Basic Comms - Level 1 - Portable

Discussion in 'Survival Articles' started by survivalmonkey, Sep 12, 2006.

  1. survivalmonkey

    survivalmonkey Monkey+++

    Well, I was bored today and thought I’d post something of substance, and contribute to the board. I thought I’d outline how I have my comms setup and maybe give people some ideas about their own comms. This post will about first line comms, or Level 1. This is a system I used to try and keep everything organized. All of my preparations basically involve 3. So I setup my comms systems the same way. I figured I’d outline what I considered Level 1 comms. Level 1 comms is small, hand held and portable. Let me know what you guys think.

    FRS/GMRS: I think everyone should have at least a couple of FRS/GMRS radios lying around. These come in handy for all kinds of things. They are pretty cheap and simple to use. I would recommend going with the Motorola’s, just my personal preference. I think the Motorola’s have better antennas and are more reliable. If you’re really serious, you can get commercial grade radios from Icom or Yaesu that will blow the “store shelf” stuff away any day. But they’re also 3-4 times the price of the store radios. I went with the Motorola’s simple because I have a Yaesu HT (hand held) radio already. But I’ll get to that later. I also prefer that the radio use rechargeable AA’s and NOT the one’s with rechargeable battery packs. Reason being that I’ve tried to standardize on the same size batteries for all my comms equipment. I have several trays of rechargeable batteries of all different sizes along with a way to charge them. This also makes logistics easier, if my FRS radio dies I can take the batteries out of the scanner. Something else to remember, FRS/GMRS are basically “line-of-sight” radios. Meaning if your trying to talk to someone on the other side of a mountain, you most likely won’t be able to communicate. The higher you are, the better your “line-of-sight”, and the further you’ll be able to communicate with someone. We have a long-standing rule in our group for when we are ATV’ing, hiking, camping or hunting. If someone gets lost or separated from the rest of the group, try to get to the highest point you can. It will make communications easier. FRS radios have a maximum legal limit of ½ watt. No license is required for FRS. GMRS radios have a maximum legal limit (for a HT) of 5 watts. You need a license for GMRS, which you get from the FCC. You basically download the form from the FCC’s website, fill it out, and mail it in along with a check. The FCC will mail you your license. I don’t remember how much the fee is, but it’s pretty cheap. I have several FRS/GMRS radios for the family and all my neighbors and friends have some also. There is also a business band that is similar to FRS. It’s called MURS. I’ve left MURS out as it’s not very widespread in my area and equipment is still limited. It’s also readily available in stores like FRS/GMRS is.

    SCANNER: This is the 2nd most important item in my comms setup. Why, it allows you to know what is going on around you. For Level 1 comms, I recommend a handheld model. Level 1 equipment needs to be portable. I would recommend checking to see what type of communications your local Fire, Police, EMS and airport are using for their system. For example, most of the Police (State and County) in my area use a Trunking system. A Trunking system allows multiple agencies to use shared frequencies without interfering with each other. For this reason I went with a scanner that had the Trunking feature. Again, determine what you need based on what is being used in your area. With the information on what was being used in my area, I went with a Radioshack Pro-95 scanner. It has multiple memory banks and uses AA’s. I have my scanner setup for Fire, EMS, Local Police, County Police, State Police, Sheriff, FRS/GMRS, CB, Air and several HAM frequencies. This gives me a nice compact package that I can take anywhere and be able to keep up-to-date on what’s going on. In the event of an emergency, it is going to be vital that you have the right information on hand. Having the right information on hand will allow you to make the right decisions to determine the course of action you take. During the great blackout, being able to monitor the situation in town was vital. Knowing what was going on kept me, and my family, from worrying too much.

