Newbie looking to start & be disaster ready

Discussion in 'Becoming an Amateur Radio Operator/Upgrading Privi' started by BIOTECH, Aug 24, 2010.

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  1. K8MHZ

    K8MHZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    It's not legal to use the frequencies the public service officials use so if your plans include being able to use a radio (with no telephone patch) to request info from fire and PD you should change your plan.

    It is legal to listen to them. It's just not legal to transmit on their frequencies.
  2. KD0LWU

    KD0LWU Ham Member QRZ Page

    I know what you are after, I live in KS and this springs weather spooked me pretty good so I also wanted another form of communication. You don't really care about communicating with family/friends but want to know what's going on.
    Let me share some of my experiences with you, sorry for the long winded post.
    I started out thinking 2m with an HT would be the cats meow, I could hit a repeater, find some people and be able to be informed.
    The reality of this, repeaters are problematic, 2m is a dying band right now and a lot of the people you talk to are not so helpful. Also in a natural disaster, power will be out. In a SHTF scenario, 2m will be a joke full of "Armageddon type's" that I doubt will be much help unless you have something to offer them. Just being brutally honest.
    BUT, a good HT gives you communications and a scanner other than being unable to do digital, which I think most of SoCal has gone to? There are sites that you can check for this and find out with some digging. But it will give you EMS and fire for the most part, and in the case of a bad natural disaster, I doubt the digital will be working well without power, so.........................
    But if you watch and look, you can find digital scanners used for reasonable prices. Same with the HT, you can get them used for a realistic price. I bought a used Yaesu VX-7R for a decent price, it's nice but a real PITA to use, you really have to have the cable and software for a computer to program it, it's that much of a PITA. But a nice rig, but I value an HT at $100 for the actual usefulness, maybe more if you can use the scan side more.
    For you, start with a decent shortwave receiver, look around a bit again, you can find one cheap enough and scan the bands to see what is out there. Plan on $100 or less for that.
    Go for your General ticket if you want to go ham, trust me, it opens up about every band and gives you phone privileges, you don't want to learn CW code yet and may never.
    For a "real" rig, look at the Yeasu 817D and the 897D units as they have built in batteries which keep with your portable idea. Do a search on ECOMM, there are a TON of ideas you and I can adapt to use for our needs.
    Look into the "Buddy pole" (sp?) antenna systems, compact bag, easy to set up, and get good reviews from what I've seen. You can set this up out in the front lawn, talk great, pack it up and no one knows you where there.
    Do a search on this site, there have been numerous threads on antenna's in apartments lately, lots of good ideas that I've seen. Also remember, all you need to hear is a hunk of bailing wire, talking gets more complicated, but there are tuners that if you want to spend the money, you can hook to a fence post and talk on it!
    But do plan on some time getting to know and understand the equipment, otherwise it's useless in the time of need.
    Hope this helps some.
    Andy (it's easier than my call sign :p)
  3. KE7VLC

    KE7VLC Ham Member QRZ Page

    Well looking over what you want to do and what you are not willing to do I would say CB and FRS is what you should look for.

    Ham radio doesn't need to be expensive, but Ham Radio operators can't just call the Forest Service, Police or Fire department on their radios. It doesn't exactly work that way.

    If all you want to do is communicate with these services then I would suggest making sure you have change in your emergency kit and use a public phone or perhaps flag down a passing officer. Thing is these departments are going to be very busy already in an emergency so what you really need to do is look at communicating with someone other than these departments. Ham radio is great. I have an HT (Hand held radio) for about $180, and then a mag mount antenna for about $30. But you have to realize in a disaster you may not have electricity so you will need an alternative source of power for your a spare battery pack or a AA battery pack to go along with that.

    Personally in a disaster I wouldn't really be worried about communicating with people but rather knowing info that will help me stay out of the disaster the scanner would be wise.

    So what you need to do is step back and see exactly what you are trying to do. Draw up a plan as to where to go, where your local shelters will possibly be (schools, fire department and other community centers). Learn what to do in the event a disaster strikes and keep an emergency supply center inside your house. You will need water, food and other essentials for at least 3 days. Don't forget about how to heat the food or water to safety purposes. When I lived in Alaska and we heard that a volcano or tsunami might be happening, we would fill the bath tub up with water, and kept about 10 gallons of extra drinking water.

