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EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS FOR UNDER $65

Getting general emergency information in a power outage is actually not too difficult.  Most TV and radio stations have emergency generators and will be on the air broadcasting local information within minutes of an emergency.  All it will take to get emergency information is a battery powered AM/FM radio or TV.  I have given my favorites in previous blogs and in my books. Check them out for specific models.

Getting specific information on friends and family in an emergency is actually pretty difficult unless you put together an emergency communication system that allows to transmit and receive information directly with your loved ones.

Cell Phones

Cell phones can be great in an emergency.  If your cell phone works, use it to get updated information and let family and friends know what is going on.  In a severe emergency like Hurricane Katrina, cell phones were out in some places for over a month.  If you are trying to find out if your family members are alright, no communication for one month would be excruciating.

Internet and Social Media

The internet will be down in a severe emergency mostly because local internet providers will not have power to run their servers.  Even if the internet providers have generators to run their servers, very few individuals will have power to run their routers and computers.  One exception may be if your internet connection is through a satellite dish.  The satellite internet provider is probably many miles away and probably out of the local area power outage.  As long as you have power to run your router and computer or tablet you will be able to send and receive messages via email and social media.

How Do I Talk With My Friends and Family?

I have three children who live locally, 10 – 15 miles from me and one child who lives over 250 miles away.  Simple questions like – Are you okay? Is anyone hurt? Is your home livable? Is there any unrest in your area?  Is it safe to stay where you are? Do you need anything? – will go unanswered unless you setup a simple communication system.

When I looked for a way to keep in touch with my local children, I found a way that also let me keep in touch with my out of town children.  The answer is Amateur Radio and I was shocked to find out that I could setup a system for less than $65.

I need to give credit where credit is due.  I read about a magical little $39 transceiver radio on a survivalistblog.net blog article titled “Survival Communications on the Cheap” by Old Hillbilly.  That article started me down the path that has ended in an inexpensive emergency communication system that lets me talk will my kids, even the ones 250 miles away.

 Equipment

The magical key to the system is a BaoFeng UV-5RE Plus Dual-Band Radio. Available for $39 (2 for $72). This is not like the walkie-talkies I played with as a kid.  This is a great piece of technology.  It can operate on Ham, GMRS, FRS, and MURS frequencies at 2 or 5 Watts.  Frequency Range: 136-174 MHz and 400-479.995 MHz.  Dual-Band Display, Dual Frequency Display, Dual-Standby, A/B band independent operation.

Make sure to buy the UV-5RB or UV-5RE Plus models, not the UV-5RA model.

Depending where you live and if you have a direct line of site to a repeater, the basic radio may be all you need.  But in most cases you will want to get two more items for your system – a programing cable and an external antenna.

 

You can program the radio by hand but the easiest way to program your radio is to buy a Programing Cable for $7 and download free programing software called CHIRP.  The program is easy to run and there are online instructions and many YouTube videos to help you.  The software has all the repeaters and their off-sets for every area of the country.  You can upload the information for your area to your radio and be running in minutes.

The second item you will probably want to buy is an external antenna.  The radio is a dual-band radio.  The two Ham bands it receives and transmits are the 2 Meter and 70 Centimeter bands.  The 2 Meter band is the most used Ham band.   If you are within 5 – 10 miles of a repeater and have a direct line of sight to it, you can probably receive and transmit to it with the little flexible antenna that comes with the radio.  If you are further away from the repeater or if there are hills, buildings and other obstacles between you and the repeater, you’ll want an external antenna to improve your signal.

Just a quick explanation on Repeaters.  Repeaters are Ham stations that are placed on elevated hills or buildings.  They receive and then pass on (“repeat”) transmissions so they can be received by other further away stations.  The great thing about being able to hit (transmit to and receive from) a repeater it that even if you are only using a 5 watt radio, once the signal goes through the repeater the signal becomes a 50 watt signal and can go hundreds of miles.  There is a set of coordinated repeaters in Arizona, Southern Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Montana that link the entire Intermountain West.  If you can access the system from any of the repeaters, you can talk to other Hams in any of those states hundreds of miles away with a $39 radio.

A simple external antenna will greatly extend the distance your signal will travel.  Here are two inexpensive Dual Band J-Pole antennas that I own and use.  Both have low SWR ratios for great results with a BoaFeng UV-5R radio.

The first antenna is sold on eBay by nelson_antennas.  The basic model comes with 5’ of RG-174 coax cable for $17 shipped.  The deluxe model comes with 10’ of RG-174 coax and has a ferrite bead installed at the base for $26 shipped.  Both come standard with an SMA female connector that screws right into the radio.  This antenna is really compact and is great for a Bug Out Bag.

The second antenna is sold by 2wayelectronix.com.  It comes with 16’ of RG-58 coax for $28 plus $6 postage.  Order it with an SMA Female connector.

I hang my antennas in a window that faces the repeaters.  The only precaution is to hang them vertically at least 18” from any metal.  Both work very well and I have no problem hitting the repeaters 20 miles away.

 

Total cost for a basic system is anywhere from $39 to $79 depending on what extras you choose.  A good basic system would be a BaoFeng UV-5RE Plus for $39, a programing cable for $7, and a Basic J-Pole Antenna for $17.  A total of $63.