    AM/FM/SW: Another important piece of equipment is a good AM/FM/Shortwave radio. Reasons are basically the same as for the scanner. Being able to get information on a situation. I highly recommend the radio have shortwave capability also. Being able to pull in foreign stations can sometimes give you better information. Shortwave also gives you a different perspective on the situation. During the “great blackout”, I had the Shortwave tuned to the BBC. The BBC seemed to have a better idea of what was going on in the US than we did at times. Remember, the point is to get as much information as possible. Usually the best way to do this is to get information from multiple sources. I picked a Grundig FR200 as my Level 1 comms for this area. It has AM/FM/SW, built-in light and a hand crank for recharging the battery. I have been very happy with this unit. So much that I purchased several, and gave them to friends for Christmas last year. It will also operate off of AA’s. I like the built-in generator that recharges the battery pack. You don’t have to worry about finding the batteries dead when you go to use it. I think it’s a great radio and sells for about $30 now. I HIGHLY recommend an add-on antenna for it. The stock antenna is not that great for SW. I picked up a small wire antenna that is contained in a reel. It has a clip on both ends. Simply un-reel the wire, clip one end onto the existing Grundig antenna and clip the other end to an object as high as possible. This little gadget cost $20 at Radioshack and GREATLY improves reception.

    CB: I think everyone pretty much knows about CB. So I won’t go into much detail. I have a couple hand held CB’s that I use every once and awhile. There really is not much traffic in my area on the CB bands. But it’s nice to have around if it’s ever needed. Just remember to try and get one that can uses AA’s or whatever other battery size you standardize on.

    HAM: This is Amateur Radio. HAM’s have been around for decades. They provide emergency communication during times of need. HAM’s are licensed by the FCC, and have their own set of frequencies (bands) that they can use. I won’t go into details about Amateur Radio, tons of information can be found online. I’m covering this at a very high level so that you can get a basic overview. You need to take an exam to become a licensed HAM. There are 3 levels of testing, Technician/General/Amateur Extra. You must pass a test to move to the next higher class. The higher your license, the more operating frequencies you have available. To keep things simple, HAM radio has 2 basic frequency categories. There’s VHF/UHF and HF. There are allot of other different categories, but I’m trying to keep it simple. VHF/UHF is the range of frequencies that FRS/GMRS, police, fire and EMS operate in. HF is the range of frequencies that SW operates in. The VHF/UHF frequencies are pretty much “line-of-site”. Frequencies in the HF spectrum can travel for thousand’s of miles, much like Shortwave does. I’m going to stop there, I don’t want to get into too much detail about Amateur Radio. If anyone is interested I can point them in the right direction to get information about this hobby. HAM equipment gives you a much broader range in which to communicate. There are repeaters throughout the country that will boost your signal and allow communications on VHF/UHF to take place over a much greater distance than FRS/GMRS. Using my HT, I can use the local repeater to talk to people in the next county. For your Level 1 HAM equipment, I recommend a good HT. They have a max transmit power of 5 watts. There are several out there to choose from. I went with a Yaesu model that covers 3 bands in the VHF/UHF spectrum. The radio covers 6m, 2m and 70cm. Each band has it’s plus’s and minus’s, and depending on the situation I can choose the most effective band to use. The model is the VX-7R. It’s waterproof (to an extent) and is very rugged. No matter which model HT you get, there are some accessories that I think are a must to have. First you should have several spare battery packs for your radio. An external speaker mike is another good accessory to own. You can also purchase various different antennas for your HT. Some antennas are short and small for ease of portability. Others are quite big, but offer greatly enhanced signal performance. I have several for my HT, one being a short stubby antenna for when I’m really close to a repeater or another HAM. The other antenna is pretty long, but gives my HT a signal boost for those times I’m not close to any repeaters. I also purchased an AA battery tray that allows you to use AA batteries in the HT for emergencies.

    POWER: The final part to this long list is power. What you’re going to need to run all these electronic gadgets. This is the most overlooked part of the system, while I think it should be considered top priority. I based my Level 1 gear around mostly using AA rechargeable Ni-MH batteries. All of my Level 1 equipment can use AA batteries. I have an AC charger for charging the batteries, as well as several DC chargers. The AC chargers are for use in the house, hotel or with a generator. DC chargers come in different forms. I have some that work off of the cigarette lighter in my truck, or off of a solar panel. I have two Brunton SolarSport 2.2 solar panels. These work very well for charging rechargeable batteries. I also recommend some AC-to-DC converters. These will allow you to run the equipment that requires DC, from an AC outlet. All of these different chargers are pretty cheap. I got mine from Radioshack. I recommend having atleast TWO different ways to charge/use your equipment, three is even better. During an emergency, there is no telling what type of power you will have access to. Try to have as many options as possible. Remember Murphy’s Law. Having AC, DC and solar charging options means you will most likely always have comms available.

