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Doomsday Communications For Dummies

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November 26, 2012 in Preparedness


Getting prepared for disasters seems to be in vogue these days. Television programs like “Doomsday Preppers” and “Doomsday Bunkers” seem to have captured the imagination of the American public. Given the state of the world these days I guess that really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I have to admit that I too have become hooked on these programs just for their entertainment value. I mean, who wouldn’t get a laugh out of a 15 year-old kid informing his mother that she’s not invited to live in his bunker? Now some of these folks are obviously a few bricks short of a full load, but others have actually come up with ingenuous ways of hunkering down when the stuff hits the fan. The one area, however, that all these folks seem to fall short on is communications. That said, I thought I’d outline a few ways that people can communicate with each other when doomsday arrives.

Starting in the home, a family should always have a way of communicating danger to other members of the household that are currently out and about. One easy way to do this is by using your porch light or even a candle in the window.  If the light is usually off then turn it on if there’s a dangerous situation developing in or around the house. You can even expand this warning system to include your neighbors so that you can all watch each other’s back. Devising a pass phrase might also be a good idea. For instance if someone knocks on your door you might ask him through the door “Are you here to sell me something today?”  If the individual does not respond with the correct pass phrase (say for example “No I’m just the milkman making a delivery”) then you know that it may not be safe to open the door. Looks can be deceiving so even if someone looking like a police officer is knocking on your door you are not obligated to open it. Just keep in mind what happened in New York after hurricane Sandy. Looters dressed as Con-Edison employees knocked on the doors of residents pretending to be doing home inspections. Many of the residents opened their door and were promptly robbed. Don’t you make the same mistake. Lastly, it is important that each family member be aware of one or more predetermined meet up locations in the event that the family is scattered due to unforeseen circumstances. There’s nothing more terrifying to parents than not knowing where their children are. Be sure to review these locations regularly.

Next you need to start focusing on what’s happening beyond the street you live on. Neighborhood watch groups are a great way of getting eyes and ears out on the street. Start you own group and if need be buy some FRS radios for yourself and neighbors. These are great little walkie talkies that have a range of about a half mile. Some of these radios have built-in voice scramblers which make them even more valuable. Just pick a channel and a privacy code and you’ve got reasonably (but far from foolproof) private communications.

Moving beyond your neighborhood, you need to think about mobile communications. Citizen band radios (aka CBs) are a great option for mobile use. They are cheap and relatively easy to install. The key is to have these radios purchased and installed BEFORE doomsday arrives. CBs give you 40 different channels to talk on and have an effective range of between three and five miles. Drivers that have both a CB and an FRS walkie talkie can easily warn the neighborhood watch group of potential threats heading their way. The one problem with CB radios is that you may have a problem finding a clear channel in times of emergency. That’s why I recommend purchasing an SSB CB radio. SSB radios essentially give you 120 channels (with the upper and lower sidebands) and have a range of about 12 miles. They are more expensive but you may just find them more effective than standard CBs. Perhaps the greatest value you’ll get from your CB is driver reports on the whereabouts of roving gangs, traffic jams, road closures and checkpoints in your area.

A police scanner is another essential item. Make sure you purchase a radio-based scanner versus an internet-based scanner because chances are good that the internet will not be available. Also make sure your scanner can run on batteries and is capable of listening in to “trunked” systems. A police scanner will keep you in-the-know about fires, car accidents, burglaries and riots happening in and around your town, county and state. Of course a police scanner is pretty much useless unless you know what frequencies are being used in your area. That said, you might want to consult the Radio Reference website to find frequencies relevant for you. Be sure to print the information out and keep it next to your scanner.

Moving beyond the state level, you might want to consider purchasing a good battery-powered shortwave radio.  A shortwave radio will keep you informed of national and international news. Your neighbors will probably be hungry for such news so you might want to post the news you hear to a home-made bulletin board built from plywood and two by fours. You could of course just invite them into your home to listen with you but chances are good that you’ll never get them to leave!

