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09/03/2005 Archived Entry: "Ham radio for SHTF times"

IN THE CHAOS OF 9-11, THE CELLPHONE SEEMED A MIRACLE DEVICE. In Katrina's aftermath ... not such a miracle. Five days after the storm, people are still unable to connect with relatives in the most devastated areas. Refugees are staggering out of New Orleans as starved for information as they are for food and water. Cellphone towers were one of the casualties of the storm.

Add "secure communications" to the preparedness to-do list. Danhei writes to note that one of the oldest methods can still be a lifesaver:

In the aftermath of Katrina it became obvious to me how dependent we have become on communication at a time when electricity, internet, telephone, and cell phone service failed. What's left to communicate with? Expensive satellite phones and amateur, or ham, radio. Amateur radio is dependent only upon one's ability to power the radio and someone to receive the transmission. Radios can be battery or generator powered and signals, under the right conditions and bands, can be picked up on the other side of the Earth.

I have toyed with the idea of getting a radio but haven't bothered. I will get one now. I'll actually build one using vacuum tubes as that's another hobby of mine. Good deals on radios can be had a flea markets or the internet if you do your research.

What's the downside to amateur radio? To be legal you need a license. It apparently costs $14 to take the FCC licensing test to get a Technician Class License. This is the easiest license to get and does not require knowing Morse Code. ...

Further information can be found from the Amateur Radio Relay League. Their volunteers actually administer the licensing test. They also publish QST, a good magazine that you might find at your library.

One last note is amateur radio can be used for television and computer signals, not just voice. One could use PGP to send encrypted messages.

One of the stories reported out of Katrina was that of a ham operator I believe in the plains states who saved the life of an old woman on a Gulf Coast rooftop by relaying information about her to an emergency-services center in Oregon, which in turn was able to contact rescuers at the scene. In this case, both a cellphone and the radio played a role.

FCC rules actually forbid encrypted communications. But these restrictions don't always stop people, and they can be gotten around.

I know that at least one of Wolfesblog's regular supporters is a ham radio operator. I'd like to hear more from people who have ham licenses and ham experience, especially in emergency communications. You can send me your info after making the obvious adjustment to the address.

Posted by Claire @ 08:25 AM CST

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