    Well that pretty much covers Level 1 comms. Everyone’s needs are different, so pick what works for you. I have portable equipment to cover all these areas. What I have might seem a little overboard, but communications is my hobby. Some might only need/want 1 or 2 different forms of communications. So choose what works for you. Also make sure you test your equipment and practice with it.

    Thanks to 308_Scout
    fyrmanswanny likes this.
  2. Finster

    Finster Simplify, I'd say more but this says it all.

    I'm onboard, I have the FMRS, AM/FM/SW receiver and portable CB. Next I think the scanner would be useful.

    Question I don't have a lot of time or money to invest in HAM, whats a good base level portable setup and how much $ to get in the door?
  3. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    Baofeng uv5 & uv3 are quite small, and less than @$50.00 each. My UV-3r is smaller than a deck of playing cards (with the antennae removed) and was about $35.00 it is 2 meter and 70cm bands ham.
    Brokor likes this.
  4. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

    Just four of my favorites:

    I definitely like the Baofeng UV5R HAM walkies. I have an external mic and upgraded antenna on mine and extra batteries.
    A Pro 528 handheld scanner (Radio Shack) is excellent. An upgraded 800 Mhz whip antenna is a significant improvement, also. It has triple trunking, too.
    If you can get your hands on an older CB base station radio, or a CB for a car, look for one with sideband.
    The iDen phones are fantastic, and can prove to be an invaluable, secure comms system.
    Ganado and BTPost like this.
  5. RangerRick

    RangerRick RangerRick-North Idaho Oath Keeper

    I have two of the 5 watt and 1 of the 8 watt BOAFENG radios. We did a radio check last night and I got as far as 30 miles, I DID CHEAT and drove up to the top of the mountain so I have an elevation of about 2500'.That would be a big tower in my back yard.
    Ganado likes this.
  6. leeflynn55

    leeflynn55 Monkey

    Wow, great information. Thanks!
  7. jasu


    I am hopeful someone on here can help me... as it was some thread I happened upon on this site that recommended the motorolas nextel cell phones to be used for private communication (instead of walkie talkies). I bought several... and now they are charged but I do not know how to get them to communicate to one another. And there was something about only needing a sim card initially. I apologize.. I am a total NEWBIE. Two of the 5 phones have sim cards I think. So how to get the working/communicating??? I am guessing I need a phone number??? I'd be so so grateful for help in this area. Thank you so much.
    hitchcock4, kellory and melbo like this.
  8. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

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  9. azrancher

    azrancher Monkey +++

    I believe a SIM card is necessary, <$5.00 on Ebay, get the Nextel SIM, I think there may be a way to trick it but that involves calling 911. You don't need a phone number, however if you set them up as an IDEN network it helps if each one of them has a separate ID, we tend to use a phone number type scheme.

    A guy by the name of Jackson Pointe has done a lot of study on the i355.

  10. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    The sim card holds all the contact info. In fact, the ones I bought used, were still loaded, and I had to delete all the info, myself. (One at a time). It is also how one phone knows which of the others it is calling (by radio)
    @BTPost could tell you for sure, bus as I understand it, they will talk in squad function (like all basic walky-talkies) without a sim card, but require it, to call one radio to one radio. Either way, they can be scrambled for a personal code. Monkey code (so you could talk with another monkey) is 3,3.
  11. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    When in DirecTalk Mode, they are NOT on the Cell Network, and if Booted by using the Non-Simm Mode, you never actually dial 911, or 112, as there is NO Network Connection possible, due to lack of a Simm card, where the Network Information is stored. You DO need ar least ONE Simm Card, to get the Units setup correctly. Once setup the Simm Card is no longer needed.
    kellory likes this.
  12. jasu


    Ok guys, you've been wonderfully helpful and I appreciate your attempts. In following some of your instructions... I have one phone with a sim card and a couple without... i tried the 911, then 112 and neither seemed to produce anything. Now understanding that the term I was looking for was "direct talk"... googling such I came across a website that gave explicit instructions for phones that do have a sim... so I did that and nothing. I searched through the menu and found a "DC/GC" feature but I couldn't get anywhere. I saw on another site that someone indicated the i530 models do not support direct talk. So either I am technologically inept and this model does have direct talk (is direct connect the same thing?) OR I am technologically inept, this model doesn't have direct talk capabilities and now I have 4 lovely old motorolas :)). I really appreciate you alls patience with me. Comments/advice welcome. Thank you in advance.

