hurricane

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What you don’t know can ruin your day.

Radio

Fortunes are made and lost based on information exchange. How we dress on a given day might be based on weather reports. Television and radio inform us on developing news. We hear about our friends on social media and through email. Disruption of these services can indeed “ruin” our day; that is, in normal circumstances. In a state of emergency, what you don’t know can kill you. Our reliance on the power grid, cell phones and the Internet makes us very vulnerable. A simple storm like Sandy or Katrina can take away all power distribution and communications for days, even weeks. A hurricane will wreak havoc on a large area. just look at the Philippines recently or the last tsunamis in the Pacific. We are not immune from such events just because we have been lucky so far. Have we?

Lightning storm in Bradenton Florida

Lightning storm in Bradenton Florida

Certainly the United States has been lucky. Yellowstone hasn’t blown up yet, nor has California separated from the mainland after the overdue “big-one.” Since the Civil War the country has been fairly peaceful. There was an event however a century and a half ago that would have ended civilization had it happen today. Statistically it will. Actually there are about one in eight chances that it will happen by 2020. Meteor strike? Volcanic eruption? Nope, nothing that fancy but potentially deadlier. I am referring to the solar storm of 1859. Back then it only fried telegraphs and shocked a few Morse-code operators. Today it would destroy every single microchip in it’s path. That includes those in your car, phones, computers; airplanes, satellites, the trucks that deliver food to supermarkets, everything. We would essentially be back to 1859 with the population of 2014. I won’t tell you how important it is for you to consider that just maybe you could take a few simple steps to survive the first few weeks of any natural or man-made disaster. Just Google “prepping,” thank me later. One of these steps however I know much about, and that is radio communications. Not only receiving, but also transmitting. There is nothing worse than not knowing or reporting what is going on or not being able to call for help. Is your relative on the other side of town still alive? Have you ever seen a wall full of photographs in a disaster area refugee camp?

Now, this article is not about helping your community by becoming a Ham Radio operator (though I will suggest you do) and going to meetings with a bunch of old guys who occasionally will “help” during the local walk-a-thon with handheld radios and orange jackets. They can be of tremendous help during local or regional emergencies, but in my opinion only for a limited time until generators run out of gas and looting starts. Then they won’t come to you, or you to them to send word to your relatives on the other side of the country. Nor will you have any idea of what is going on beyond your field of view. This article is about helping yourself, friends and family. It is about staying in touch with them in times of need, receiving and exchanging vital information.

This is just an introduction. The subjects I will cover include which radios to use for different situations and distances. What type of information you can convey via radio, including voice, Morse code, text, and yes, even emails, including attachments. I will talk about simple but effective antennas you can build with cheap electrical wire. Which batteries to use and why. How to recharge them without power. You will learn how you could make contacts globally for less than $100 of gear that fits in a shirt pocket and send emails without the Internet for a few hundred dollars. I will not charge you for the information.

Gil's Field Radio Station

Gil’s Field Radio Station

What do I know about this stuff and why should you listen to me? Well, I went to school for electronics back in the 80s. At the time I was also into CB radio and learned how to set-up a radio station and tune an antenna properly. I learned about propagation and how radio waves behave in regards to the ionosphere, time of day and seasons. When CB radio went out of style with the advent of cell phones I boxed up my radio, picked up a camera, became a photographer and also learned to fly. Another story… Fast forward to 2012. It became increasingly apparent to me that things were not heading in the right direction economically as well as internationally. Also being separated from my parents by thousands of miles could be a problem if communications were disrupted. I started looking into Ham radio. Of course I wasn’t going to do what most Ham operators do, namely set-up a big station in my attic with a tower in the back yard to chat about politics and other ailments after the eight-O-clock news. I wanted to find what could be used after everything fails. What could be carried in a backpack that doesn’t weigh a ton. Being able to talk to a friend three miles down the road, send a message to someone on another continent or listen to a distant radio station for news. All of this with gear that can fit in a shoebox, including antennas and batteries. I wanted something I could use for weeks, months or even years without power.

There are three levels or licenses for Amateur radio operators. Usually one starts with the Technician license, which is very easy, then upgrades to General maybe a year later. Some go as far as the “Amateur Extra” license, though not everyone passes because of the amount of material involved and the math. I studied for and passed all three exams the same day. I have built and operated many radios, all geared towards that end. I have bought and sold numerous models. Most of my antennas are home-built with materials bought at the local hardware store. My favorite radio, which I also built is the size of a pack of cigarettes and I am routinely heard five to six thousand miles away.

