I wrote this just a bit over four years ago on the Brushbeater blog. It answers a lot of questions, or at least puts a context, to what gets frequently brought to class or what people send in emails. While some of the information has changed in terms of what radios I’d suggest today versus then, the techniques and the realities behind them have not. The basics never change. -NCS
A lot of what has been written on this blog communications-wise revolves around the radio, primarily due to the fact that it’s both the first option for most and the least understood by nearly everyone. While the fact is indisputable that radio or wireless communications make for the bulk of signal plans, it is also indisputable that wireless communications are the least secure means of communication. Yep, you read that right. Radios make life easy, but they also can make the opposition’s life easy too.
But I’ve bought digital frequency hopping triple secret squirrel encrypted radios! I’m good! Right?
Well, kinda. While you may make many inroads to protecting what is said, you’re still creating a signature. And while this may protect you from 99% of adversaries (the ‘golden horde’ from Asheville) a determined baddy with it out for you can figure out your S6 plan with patience. Smart folks wait for the attack; we sit back and look for the other player at the table to tip the hand. They may have something simple like everyone’s favorite, the Baofeng, or maybe a couple cheap CB radio handhelds, spring for a couple MD-390s, or even pick up some used Motorola Astro Sabres on fleabay and an old hacked program for them. Each can be very capable in the right hands with someone who knows what they’re doing, such as building a 2m dipole for a Baofeng and transmitting directionally to a known point. This will mitigate who hears you. MD-390s with their digital configuration will deter the average listener, as will an Astro Sabre, but someone with a frequency counter and/or Wideband receiver such as an Icom R5 or R6, AOR AR-mini or Alinco DJ-X11 will still be alerted to your presence and get a bearing if they’re trying to find you. And the Frequency Hop Spread Spectrum can be broken if a really dedicated smart guy gets wind you’re using it.
So are you telling us all this stuff is useless????
No- not at all. The broader point is that your radios are tools. Tools require knowledge of use, regular practice, and implementations for a purpose larger than simply having them. The knowledge of use is lacking (normally) among most civilians, and the regular use is (normally) lacking by many aside from emergency services, hunters, truckers, boaters, aviators, and radio amateurs who make use of them as tools. But even then, aside from the amateur community (and a couple other rare exceptions) most of the knowledge is gathered from a plug n’ play mentality. It’s not wrong, it just is what it is. Most of the audience doesn’t have the time or the resources to research building an SOI, learning propagation paths or creating a signals package and practicing it in the field, and most Hams are too busy working from the hobbyist perspective to think about making it work in a tactical environment. Even ARES is simply concerned with disaster relief and bends over backwards to be little else. And that’s ok, because again, it just is what it is. That’s why I run this blog; it’s the intersection of all of these skills. But tools each have a place- just like hammers, just like saws, just like weapons- radios have a place and limitations. In order to make best use of them, say, for tactical and survival networking purposes (which are two very different things), it’s paramount to understand what those limitations are and where the holes manifest themselves in your plan.
So from the community networking model, is using a radio bad?
Well, we’ve identified radios as having at least one weakness, being that it’s easily intercepted or can quickly give away a position of the transmitter to a committed foe. But is this always a concern? No. There’s two different paradigms to think within, being Survivalist and Tactical. While Tactical radio uses are an animal unto their own (and covered exhaustively in past posts), Survivalist-oriented communications must focus on networking with others to pass along whatever information is necessary and not restricted to threats. This may be exclusively your retreat, your community, or your region with HF coverage, all limited only by what your needs are once you’ve identified them. Think of it the same way we used to use telephones. Following a PACE plan (primary, alternate, contingency, emergency), rapidly creating your own infrastructure and redundancy of that infrastructure can be done rather easily using radio, be it a bottom-of-the-barrel Chinese HT or a very expensive Icom or Yaesu base unit, all according to need. But it does not exclusively solve all of your problems.
Sometimes you don’t want to go wireless- just the opposite, actually.
In certain situations, field phones are much more advantageous. For fixed Observation Posts at a retreat, linking Hide Sites to reduce our electronic signature when out and about, or hardwiring a couple of close houses together if say, you have an elderly neighbor or relative close by, incorporating field phones into your plan can have many advantages. For fixed OPs, like the fellas in the bunker above, working with a closed loop system keeps things extremely secure, provided you have 100% control over the linking wire. In a security retreat, you have this (or should, if you’ve done it right). Among a small rural community, it’s pretty easy to do as well and used to be very common. Between hide sites in a tactical sense, carrying a field phone in the ruck and several hundred meters’ worth of wire (or claymore wire as I did) works very, very well. I’ve used everything from twisted pair wire to speaker wire and lamp cord, and they each work.
Field Phones are pretty common. You can roll the dice and buy them cheap from online surplus outlets, buy newer US made models such as the TA-312 pictured above (my recommendation) which frequently show up at hamfests, or you can check out this really cool project by a fellow Patriot and Outside-The-Box Thinker which close-loops an everyday off-the-shelf office phone and takes it off the grid for several interesting field uses. The big advantage to those is that they look like common everyday phones- most folks, without prior knowledge of what they are, would completely overlook them.
Not to go off on a tangent regarding their implementation, but the person who introduced me to this particular phone system and helped develop it posted information on it to a very well known ‘survivalist’ forum and in doing so pointed out the prevalent issue with such sites; he was met with ridicule, told his system was ‘no good’, ‘unsecure’, and ‘useless’, with each ‘expert’ giving their own opinion (all of which actually were completely useless, spouted by no doubt useless individuals, of those that were even relevant). Long story short, if you control the infrastructure, you control the tool, and the same is certainly true of a system as simple to use as field phones. But one must recognize that it is but a single tool, part of a larger plan, and has its own limitations.
Thinking in Three Dimensions
The most common fallacy for most is adopting a ‘one size fits all’ approach to communications and to survivalism in general. This is a large mistake most of the community makes, be it signal, weapons, food, water, or even building materials. All of these items are tools- different hammers for different jobs. Just as you don’t eat freeze-dried food all the time, it’s supplemented with normal food stuffs and canned food (Because you do have a pressure canner and are actively canning and putting up food, right?) While it is critical to constantly red-cell your equipment and plans (Ask yourself: How would I kill Me?), never limit yourself to the fallacy of thinking ‘well this works now, so this is just what we’ll do.’ Plans constantly evolve. Equipment needs constantly evolve with training and experience as well as sometimes changing at a moment’s notice from necessity. The key is being as flexible and as redundant as possible, while knowing the strengths and limitations of everything of which your plans make use. Wireless communications are great, convenient, and rapid in deployment, however with cost in regard to security in most cases. For rapidly creating infrastructure in a community, having a supply of simple radio sets contains distinct advantages. To those who make the argument, ‘I don’t wanna talk on the radio to people I don’t know’, resolving METT-TC issues (mission, enemy, time, terrain, troops, civilians- AKA, know the people around you) might prove extremely beneficial. In addition, implementing field phones and operating within their intended use compliment an S6 plan quite well. Think about adding a couple to your inventory, while you have the time, and think outside the box while doing it.