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Anybody out there? Over

In a disaster scenario several of the many questions running through our minds are what is going on? Where is my family? How long is this going to last? Unfortunately, the situation may be such that the phones are down, the Internet may be offline and no TV or radio stations are broadcasting. They could be down for a few hours, days or they may never come back. You just do not know and that is worse than knowing as you can plan around knowledge.

Walkie talkies and CB (Citizens Band) radio are great for contacting others a few miles away and keeping in touch in a convoy. Most have a maximum range of just 5 miles. Basic CB radios a bit more depending on the atmospheric conditions but no more really than 10 miles for AM and 7 for FM and of course both of them rely on the third party to actually have a compatible walkie talkie or a CB radio.

Years ago CD radios in the UK moved away from the US standard of AM radio on to FM. This caused two issues, first it restricted the range of the radio and secondly it made them incompatible with all the existing CB radios in the UK. These radios were imported from the US and took off after films like Smokey and the Bandit even though they were illegal at the time. What rebels we were. They were based on AM radios and had a minimum of 40 bands although many had 120+. AM radios can sometimes can catch good atmospherics and can skip quite a way sometimes up to 30 or 40 miles away although it is not consistent.

If you really want distance though you need to move to sideband or amateur radio sets. Some US CB radios imported in the 80s actually have sideband built in. With this, again in the right conditions, people have communicated with people hundreds of miles away. However, no surprise, transmitting on Sideband and AM CB is illegal in the UK without the appropriate taxes licenses.

Now you could go and learn ham radio and get your ham license. If so then the best place to start is going to the Radio Society of Great Britain. There are some courses you can attend and lots of advice to be had. Free courses are available for download here at Amateur Radio Courses although it doesn’t look like it has been updated in a while. I don’t want to do that though. I just want to be able to use a radio in an emergency and get help or at the very least contact someone who knows what is going on. Phones and email are fine for me atm.

So, I want to know enough to have the right kit and how to use it but not have to pay the taxes license fees. I’ve looked around and there are quite a few shops where you can buy the ham gear. It is more expensive than I thought but prices vary and you pay for power and clarity. Some shops are here, here and here among others that can be found on Google. I have also seen some kit on eBay. Have a look and see what you can afford. Although you will have to buy the transmitter you could make your own aerials, amplifiers and the like. I think that unless you know what you are doing it is false economy, and for us a significant risk, to build any of this ourselves without more knowledge. Why spend £500 on a transmitter that you damage because your home made aerial causes shorts or the impedance is too low.

I’ve looked for books on this and found Ham Radio for Dummies which although US based only misses out on the legal stuff. The basics are there and for when we want to keep our heads down we have Low Profile Amateur Radio: Operating a Ham Station from Almost Anywhere, again, US based but again mainly legal. The only book I could find for the UK was RSGB Radio Amateur Operating Manual. Which obviously is tailored to the UK and will cover the legal issues.

So for us in a disaster scenario where prod noses will be absent, walkie talkies for general use, CB for keeping in touch with locals for the local neighbourhood watch and ham radio, if you can afford it, for contacting others at long distance for information or keeping in touch with family. Remember that the other end needs the same type of equipment and knows how to use it and when. You should arrange times to be on line while you are still able to talk on the phone. Simply say your unit will have someone by it between 2300 and 2330 every day. If you are talking with people outside the UK. They can work out when that is from the time zone map and call you then or you can call them at whatever time they are on. Remember, this needs to be arranged in advance.

You will note I’m ignoring EMP here which would destroy all your radio gear. There will be an article about EMP along soon. Basically though, keep spares and keep them shielded.

Plan ahead so you can keep in contact with your loved ones and keep up to date with what is going on.

6 comments to Anybody out there? Over

  • moosedog

    I would like to suggest that in addition to radios to talk to people a good investment would be a Short Wave receiver, one that has USB & LSB (the sidebands you mentioned). This makes it possible to listen in to what’s being broadcast around most of the world and has the advantage of not being a transmitter that can be located by triangulation. Obviously you couldn’t communicate with the people you hear but that may not be a bad thing for your own security.

    EMP is a subject I have researched and found that, as Johnny Nash sang, there are more questions than answers. Some say electronic equipment will be fine if it’s not plugged into the mains (the wire will act as an aerial for the EMP) while others say this isn’t the case. With the number of gadgets I have, and use daily, I hope I don’t find out the hard way but I take comfort in having 10 likely SHTF scenarios that don’t involve EMP and only 3 that do!

  • Skean Dhude


    I was going to do short wave receivers, TV, general radio, etc. as a separate post about communication. Listening in to find out what is going on.

    EMP is a very confusing subject. It deserves a post on its own and although it does seem to be over hyped the damage it can do makes it something to plan against.

  • Skvez

    On the topic of CBs it’s possible to get much greater range with a directional areal and an amplifier (although amplifiers are illegal in the UK above a pretty low value like 4W).

    But I have to ask CB / Shortwave radio … what’s the point?
    Mobile phones and email have killed these means of communication, users have dropped in numbers greatly over the last twenty years and in a feedback death spiral no-one uses them anymore because there is no-one to talk to.

    In a disaster situation, the few old die-hard CB/SW owners who do have sets probably won’t have backup power.
    I suspect you will waste a lot of your time listening to static.

    Who would you want to listen to anyway? You clearly don’t trust the government when the press is there to challenge their ‘spin’ on reality anyway. Would you trust them in a disaster situation when there is no-one to verify their statements? Or listen to a bunch of strangers repeating and embellishing a load of unfounded rumours?

    Imagine a pandemic situation, the gov has asked everyone to stay in their homes. Then the radio and TV go off, a while later the power and finally the water. Two days later you hear on the radio someone say that sick people are coming out of the local city carrying the disease with them and everyone should flee their homes. Are you really going to run away based on this unfounded rumour from a stranger?
    Would you not have been very suspicious of any stranger approaching your house anyway?

    In a disaster situation the world become very small, there is ‘where you are’, which is all you care about and there are ‘other far away places’ where you really don’t care what’s going on because it’s too far away to impact you.

    Post disaster Mid-distance comms are way down my list in terms of importance. (short-distance comms: some means to keep in touch with the others from my house when one of us is away from the property for part of the day will be useful, if for no other reason than peace of mind).

  • Skean Dhude


    You can get better range by amplifying the signal and using a bigger antenna. Only issue to watch there is that it does not just become a one way signal. You have the power to push out a signal but the response is lost in the noise because it doesn’t have the power.

    The point is that is a disaster scenario phones and email will be gone. These are emergency communicatons systems then. Of course in self sufficiency mode they can save on phone bills and ISP costs by allowing you to communicate with others. Power is a problem but as they run on car batteries and there are several systems out there to charge them is a disaster scenario that should not be a major issue.

    Listening and acting on that information is two different things. I would like to hear what is going on and make up my own mind.

    They would also be invaluable for co-ordination and defense. Your pals in the next village, mid range, could tell you about people moving into your area.

    Communications are invaluable.

  • Skvez

    I agree amplification transmit further but not let you receive from further.
    Bigger/better design of ariel has advantages for receiving as well as transmitting.

    Yes most transmitters are ‘12V’ powered and there are many ways to produce 12V after a grid-down scenario but my point was that the chance of you having someone who has a transmitter within range of you *and* a means to power it in a grid down scenario are very remote these days.

  • Skean Dhude


    That is why we plan it out before hand. To make sure everyone we want one has one.

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