Grid down, alternative communications.......

JimH

Regular Member
Network Support I
#1
Thought it might be interesting to talk about what kind of communication platforms members currently have/use, including those that are independent of the electrical grid. What components are they made up of? How have the components been combined to make a system (or systems), and where do (or did) you use them? What kind of alternative power works for you, and is it sustainable?

I'm digging out stuff that hasn't seen the light of day for years, and am curios to see what currently works for others,
Thanks!
 

JimH

Regular Member
Network Support I
#2
I currently have 3 cases of communication equipment that make up the alternative communications plan. Most of the equipment is at least 10 years old, so there are probably newer alternatives out there,,,,

Case #1; FRS…….the lowest denominator.
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I remember driving up to Joplin, Missouri a few days after the tornado hit back in 2011. A group of volunteers from work and the Benton County Fire Dept. had convoyed up and arrived at the place in Joplin where local disaster relief efforts were being coordinated. There were city, county, state, and federal organizations at the staging area as well as disaster relief NGO’s. Amongst the confusion that was occurring all around, someone had written in Sharpie (on a piece of poster board) “All volunteers use FRS channels 7 or 11 to communicate” and put it up on the wall outside the entrance to the main building….and that’s all it took.
A Primary and Secondary volunteer frequency on a radio network had been established, and while a little chaotic, people were able to talk to each other on it. Both FRS channels also had a Ham radio operators that were able to relay emergency traffic messages from the various groups (using FRS) to the local HAM radio Net Control stations (on the local repeaters). The main Ham Net Control station was literally 20 feet away from the County Emergency Operations Center, so the radio operators could pass along emergency traffic directly to where it needed to go. Volunteers were using the FRS networks for INTRATRIBE (within the group) communications and local Ham operators from the group were using the UHF/VHF Ham frequencies and repeaters for INTERTRIBE (between the group and the outside world). It was a classic hub and spoke architecture that worked o.k. Sure there were some challenged people on the radios, but with all the cell phone towers not in service or tied up with prioritized traffic(and no service available) it was better than nothing. The FRS radios provided the simple communications ability and base to build the other networks on.
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FRS radios require no licensing and come in a variety of flavors. I have used the Garmin Rino 120’s for a few years now without any issues. I would recommend buying radios that can be powered by a AA battery source.

Rino2.jpg

I also recommend keeping the manuals with the radios you buy, as well as a printed copy of FRS/GMRS channels and corresponding frequencies, in case you might want to program other radios..........
 
#3
I'm a new HAM (General), so I'm just getting into radio. I have a couple of UV5Rs, which seem incredible for how cheap they are, but also seem to stir up love/hate in the radio community. I've also played around with APRS using an android app connected with the right cable to the Baofeng. Currently planning an antenna build for the house so that I can reach some of the farther away repeaters that my local ARES nets use. I dabble in computers/networking as a hobby, so I'm most interested in packet radio and the potential for mesh networks right now.

Your post has reminded me that I need to build a charging cable for my UV5Rs to charge off of USB, as I use solar to recharge small USB battery banks as my primary backup power source.
 

JimH

Regular Member
Network Support I
#4
Congrats on getting your ticket! Have you checked into your local repeater or HF nets yet?
Baofeng (like) HT's certainly opened up opportunities for peple to get on the air, both good and bad. The apps and dongles available make it easier than ever to push packets/APRS/etc. They do what they do....
Back when I was getting into it, we used Winlink/Pactor and bluewater SCS modems that would scan and freq hop HF 24/7/365. The stations in the backbone network would receive, hold, and pass on mail when they connected with another station. Mesh networks really seem to be coming on strong, and I need to learn up on them.
Please feel free to post any projects you are working on. I believe we can all teach and learn..

I have been using this meter from Amazon to measure capacities of various USB sources:
meter.jpg
It's a Drok USB digital multimeter ...$9.99 Amazon Prime
 
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#5
Iridium Extreme with tactical and medical evacuation package. I carry it anytime I leave the country except countries that it is illegal. Came in handy last year during the Paris riots. Police shutdown smart phone service for a while near the Champs-Élysées when water canons were deployed, gas, burning cars, protestors preventing entry/exit from the area. Basically charlie-foxtrot.
 

JimH

Regular Member
Network Support I
#8
Bump ... how would one go about selecting a frequency range, for both primary & secondary freqs?
When in Rome, do what the Romans do. If you are starting from scratch, using any available local resources and availability can be a good idea.
 

Boy Scout

Regular Member
#10
I’ve dabbled in FRS/GMRS, and like most, use an 800 MHz trunked radio system at work. Not being a HAM, I know just enough about how they work to be dangerous.

I would think for true “grid-down” scenarios where repeater and electric-backed trunking systems would be knocked out, my estimation would be that simple VHF freqs would reign supreme. Possibly some minimal “encryption” by way of TX/RX on different freqs, but that requires some pre-established comms protocols amongst users.

All things being considered and the requisite warnings being issued, what about preprogrammed VHF marine radios for emergency comms within a smaller area, especially inland, away from the coasts and larger bodies of water? Speculating about true grid-down, sky-is-falling scenarios of course.