Finally, you might want to consider getting to know the ham radio operator up the street (the one with all of those ridiculous antennas in his back yard). Chances are good that he’ll not only be able to tell you about all of emergency shelters in your area, but may also be able to send a message to your out-of-state family members. He can even request a reply back from them. He is also your gateway to fire, police and ambulance services when phones are not working. There’s a good chance, however, that there are no hams in your neighborhood. If that’s the case then it’s time for you to step up and get your license! It’s actually very easy to get these days now that the Morse code requirement has been eliminated. Pick up a study guide from the American Radio Relay League and within a month’s time you can be a licensed ham. Once you get your license you should probably start with a 2 meter “handi-talkie” which will give you the opportunity to hook up with hams in your area. The locals can then help you pick the right equipment for communicating with people from around the country and around world.

As you can see it doesn’t really take much to get a workable communications plan in order. The key is to think about such things long before the doomsday event occurs. It is also important to realize that no man is an island. Barring a nuclear or biological event, working together with your neighbors is a much better approach than hiding alone in a bunker buried in your back yard. A single person can’t hold off a gang of marauders, but a group of neighbors working together can. Besides, working together with your friends and neighbors is a great morale booster. So is a cold beer. Make sure you have a few cases on reserve.

Good luck!



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6 responses to Doomsday Communications For Dummies

  1. I keep forgetting to let you people know about a method of communication, which cannot be intercepted by anyone, other than the intended recipient.
    Using a laser pointer at one end and a solar panel to receive and visa versa, private communication can be achieved (Line-of-sight (LOS)), with clear weather… This YouTube video is in french but by watching it, you’ll understand most of it anyway… If you think you need more detail, then find someone who understands French or Canadian French, to interpret it… Someone with a background in electronics would also be helpful… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QN1X6vXA-Y0&feature=share&list=PLEE9A6A16EE204419

    Good luck and please forward this to other groups, who could benefit by it…


  2. Good article. All things I need to work on, including a way to keep beer icy when there is no grid supplying the trons.

  3. Thanks for several good ideas!

    We in family have a code phrase.. if me or my wife call anyone who has entered an apartement or is simply talking with us on the street “sir” – that means there’s truble, take the kids and get out of the house or the situation. It’s not very custom here to call eachother “sir”, so that realy bites an ear when you hear a person like me calling someone “sir”, while a cop or social services people wouldn’t realy suspect anything. They realy looove to be called “sir” :)

  4. Pretty good article, but we must think of ways to use the internet, bulletin board services, etc. to go when the internet is shut down from the DNS servers. First, get a listing of the websites that you would need in an emergency (like infowars.com) in a terminal session ping the site and write down the 12 digit numbers that come up (123.456.789.321). There may be multiple ones come up at different times, list them all. Next, look into the dark web. Using rudimentary tools, there are alternate modes of communications possible on the internet platform. There is also the old bulletin board systems (BBS) on the dial up style modems. This used to be the way you could share files and do very rudimentary messaging, gaming, etc. An old technology outshined by the internet, but still possible with older dial up modems. Most modern computers do not have a modem, you could get one second hand (Don’t forget to down load the driver software) or buy one new.
    The battery option works for a while (grid down), but you run out of batteries. Look at getting some rechargable batteries with a solar charger or handcrank generator if the batteries were plugged into the wall for recharging.

    Then there is the EMP attack. Harden all of the above mentioned electronics, solar panels, pretty much everything. You harden them in a Faraday cage. The more metal surrounding the device the better. My favorite Faraday cage is the cardboard insulated metal trash can. All metal and the can will have to be grounded after the event to prevent shock. Remember they can do another EMP at any time to take out the emergency gear that survived the first attack. Use your devices sparingly, keep time out of the Faraday cage to a minimum. Unless that Ham radio operator has hardened his equipment, it too will be toast.

    I was chuckling, where are you going to keep that beer cold in Arizona? There are no streams around here that are near freezing, at least within walking, hiking distance anyway.

    • Greg,

      Good points. As far as beer goes, if the power is out and you live in Arizona then might I suggest scotch and water ;-) .

      Regarding BBS’s there is also packet radio bulletin boards. I use a battery operated HP 200LX palm top, a battery powered handi-talkie and a Tigertronics modem. Once I’m on my local node I can jump to other nodes around the world (assuming there are actually other nodes to go to). In the article I tried not to get too far into the weeds with technology. You end up losing a lot of people when it’s such a short article.

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