Weber MTR

Weber MTR

I have operated these radios while camping, even outside my favorite coffee shop. Oh, and I can decode Morse code in my head at twenty five words-per-minute. So, I do pretend to know what might work and certainly what doesn’t. But enough self-pontificating.. A lot of the information I will present has been passed down to me from ex military signal intelligence spooks who know how to set-up a portable “discreet” radio station. Notably, I need to thank my friend Ray who helped me with my Morse code speed and taught me a good deal about what works in the field. Most of my Ham friends are very knowledgeable on field radio operations. It would be too long for me to thank them all here. You know who you are.. There are no secrets in radio. There are however a lot of misconceptions. There are also as many types of radio operations as there are games using a ball. They are as different as can be. Radio prepping is one of them and a fairly new concept.

Chapter two will deal with the minimum set-up to communicate with friends in the same town and also cover short-wave radios for news reception. Both can be done at very low cost and a Ham radio license isn’t necessarily required. That will include CB radios and handhelds of different kinds. I will assume the reader knows nothing about radio or even electricity. I will also explain how to protect your radios against strong magnetic fields generated by solar storms, lightning or God forbid, nuclear explosions. You could potentially stop reading there if you have no special interest in radio or no family living beyond about twenty miles.

Handhelds

Handhelds

Chapter three will move to regional and global communications for which a Ham radio license is required; again easy to obtain by anyone above the age of six who can read and for about $15. I will also write about easy to set-up antennas that are practically invisible. You will learn the peculiarities of the different frequencies or bands and how to take advantage of them with different modes of communications.

Chapter four will dwell into portable radios and why Morse code is probably the best mode for preppers. I will give you tips on how to learn the code efficiently by avoiding all the mistakes I made! Batteries and solar charging will be explored. This is my favorite mode of operation and I am looking forward to sharing this information.

Morse Code

Morse Code

Chapter five will be about data modes and sending emails. I will explain how you can connect a radio to your computer to send text or any type of file. This is beyond portable operations but could be extremely useful for short to medium term emergencies. Questions and suggestions are welcome.

CH2

Us humans are masters of self-deception. I know organic food proponents who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.. The same applies to disaster preparedness. If you deem yourself a “prepper,” (I learned the word only recently), you can’t pick and choose your favorite areas of preparation. Our goal is survival, so health should be our main concern. That implies a healthy diet and regular exercise. You might have the best gear, food and weapons, but if your body isn’t ready, your chances of survival are slim.

I see many individuals storing gear and food in huge amounts, but disregarding the possibility of a bug-out. I am guilty of the opposite extreme. I have no food stored and all my preparations emphasize mobility. That is something I need to balance with enough supplies to stay put for at least a month. It wasn’t so much of a problem when I was single, but now I need to think about a few people. If you must leave your house in a hurry, you need to know what to take with you, and there might be no time then to run around frantically stuffing everything in a bag. Here in Florida, tornadoes and hurricanes come to mind. There might be nothing to come back to, and in case of a tornado, no time to gather essential items. On the other hand, leaving your house might not be a safe option, in which case you need enough food, water, and probably a generator with enough gas. You should be ready for both eventualities.

I remember an interview on the eve of Y2K. The journalist asked a man and a woman if they were prepared and how. The woman had stores of food, water, gear, and was well prepared. The man just said “I bought a gun so I can steal her stuff.” You should have seen her face! She had prepared in the areas she was comfortable with and probably didn’t like guns. Another perfect example of selective preparedness.

Being prepared makes you a target for those who are not. Most survivalists are probably armed, and for good reasons. Do they practice enough? Self-defense is an all-encompassing endeavor. Having a weapon is essential, but can you defend yourself without it? Relying on it is self-deception. You are probably more likely to be caught off guard than ready. Yes, that means you need to practice a real martial art (read my other posts to understand what I mean by “real”), sweat and endure pain and fear on a weekly basis. It’s not comfortable and that is why most people don’t do it. It also means to be in good enough shape to move your body efficiently, more sweat, daily..

I would rather be a little prepared for everything rather than highly so in one area. Specialization works in civilized times when trading services is possible. During emergencies, being a jack-of-all-trades will serve you better. We like to be comfortable and avoid doing things that bother us. The most successful people are those who can consistently transcend that behavior.