    Another way of communicating with outside people is smoke, paper and pen, orange flags....pretty much any way of getting attention.

    So to sum up everything....decide what your intentions are. Do a little research on survival first and foremost. Then decide as to who you are trying to communicate with and why. What are you worried about? Are you worried your ceiling may collapse and you are under it? Radio's are almost worthless on a whistle would work. If that's not a concern then why do you need to talk to the police? They will be busy with other things.

    Honestly in an emergency you will more than likely be on your own and wont have many resources readily available. Police might take your info but it might be hours or even days before they get out to you depending on the situation. There is no way of figureing out each scenario that might happen....thats IDIC.....Infinate Diversity in Infinate Combination.

    So study your local communities evacuation plan. Plan your own evac plan. Keep a scanner available, but also look at getting one of those windup radios. Make sure you have an emergency supplies available. Remember in a true disaster a candy bar to trade will be better than a dollar bill.

    BIOTECH QRZ Member

    Thank you gents for the kind discussion and advice.

    @KD8MKG & KR2D
    Thanks, it is looking more like I will take the time to at least get first level of Ham Technician license as I have to start somewhere.
    Hopefully the book will clear up some questions about equipment and frequencies as I don't know what 2 meter/70 centimeter or VHF/UHF refers to....there are way too many acronyms for me to keep up at this point.

    Good to know, listening would be sufficient so I don't have to get just a scanner. I did imagine that FD or PD would be accessible for say situation if
    I was hiking and have fallen of the cliff or ran into someone in a serious life danger.

    @KD0LWU/Andy :)
    No worries about the length of posts, I appreciate the words rather than feeling like a fool after purchasing expensive toy that does not meet my expectations.
    "HT with scan side"
    what do you mean by this?

    I will check out Yeasu units you suggested, thanks a bunch! I am willing to spend $100-$150 for HT or $150-$200 for something slightly more powerful as those Yeasu seem to be.
    Hard for me to judge equipment at this level of knowledge/ignorance.

    Lucky (or sadly) I have lived through Balkan conflict in 90s and have a pretty good idea of what to expect to be working or how the governemnt will 'take care' of us in case of anarchy and emerency. Ham radio operators (and cab drivers who had CB/Ham at the time) were the only source of relable information...better than CNN, local TV/Radio stations, military infrared satellites or 'government emergency response' systems AND organizations...anyhow.
    Today's generations would melt in a second, I see kids loose 5-10lbs over their iPhone not working properly for 1 day...imagine the chaos in a 'real catastrophe'.
    - this is where I am split...just a scanner would not cut it as you never know when you might need to get in contact or pass the info. One way radio just does not give me warm and fuzzy feeling is all...

    Pack of smokes (even if you don't smoke) went a lot further when dealing with military ;) although not many people smoke in California.

    I am working out my plan and slowly collecting gear, converting and adjusting some of my camping gear choices...definitely NOT one of those 'argmegedon' or 'end is near' type of guys but I don't want to get caught with my pants down and don't have much to go by when it comes to communication plan...and so here I am :)

    Thanks again for your time and answering my newbie questions.
  5. KD0LWU

    KD0LWU Ham Member QRZ Page

    If you look at the specs on the VX-7R, it has 900 memories you can program, you can then scan through them like a normal scanner. Also look at the coverage, it's a "wide band receiver as well.
    The FT-60R does the same, has more memories and is easier to use as well as cheaper:
    The problems with VHF/UHF is they are pretty much "line of sight" frequencies and the 5 watts with the stubby antenna make it a short range use unless you can hit a repeater to amplify your signal. Talking HT to HT you might get ten to fifteen miles unless one is on a hill. Is this making sense now? Even a repeater is limited to around a 60 mile radius depending on the power out and the antenna used. One repeater I like to talk on is 30 miles away as the crow flies. I can hit it in the front yard with my HT and stock antenna sporadicly. But it seems to have incredible reception, much better than the others around here.
    With HF, and a general ticket, you can find an open band about anytime of the day, and if you can find one quiet enough even with 5 watts and a good antenna you can talk all over the US easily. There is also a lot more people on HF.
    What this means to you: If you get hit with a quake you will not have power in your general area, most likely you wont have a repeater to work with. Now you have to find people talking somewhere on VHF/UHF simplex somewhere and hope you have enough antenna and power to get to them simplex. (simplex means no repeater) then hope they are not in the same predicament you are in, no power or phone etc. Theoretically you could create a "chain" of people until you reach someone who could help, but who knows how the story would change when it got to the last person and in reality, I doubt you'd find that many people to create a chain of information in the first place.
    HF, you WILL find someone you CAN contact who can then relay that information with a phone call.
    So, VHF/UHF is nice but limited in this instance unless you want to run something with 100plus watts and a beam antenna that you can point directly at the person you hope to talk to.
    This is what I am learning at least.

