SSB HF voice as it does in Morse. In other words, the big 100 Watts radio in voice does almost the same as this little 5 Watt radio in Morse CW. Think about THAT the next time you’re cranking away on the big generator, or waiting in a long and dangerous gas line, post event.
Summary: Use digital or Morse for passing a written & formatted message when possible. If that is not possible, at the very least, ensure that all messages received are written down and checked with the sending station for accuracy. The AmRRON Communications SOI is very helpful with message formats and more.