Here are some other add-ons that could make your system more versatile.  BaoFeng BF-S112 Two Way Radio Speaker/Mic, $7.20.  AAA Battery Power Adapter, $7.45.  Cigarette Lighter Battery Power Adapter, $10.88

Do I Need A License to Use the BaoFeng UV-5R?

The answer is yes and no.  First the FCC regulates all radio frequencies and stipulates how and by whom they can be used.  Some of the frequencies that the BaoFeng UV-5R can access are restricted to licensed users.  Those license restrictions apply to transmitting not receiving.  In other words you can listen all you want without a license.  The FCC allows communication with or without a license in cases of life-threating emergency.

Some preppers choose not to get a license feeling that they’ll only use their radios during an emergency and during an emergency they won’t need a license.  That’s a fair thought.  I chose to get my license because I didn’t want to wait for an emergency to see if my setup worked and if I could hit the repeaters.  There is a learning curve to running a Ham Radio.  I wanted to get past that curve before an emergency hit.

Getting licensed isn’t that bad.  You pay $15 to take a 35 question test where you must answer at least 25 questions correctly.  That’s it.  There are Study Guides and Sample Tests free on line to help.  I am an old man with diminishing brain capacity.  I went through the online study guide and took 5 or 6 sample tests on line and got 100% when I took the test for real.  If I can do it, you can do it.

 What Frequencies Can I Get?

The BaoFeng is able to receive and send on frequencies between 136-174 MHz and 400-479.995 MHz.  Those frequencies include FRS, GMRS, MURS, 2 Meter, and 70 Centimeter HAM bands.  I’ll try to give a brief description of the FRS, GMRS, MURS, and Amateur Radio bands with what frequencies each covers and what each is used for.

Family Radio Service (FRS) – These are the bands we are used to using for Walkie-Talkies.  There are 14 channels with specifically frequencies. The maximum broadcasting power is .5 watts and you don’t need a license to use FRS frequencies.  FRS 1 – 462.5625, FRS 2 – 462.5875, FRS 3 – 462.6125, FRS 4 – 462.6375, FRS 5 – 462.6625, FRS 6 – 462.6875, FRS 7 – 462.7125, FRS 8 – 467.5625, FRS 9 – 467.5875, FRS 10 – 467.6125, FRS 11 – 467.6375, FRS 12 – 467.6625, FRS 13 – 467.6875, FRS 14 – 467.7125.

General Mobil Radio Service (GMRS) – GMRS has 15 Channels.  It shares 7 Channels with FRS and then has 8 Channels that are inputs to repeaters.  The maximum broadcasting power for the shared frequencies is 5 watts and the maximum broadcasting power for the repeater inputs is 50 watts.  A license is required for GMRS.  There is no test, you simply fill out an application, submit it with $85 and a 5 year license covering your entire family is granted.   FRS/GMRS 1 – 462.5625, FRS/GMRS 2 – 462.5875, FRS/GMRS 3 – 462.6125, FRS/GMRS 4 – 462.6375, FRS/GMRS 5 – 462.6625, FRS/GMRS 6 – 462.6875, FRS/GMRS 7 – 462.7125, GMRS 15 – 462.550, GMRS 16 – 462.575, GMRS 17 – 462.600, GMRS 18 – 462.625, GMRS 19 – 462.650, GMRS 20 -462.675, GMRS 21 – 462.700, GMRS 22 -462.725.

Multi Use Radio Service (MURS) – MURS is a 2-way radio service similar to CB bands.  It is for unlicensed use with a 2 watt power limit.  There are only 5 channels.  Channels 1-3 are narrowband and channels 4 & 5 are wideband.  For short distant communication, I like the MURS bands much better than the FRS bands.  First you can use 2 watts of power instead of .5 watts and second there is not near as much traffic on the MURS bands.

MURS 1 – 151.8200, MURS 2 – 151.8800, MURS 3 – 151.9400, MURS 4 – 154.5700, MURS 5 – 154.6000.

My BaoFeng at 2 watts power on MURS frequencies is good for 1.5 to 2 miles.

Amateur Radio Bands (HAM) – Ham Bands cover many frequencies but the only ones I want to specify here are the frequencies for 2 Meter and 70 Centimeter Bands since those are the two bands that the BaoFeng UV-5R can broadcast on.  The 2 Meter Band is frequencies from144 MHz to 147 MHz.  The 70 Centimeter Band is frequencies from 430 MHz to 440 MHz.   Out of the two bands, the 2 Meter Band is the most popular and where you would find the most people to chat with.  As I have stated before, a license is required to broadcast on the HAM Bands and most HAM operators limit their broadcast power to 50 Watts.

What Else Can The BaoFeng Do?

The BaoFeng is also an FM Radio.  Just push one side button and you have an FM radio that receives all the regular FM radio stations.  The BaoFeng UV-5R also receives NOAA Weather Radio frequencies. Check online for the NOAA weather frequencies in your area.

The BaoFeng also comes with an earpiece and can be VOX (Voice) activated.  This is a great tool if you need to use both hands free to work on something but you need to talk or receive instructions while you are working.  This feature provides some real tactical advantages if things get bad and you are trying to coordinate with several small groups.

 

Ed Rogers
Copyright “Keep It Simple” 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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