Sunday, March 18, 2012

Massive solar flares, zombies and greys oh my

Recently my son Tim asked me to write an article about radio and their usefulness during periods of survival. The following is published here for readers of my blog, which looks to have been nearly abandoned.

One of the technologies that we take for granted is the interlaced global communications satellites. As a benefit of a massive government investment in the 1960s space race you now have the ability to have a cell phone, satellite television, and GPS to show you how to get from point A to point B. All good, but what happens if those satellites no longer function?
Massive solar storms have the potential to damage satellites to burned out hulks of mechanical and electrical components. Should we be the target of an invasion from outer space, the first order of business would be to take out our "eyes". In the case of zombies you would probably be too busy avoiding having your brains eaten.
How would you communicate in the event of an apocalyptic event? Are there means at your disposal to coordinate with fellow survivors? The answer to that is yes.
One of the items that readily available is the simple walkie talkie. Many electronics stores sell these in a wide variety of styles and ease of use. Many outdoors stores sell these even with GPS built in...for a price. There are several services that fall under this category that require no license to those that do require them. The problem with these is that they often are of very low power and only have the capabilities to communicate short distances. They are also fixed on channelized frequencies that require some skill to modify (which is a violation of FCC rules). They also require a charger to convert 120volts AC to the appropiate voltage DC to operate. Some models only require a couple of batteries and an even greater sacrifice of power. If the function is for survival I would probably avoid this method.
Another option is the traditional CB radio. These come in a variety of quality. The advantage of CB is that they operate in the 11 meter band which is down in the upper end of what is called the High Frequency range. They are capable of skipping some distance but it is generally unreliable as a general rule. These are generally mobile and can even be operated as a base station with power from a simple car battery. One downfall is that these radios also have channelized frequencies. While you can modify these it is once again against FCC rules unless you are doing so to work them into the 10meter Ham band and have an FCC license. This is not the most efficient use however.
The next form of communication is to go ahead and get a Ham license. The entry level is the Technician Class and can be obtained relatively easy. This license allows radio priveledges in the VHF (Very High Frequencies) UHF (Ultra High Frequencies) and SHF (Super High Frequencies or more commonly the microwave bands). Many use walkie talkie type units the operate in the 2meter band although you can get them in multiple bands. I own one that allows 4 different tansmitting bands and has general receiving capabilities that include AM, FM, TV, Marine, Air, and commerical frequencies up to 900 MHZ with cell phone frequencies blocked. These bands are generally line of site with the use of repeaters placed in strategic places to retransmit the signal or repeat. The repeater splits the signal by receiving on one frequency and transmitting on another. Modern radios has these splits programmed in and allow modification if a local group chooses to do so. With repeaters here in the Portland metro area I have the capability with low power to talk to people in SW Washington, south to Salem and into the east county metro area. Because there are hills between me and Beaverton I can hear their signals but I cannot transmit into the repeater from my location. The radios are also capable of point to point single frequency transmit and receive but again, you must be in the "line of sight". Certainly usable in emergencies. A test of simple basic electronics, a simple understanding of radio theory, safety, and FCC rules and at one time $12 would net you a Technician Class FCC license.
If you are really looking for long distance and fairly reliable communication the recommended the next step up and test for the General Class license. This license allows numerous radio frequencies along with those of the Technician Class. The plus factor is access to High Frequency bands with much higher power that allows worldwide communication without the use of repeaters or satellites. There are commercially available radios that can operate off a simple car battery with excellent results This license can be obtained by knowing and understanding more advanced electronics, and radio theory. Communication can even include teletype, slow scan television (within allowed frequencies), and even digital data modes. Far more bang for your buck.
While the notion that learning electronics and radio theory seems daunting, it is accessable to anyone. The national organization that represents the Amateur Radio hobby is the Amateur Radio Rely League (ARRL) in Connecticut. They have available for purchase study guides with test questions. Test questions come from a predetermined pool. Each individual test will include several questions from each section of the pool. Morse code is no longer required, but can be learned after obtaining a license and there are study materials even for that. Morse code is handy during periods of high noise or low power and allow a signal to penetrate through the muck when other modes just won't get the job done.
The bottom line is that there is not need to fear communicating in the event of apocalypse. A little preperation beforehand will yeald satisfactory reults. You can even build gear out of old parts. In high school we wound coils of wire around toilet paper rolls to build transmitters on a piece of wood.

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