If you are reading this, I probably don’t need to convince you that you should have an emergency management plan and the supplies to implement it. What I am suggesting is that you examine your plan for missing preparations you conveniently forget about or reschedule to the near future (never).

Members of your family might not care at all about your “antics” and have no idea about what is in those plastic bins you have in the garage. Women are excellent self-deceivers, and kids only care about their world and video games. They might even laugh at you. You are the Lone Ranger here. There might be areas of preparedness that you are avoiding because of what they might say. Be reasonable while making sure you cover everything. Consider that if they say that you have too much stuff, they are probably right. Don’t go from “prepper” to hoarder.

Preparedness shouldn’t occupy all your thoughts and time, but realize that there is a lot to consider, and a substantial investment to make to cover all your bases. The good news is, once you are ready and organized, you only need to keep track of expiration dates on perishable items (including batteries and gas), which doesn’t take much time at all. As to a healthy diet, exercise and martial arts, you will probably gain years of active lifespan. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

There are skills in this world that, independently of where you live and who you are, you need to know. Not only to be prepared, but to be worth of being called human, may I say. Our long line of ancestors made it through a multitude of obstacles, from saber-tooth tigers to World War II, and everything in between. I believe we owe ourselves and the people around us to be capable, strong and knowledgeable.
We are lucky enough to live in a time of relative peace and abundance. I am talking here about Europe, the United States, and many other countries in the world. It isn’t the case everywhere, I know. Pandemics have ravaged the world in the past, killing millions. We dodged a few bullets more recently with Influenza, as well as Ebola (search Wikipedia on “pandemic”). Many other killer strains are only waiting for an opportunity. New wars, civil unrest are never out of the question. Natural disasters such as tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes can happen at any time. Hopefully none of these disasters will happen in our lifetime. Some of you guys though may have children, and who else will teach them but you? Not the public school system. And even if nothing bad happens, why not be a stronger, more capable individual?
A lot of the skills we learn today are based on work, not survival. We have everything at our disposition: Shelter, supermarkets, gas, electricity, communications, transportation. We become very good at using computers, complex phones, and rely much on them. We drive cars, even for short distances. We become dependent on technology and services provided by others to survive. We grow fat and become lazy. When was the last time you walked for ten miles? When was the last time you had to hunt or fish for food (not counting doing it for fun)? Now, imagine that all the supermarkets in your town close. Then, the power company shuts down; no more internet either, and you can’t recharge your cell phone. Land phone lines are cut. Gas stations close. How long will it take for the situation to become dicey, for people to start panicking? What would you do then?
Acquiring the skills you would need to survive or get out of the area can be fun week-end projects. Learning them when the shit has already hit the fan is too late, you probably will become a statistic. You don’t have to think about catastrophes all the time and live in fear, simply learn what you need, and put it in a compartment of your head somewhere, until you need it..

Learn to navigate: In an evacuation, roads could be blocked by traffic jams. They could be blocked by people, or physically destroyed. Buy topographic maps for your area, or your state, and get a compass. One without the other isn’t of much use. Learn dead reckoning, where you pick a landmark in the direction you want to go, walk to it, and pick the next one. Count your steps, know how many you take typically per mile.

Building shelters: A few days of camping should suffice for this. Have a comfortable tent with you, but bring a hatchet and nylon string. Don’t try anything new or fancy, good shelters have been built for eons by cavemen who’s lives depended on it. Copy them. Look into the history of your area, you will find out what they used. Try to isolate yourself from the ground. Make sure you know what trees or plants to use, some might be poisonous.

Food: While you are camping, try to make a bow and arrows. Have a family competition to see who can be the most accurate. Learn to build traps. You can find numerous designs online. The most commons are the figure 4 deadfall and spring traps. Not only can you make traps for land animals, but also for fish. Buy a book on local flora and comestible plants. Go out in the woods and try to identify them. Ask an expert before you try eating anything you aren’t absolutely sure about! Getting food is one thing, but then you might need to skin it, gut it and cook it. You should have done this successfully at least once. A note to vegetarians here: Do not think that because you don’t eat meat you should skip this. If you get hungry enough, you will eat anything. No, don’t think “No, I still wouldn’t,” because you would, period. If you think otherwise, you are a fool, and you might as well close this page and go cook some tofu.. Learn about cooking methods in the woods, using hot rocks for instance.

