We often get folks new to emergency communications who ask, “Where do I start?” They ask what the priorities should be in developing their communications capabilities.
The answer is simple, start local. What is happening in your own neighborhood and community is far more likely to have an immediate impact on you, your family, your church, and your mutual aid group. This is not to say situational awareness of what is happening outside your area might not be just as important. A foreign military landing on our shores a hundred or a thousand miles away is definitely something you want to know about. A missile battery being set up two states away could very well impact you, especially if you live near a strategic location (military base, hydroelectric dam, fuel or railway depots, etc.).
The priorities are:
1. Local two-way communications: To talk with your family, your neighborhood, and others in your community. This is your ability to call for help. Most preparedness-minded citizens already have a Baofeng in hand. Love it or hate it (the Baofeng), two-way voice communications is generally already covered for most groups.
2. Local one-way (receive) communications: The ability to receive public safety, ham radio, utilities, railroads, air traffic, and even business bands can be great sources for information you might not hear anywhere else. This will be the focus of this posting.
3. Regional and National DIGITAL one-way (receive) communications: Emphasis here is on DIGITAL mode reception, because if you make that your goal, you’ll already have the ability to receive voice communications. But if you’re not able to receive digital mode transmissions, you’ll be missing out on invaluable reports, news, and intelligence developed and distributed BY patriots, FOR patriots. Information that you absolutely would want to know in a grid down, nationwide civil defense emergency. You do not need to be licensed to RECEIVE digital mode communications, only for transmitting.
4. Regional and National Digital two-way communications: Once you establish the ability to receive digital mode communications over HF/shortwave, you’ll want to develop the skills and your station to be able to transmit. You can stay informed with ‘receive-only’ capabilities, but you can’t report news/intelligence, and more importantly, you can’t call for help if you can’t transmit.
This posting will focus on #2 in our communications capabilities priority list, assuming most of you have already established two-way capabilities (and most of you have).
HOW DO I KNOW WHAT TO LISTEN FOR?
Many of frequencies (but not all) may be programmed into your VHF/UHF handheld radios for you to listen in. But this should NOT be your only plan for monitoring/listening to local agencies and other radio communications.
You will find all of the frequencies in your area listed in directories such as:
RADIOREFERENCE (most popular) and;
Radio Reference is probably the top webpage for identifying frequencies issued by the FCC in your community.
Once you go to RadioReference.com, click on the ‘Databases’ tab, and type in your city.
Let’s use Sandpoint, ID (Bonner County) as an example:
From there you can expand various lists: Public Service, Businesses, Amateur Radio repeaters, Businesses, Airports, etc.
This page is where you’ll find the frequencies to program into your scanners. (Note that you’ll need a trunking scanner. Your Baofeng will not track trunking, or reach into some bands, such as the air traffic bands. Besides, using a handheld for scanning is A) Painfully slow and impractical, and B) ties up your handheld causing you to miss traffic on your main family/group frequencies.)
Incidentally, you can hover over neighboring counties on the state map, click on them, and get those frequencies too!
There are numerous scanners available with a wide variety of capabilities. Not every member of your group needs to have a scanner, but there should be a scanner in every group (or family). Information gleaned from monitoring can then be shared between members of the group using your local two-way radios.
A decent scanner can be picked up for under $100, brand new, or you can spend several hundred dollars, depending on the features and convenience, but keep your eyes out at garage sales and Craigslist. I have two analog, non-trunking scanners that I picked up from yard sales. One for $15 and another for $20. They’re great for monitoring all the ham repeaters, fire, police, the airport, and all the other analog channels in the area.
Here are some examples of scanners I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase. There’s something for everyone’s budget. You’ll notice that all of the models chosen have ‘Close Call’ built in. This alerts you when someone in close proximity is transmitting, and it quickly locks on to the frequency, and allows you to save it. This is a feature I would definitely want when purchasing a new scanner.
Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner – $113.01 (at the time of this posting)
Uniden BC355N 800 MHz 300-Channel Base/Mobile Scanner, Close Call RF Capture – Under $95
800 MHz 300-Channel Base/Mobile Scanner, Close Call RF Capture, Pre-programmed Search “Action” Bands to Hear Police, Ambulance, Fire, Amateur Radio, Public Utilities, Weather, and More.
Uniden BearTracker Scanner (BCT15X) – Under $170.00
The BCT 15X is probably one of Uniden’s best, most popular all around scanners with all the functionality you probably need. It’s a mobile sized receiver, so it can mount in a vehicle, or serve as a desktop or shelf unit.
Uniden HomePatrol – $456.00
2 Color Touchscreen Simple Program Digital Scanner, TrunkTracker V and S,A,M,E, Emergency/Weather Alert, APCO P25 Phase 1 and 2! Covers USA and Canada, Quick Record and Playback
The Home Patrol is reputedly one of the most user-friendly, full-featured scanners on the market. Simply enter the zip code and it automatically loads all FCC registered frequencies in your area. The trunk tracking and P-25 digital decoding will give you access to emergency communications in your community that many other scanners won’t cover.
Do your own research and find the scanner with the features that best fit the needs of your family, group, or comms support team. If you have a lot of P25 encoded radio frequencies listed in your area (see the RadioReference link above), that might be a feature you want to ensure your scanner has.
Don’t forget an antenna. An external antenna mounted outside, and elevated, will give you superior performance than the stock antenna on the radio sitting on a shelf indoors.
Good post. Scanning is VERY useful. The scanner one needs depends on your area and what you need to listen to. I started with the BC125AT and its a great scanner: sensitive, decent battery life, fits in shirt pocket. But no digital and no trunking. So, it gets little other than airport and paramedics. Which is not nothing, obviously. But still, I had to go to a $900 TRX-1 scanner to get the trunked systems (P25, DMR, etc) that are used by transit, city, and utilities here. Police is mostly encrypted here, and fire all encrypted, and nothing will decode that. But depending where you are, you might be able to get a lot of mileage out of a very simple scanner. Check Radioreference to see what you’re dealing with.
I am fortunate in that, we live in a very rural county and they use standard FM VHF/UHF for public safety. We keep a scanner on 24/7with a 9dBi gain vertical antenna at 30 uo at 25 feet, and feed the audio into a micropower FM broadcast band transmitter (aka: BlackEcho ), so that, we can listen anywhere on the property. We have learned much about what happens in our otherwise peaceful area. The areas where repeat offenders hang-out and etc. Additionally, MAN! did we learn how hard our local sheriff, EMS, FIRE and etc. work. Many off the EMS/Fire rescue are volunteers and called at all hours. We are very thankful for them.
Haar! fer Sich-you-ay-shunal Awareness!