    So I have a sim card in one of my phones and still can't get anywhere... see my post below. Ugh! Thank you for trying to help.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 4, 2015
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  13. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    This really crappy video, claims it is the i530. In the very end, it does show using the push to talk feature, which is direct/connect which is the feature you want.

  14. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

    Direct Talk is essentially the function programmed into the phone for specific channel/code, and ANY iDen on that channel and code can receive and send to each other, while DC (direct connect) would be between two phones exclusively, but it's still direct talk only using the 10 digit number to hash the code -which means nobody else can join in.

    Basically, start on your main screen whether you are in Direct Talk or not and type the 10 digit ID of the phone you wish to connect to and press the (push to talk) button. This will start up the DC and the receiving phone will automatically receive your phone's 10 digit number and after a few seconds will allow you to save to contacts as well. If this does not work, try saving the number in your contacts and make sure to save it as a DC number instead of a Fax or Phone number, then try to connect from start screen and typing in the number from the touchpad and pressing the 'talk' button until it connects. Make sure your phone receiving the call is on also. That's it.

    You can find any of your 10 digit DC numbers from the 'main menu' screen, then clicking 'my info' and scrolling all the way down until you see the DC # (example number would be 123*34*23813 in any sequence) also note, if the DC number looks something like this: 345*23721*9 it is really only 9 numbers, so you will get an 'invalid DC' reminder if you try to use it like this, and you will need to type in the number like this: 3452372109 essentially, the last number is 09 and not just 9.

    If none of this works and you cannot connect with DT or with DC, your phone probably doesn't support the feature without service. But, I suggest looking into it as much as possible regardless. It would be sad to get rid of iDen's if they really did have the DT or DC function.
  15. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    Direct Talk Compatible Phones - Matt's BlogMatt's Blog

    Direct Talk Compatible Phones

    The following phones do support Direct Talk. (I have not personally verified this information.)

    Nextel ic402
    Nextel ic502
    Nextel ic602
    Nextel ic902
    Nextel i275
    Nextel i315
    Nextel i325 (and i325is)
    Nextel i335
    Nextel i355
    Nextel i365
    Nextel i425
    Nextel i455 (mixed reviews: some apparently have the feature disabled)
    Nextel i560
    Nextel i570
    Nextel i580
    Nextel i615
    Nextel i670
    Nextel i760
    Nextel i776
    Nextel i850
    Nextel i870
    Nextel i880
    Phones without Direct Talk

    Some phones do not support Direct Talk. I have put “(not supported)” aside them for the benefit of those who find this via search and don’t read in full. 

    Nextel i265 (not supported)
    Nextel i305 (not supported)
    Boost i455 (mixed reviews: some do work)
    Nextel i530 (not supported)
    Nextel i710 (not supported)
    Nextel i730 (not supported)
    Nextel i860 (not supported)
    Nextel i920 (not supported)
    Nextel i930 (not supported)
    PRO-series (not supported)
    LX-series (not supported)
    Z-series (not supported)
    BB-series (not supported)
    Related Links

    [PDF] Direct Talk Fact Sheet thread
    Wikipedia Moto Talk page
    [PDF] Nextel DirectTalk instructions
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  16. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

    @kellory Thanks for posting the list, it may come in handy for folks seeking an iDen.

    Here's a video showing some of the capabilities of the iDen i355 phones in Direct Talk.

    I recommend the i355 and the i560 iDen's because they are ruggedized.
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  17. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    If you only have only one sim card and you run into a dead end trying to program, I would also suggest getting another sim card. As the one you have may be defective causing the phone to not program correctly. Just a thought......
  18. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Just a NOTE, here: I have a stash, of NexTel Simm Cards, should anyone need one, to get started.... Just PM me, with and Address, and you will Find One, in your SnailMail Box, in about 3 Days....
    Brokor and Yard Dart like this.
  19. jasu


    I may have another one I can rummage around for. Thanks for the thoughtfulness.
  20. jasu


    Wow.... thank you so much. I am going to give the ones a try one more time however if that list above is correct then I may be out of luck with my 4 i530... I'm gonna try to figure the dc thingy! Thank you for your help and offer!!!!
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