Water: How do you boil water without a pot? How do you make one? An important skill to know is how to make a solar still. There aren’t many ways to purify water without chemicals or a special filter. Are there springs in your area? If not, how far would you have to go to find a natural spring. What about wells? Who has one? Do you know the owner? It might be time to go say hi.. Water is heavy, carrying it will only work so far. I would not attempt a journey if no rain is expected and there is no source of water on the way.

Fire: You see it done on television all the time, and it looks so simple and easy. It is not! You could waste hours trying. Making fire without modern source is difficult, and must be practiced until you get it right. Try with wood friction and also with flints. Once your fire is lit, make a fire bundle to carry it. See if you can take it with you and start another fire later with it.

Learn to handle firearms: You may not like guns, but the day you really need one may be your last, or the difference between a good meal and an empty stomach for a few days. If you are not a police officer, a handgun is pretty useless. You can’t really hunt with it, and in a conflict, you will almost always lose to a rifle. So, learn to handle a rifle, starting with safety. Go to a range, and get help. The best rifle for small game would be a .22lr, the best one in my opinion being the Ruger 10-22. You may also use a pellet gun, in .22 caliber. Something more substantial would be needed if you must feed more than yourself, or if there is a possibility, and there almost always is in a disaster scenario, that you may encounter hostile people. A lever action rifle in .30 or .44 mag. will serve you well. Shotguns are very good for hunting too. If the situation is really bad, AK-47. By the way, do you think that you will be the only one in the store the day things go wrong? Buy one now. If you have kids, buy a safe, keep it locked. Teach them gun safety as well.

If you haven already, learn to swim. No comment here. You should be able to cross a good size river, and thread water for some time. Learn to lay flat on your back and float on the water.

Learn to defend yourself empty-handed: This is complex subject, and I probably will write about it in my martial arts section. In brief, there are a lot of martial arts out there that are not worth a dime for self defense. There are also good styles but bad teachers. I would suggest trying to find a school or style that emphasizes principles over form and techniques. Avoid styles that are too stiff in their movements or teachings, and promote violence or aggressiveness. Going nuts in a fight won’t help you. Emotions won’t help you. Also avoid styles that use excessive protections, have too many rules (like not hitting the face, etc.), or simply avoid contact. The style you choose must also consider multiple attackers, armed or not, and fighting on the ground as well as on your feet. If you see twelve-year-olds with a black belt, run! If they promise you a black belt next year, run! Actually, be suspicious of belts altogether. My favorites are, almost in order: Systema, Bujinkan, Penjak Silat, Kuntao, Kali, Wing Tsun, Aikido, Krav Maga, Boxing, and I am sure I am forgetting some. I would not suggest TaeKwonDo, traditional Karate, and other styles based on outdated forms of combat, or geared towards competition. Some combinations are good, like boxing and JiuJitsu for example. Shop around before you sign-up, and don’t bother spending time on martial arts forums on the web, there is nothing to learn from them. If you don’t have a good school nearby, go to russianmartialart.com, load up on DVDs and start a study group in your town.

Get in shape: Well, your martial arts training should help you there, but walking is a great exercise, and knowing how far you can go is a valuable piece of information. Knowing how far your family members can go is even better. Who is going to break first? When? Is there something you can do? Learn to carry people in an efficient manner, by yourself, or with help. Do regular push-ups, squats and crunches. You don’t need any machines or gym memberships for that. Don’t eat fast foods, and when you go shopping, read the labels. Avoid MSGs, high fructose corn syrup, and too much fat or sugar. Stay away from processed foods. Dump sodas, even (or especially) the diet ones. Drink water and tea. Don’t abuse coffee. Stop smoking! Eat raw vegetables and don’t have meat every day.

Learn first -aid: The Red-Cross probably has classes nearby. Take all their classes, and learn resuscitation techniques, and especially how to treat wounds and burns. You can find numerous books on the subject at your local library, and many web sites with tutorials. Learn about the specific threats in your area. Cross-check your findings, because theories do change, and what may have been thought to be a great technique one day may be considered dangerous the next.

I might add more to this blog. I do not claim to be an expert at all. These are just ideas I gathered over time. Feed back and new ideas would be appreciated. I have been intentionally vague here, so please post your comments. I would like this to be a living document.