    BIOTECH QRZ Member

    Thank you Andy very much, this is just reassuring that HT is the way to go as it seems to fit what I am looking to start with. I also saw this video of the VX-7R unit with whip antenna attached...seemed interesting enough along with some other videos. This unit seems to be really liked by users.
    How do repeaters work? Who installs and maintains them? Some of these HT units seem to have 'repeater' would it be safe to assume that that 1 unit can be setup as repeater while boosting the reception of the 2nd unit? Either way, just wondering....seems like 5watts is quite sufficient and HT would be a great start for me.
    Thanks again, I am really stoked about all this info.
  7. KD0LWU

    KD0LWU Ham Member QRZ Page

    Tyipcly clubs install and maintain repeaters, but anyone can put one up, just need to reference with the repeater guide (I'm having a brain fart right now, I can't remember the name) You don't want to use an HT for this, get a dual band mobile with 50 watts or more that can "crossband", this allows you to use the HT on low power on 440, it's received by the mobile and retransmitted on 2m at the higher power.
    On 2m repeaters have an offset shift of +/-600hz, when you key up it shifts the operating freq to match the offset, then you receive on the listed freq. They also use a "duplexer" to allow one antenna to sort between the received and transmitted freqs. I'm still working on understanding the duplexer myself, but it works!
    If you go the HT route, make sure you get the AA battery adapter for it and stock up on AA batteries! Trust me, these things eat batteries!

    BIOTECH QRZ Member

    Thanks Andy,
    I think I am not going to touch repeaters for now :)

    Yes, that is why I mentioned in the first post that I want even number of batteries and not a battery pack....chances I will find a AA or AAA sooner than some custom battery pack made for HT.
    Just I need to wait to pass the test before being 'allowed' to buy this HT?
    Thanks a million.
  9. K0RGR

    K0RGR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I also think it's important to consider where you are.

    I can't think of anyplace in Orange County that would not have some kind of ham repeater coverage. There are definitely places in the Sierras where there are no repeaters at all. In the populated areas, there should also be people around - there may be less in the back country.

    The 'fell and broke my leg' scenario is what the personal locator beacons are for. They may not be cheap, but at least for now, they work. Ham Radio is usually not the best solution if you can afford better.

    Having said that, there have been many cases of hams using their HT's in California to report emergencies from the trails. HT's don't work well from holes - rock blocks VHF signals pretty effectively. But from almost any high ground out there, you should be able to find a repeater.

    If you learn Morse Code, you can literally carry an HF station in your shirt pocket that will make contacts, as long as you can get a wire up in a tree for an antenna. Check out the little RockMite. Also, with a General license, you could use one of the little PSK rigs here to get on PSK31 - you would need some kind of portable computer to do it - some mobile PCs will work.
    PSK31 is a digital mode, somewhat like 'texting', but two way.

    BIOTECH QRZ Member

    Hi K0RGR,
    Thanks for the info. Yes I do like to cruise Sierras (Mammoth area) as well as Mojave but I think I would be experimenting and just having fun in this area....the 'broken leg' scenario was more of a 'just in case' concept but definitely good to know what is realistic expectation.

    Morse Code...eeek, it is has been 20+yrs since I attempted to learn it and to be honest I am quite glad it is not required for the ham test. Not dismissing it, as it might be something I learn down the line.
    Currently....I am just stoked to get the book and start :) even if it is with just an HT.
    Thanks again.
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