Comm Priorities

K7JLJ.com
03.03.19

It's very easy to start buying newfangled gear based off a few glowing reviews on the Internet (BTDT), but you really should ask yourself:

  • How does this fit into my COMM plan?
  • Do I have the skills to use it?
  • Can others in my group with less experience use it?
  • Will the gear enhance my communication and information gathering abilities?

PRIORITY #1: 2M/70CM HANDHELD

Handheld "walkie-talkies" or HT units that can be used on FRS/GMRS/MURS 2M/70CM bands should be your first priority.

The obvious reason for all of them in one HT is that most will have "blister pack" Midland type FRS/GMRS radios if they are hunter's, race fans, or outdoor enthusiasts. You want something that will talk to them all!

The easiest option to have this ability is to buy the Chinese made radios instead of the "Big 3" (Yaesu, Icom, Kenwood) because they transmit on all VHF/UHF frequencies already.

The "Big 3" can sometimes be modified to do this but unless you plan to "wideband" them and know in advance all that entails, the easy way is to go with Baofeng / TYT / Puxing / Wouxon or other Chinese made radios. I've been impressed with the TYT's and RETEVIS HTs, my current system is built on the REVETIS RT6.

MURS gives you (4) channels that the hordes of "blister packers" will not have access to. It is as close to HAM radio as you can get legally without a license but does not allow repeater options in normal times. Many businesses do use it though so if your HT is able to talk to a MUR radio, it will allow you to add those radios to the groups resources.

Those not joining your group can be monitored and communicated with ONLY if your HT is "opened" to talk on these bands.

The ideal setup is to have your own freqs in the amateur radio band that you can use scrambled and CTSS encoded, while being able to monitor and talk to those outside your group or recently added that do not have HAM radios. The wide open Chinese radios mentioned make this happen.

One thing to remember is that no 2M/70CM handhelds will be of much use for those who are not willing to practice and know their radios "inside and out."

If you learn how CTSS/DCS/SCRAMBLER MODES/OFFSETS and more work, you will be able to increase your comms security greatly over those using a dedicated FRS "blister pack" but you have to DO IT! to learn it.

Unless you have your HAM "ticket" you will not be getting into repeaters and testing your abilities to their fullest.

It's not that hard, but if you transmit without an FCC callsign, you will not receive an answer other than "you need a callsign, I can't talk to you" and possibly be hunted down by other HAMS (if you persist) in the sport of "fox hunting" where they locate your signal using directional antennas. If they find you, the penalty fine is much higher than the $15.00 fee to take your Amateur Radio Technicians test.

Take your Tech test and develop you skills to their fullest. For those worried about OPSEC, you can list a POB as your address, and you will only be required to renew it every 10 years.

The test is easy and there are likely free classes to help you pass in your community. Call your CERT group to find one.

Personally, unless you are a HAM, I think a full featured HT like the Yaesu XV-6R will be wasted on you.

I use to recommend as a first radio, the ever so cheap Baofeng UV5R that runs $30.00 delivered, but can no longer do so. The speaker in one quit working withing the first month, the other I melted the low quality plastic case while trying to make a Kydex holster for it.

PRIORITY #2: 2M/70CM CROSS-BAND REPEATER

Having a cross-band repeater that is mobile or man-portable like a 10 watt TYT UV8000E is a big multiplier. It allows you to extend your range to at LEAST twice that of normal simplex operation.

If you are using a mobile rig like the Yaesu 8900R or Kenwood D700A, then you are increasing your transmit power from 10W to 50W. That's a significant range increase!

For me the decision was to use the TYT UV8000E as a portable unit with the battery eliminator in whichever vehicle I have. I can park the truck on high ground and have several people below in valleys using it as a repeater for their HTs.

Think of SAR operations and the benefits of having a mobile repeater in your truck at the flick of a switch.

For less than $100.00, this setup can really extend your range.

PRIORITY #3: HF ABILITIES

Being able to hear information outside of the immediate area will be helpful, but is not the first or second priority for me.

If it's a grid down event, then most radios will be down as amazingly enough as it sounds... most HAMS are not "Off-Grid", they are generator commandos. Once the fuel runs out, they are without comms.

Temporary grid down scenarios are more likely and once restoration starts, patchy electrical supply might be common.

Great time to have a QRP HF system if you ask me. Especially for medium range comms in the 30-300 mile range!

If the grid is down, my buddy two towns over is not going to hear me simplex on 2M without other peoples repeaters remaining in working order or me having to set my own poorman's (TYT UV8000E) repeater up between us, most likely leaving it unattended. Even then, it's a short term solutions without a means (solar) to replenish the battery.

He will hear me on 80M voice though with an NVIS antenna.

For simple voice transmissions there are a lot of options out there, but the 5W QRP Yaesu FT-817 is still one of the best portable HF option out there IMO, even if it is long in the tooth these days. Used they are a good deal still. The newer FT-818 leaves a lot to be desired for the cost, and I'd pass on it myself.

IF YOU CAN ONLY HAVE ONE

I'd recommend the newer 100W FT-891 over any others though if you can swing the price. It can be turned down to 5W or up to 100W when you need to get through in all but the worst conditions.

Even if you decide against the HF radio, you can get small battery operated Short Wave radio like the CountyComm GP-5 SSB (SSB is a must!) to listen to news outside of you affected area.

Information is power.

SUMMARY

The most important part is to get something and put a plan on paper. Start setting up your basic comm plan that you can build on later.

You should figure out the following ASAP after getting your first radios.

  • What freqs are going to be your primary, secondary, alternate channels?
  • How will you signal to jump to the next designated channel on air without telling everyone where you are going?
  • What PL codes are you going to use if any?
  • What are the local 2M repeater freqs, offsets & PL codes?
  • How far will your HTs reach in your AO?
  • How far will your mobile reach? Can you use the cross-band feature?
  • How long will your batteries last?
  • What about backup power sources?
  • What are local freqs you want to add for scanning features?
  • On the list goes...

FIRST THING FIRST THOUGH

Get (2) HTs and learn them inside and out!

You need to be familiar with the HT enough to make changes on the fly if need be or at minimum, have a pocket guide for each one that will function as a "cheat sheet."

I hope this page has given you something to think about. K7JLJ, -73

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