2020 being a pandemic year, many clubs that would normally host a large public event are asking that either their members operate Field Day on their own–as individuals–or if they do host a public site, to practice social distancing and adhere to all local/state/provincial guidelines.
The 2020 setup is certainly a departure from the Field Day norm.
Field Day, at its core, is all about practicing radio preparedness. The contest classes and scoring are designed to promote battery/generator/solar power and even low-power (QRP) operations.
Field Day tends to be a group event and it certainly gives clubs a chance to coordinate and build an impromptu station with multiple operators.
But in a real emergency–say, a natural disaster that disrupts local transportation–responsibility would truly fall on an individual operator to get on the air from home and coordinate communications.
Use this Field Day as an opportunity to build a radio go-kit, to set up a portable antenna, operate from battery or generator power, and to see just how well you, as an operator, can cope with crowded radio conditions.
If you’re an SWL, Field Day is a perfect time to see just how well your receiver can cope in an RF-dense environment. If you want a challenge, try to see how many QSOs/exchanges you can monitor and log from as many sections as possible.
My Field Day plans
My trusty KX3 during one of my 90+ NPOTA activations.
This year, I plan to operate Field Day from a local National Park. I’ll set up a couple hours in advance of Field Day and activate the site for Parks On The Air (POTA). When Field Day starts, I’ll abandon my POTA exchange and simply work stations as a Field Day site. I hope to play radio for at least a few hours or until afternoon thunderstorms chase me away. I plan to use both my Elecraft KX3 and Xiegu G90.
Being a radio reviewer, I always use Field Day as an opportunity to see how well a transceiver can handle adjacent signals. This year, I’ll be putting the G90 through its paces!
What are your plans?
Do you plan to operate on Field Day? Please comment with any plans you may have!
My Red Oxx Micro Manager packed with a full radio field kit
Yesterday, my family packed a picnic lunch and took a drive through Madison County, North Carolina. It was an impromptu trip. Weather was forecast to be pretty miserable that afternoon, but we took the risk because we all wanted to get out of the house for a bit.
Although that morning I had no intention of performing a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation, my family was supportive of fitting in a little radio-activity, so I jumped on the opportunity!
A quick glance at the POTA map and I determined that the Sandy Mush State Game Land (K-6949) was on our travel route. Better yet, the timing worked out to be ideal for a lunch picnic and before most of the rain would move into the area.
Ready for radio adventure
I had no time to prepare, but that didn’t matter because I always have a radio kit packed, fully-charged, and ready for the field.
The Micro Manager pack easily accommodates the entire kit
This 20 year old blue stuff sack is dedicated to antenna-hanging. It holds a reel of fishing line and a weight that I use to hang my end-fed antenna in a tree or on my Jackite telescoping fiberglass pole. The sack also accommodates a 10′ coax cable.
The Elecraft KX2 transceiver, EFT Trail-Friendly Antenna, hand mic, CW paddles, C.Crane earphones, and wide variety of connectors and cables all fit in this padded Lowe Pro pack:
The advantage to having a simple, organized radio kit at the ready is that everything inside has its own dedicated space, so there’s no digging or hunting for items when I’m ready to set up and get on the air.
This level of organization also makes it easy to visually inspect the kit–missing items stand out.
Yesterday I parked our car at one of the Sandy Mush Game Land parking areas, deployed my field antenna, and was on the air in a matter of seven minutes at the most.
Technically, this should read “Activator” parking area! (A questionable inside joke for POTA folks!)
We planned for heavy rain showers, so I fed the antenna line through the back of my car so that I could operate from the passenger seat up front.
I also brought my Heil Proset – K2 Boom Headset which not only produces better transmitted audio than the KX2 hand mic, but it frees up my hands to log stations with ease. This is especially important when operating in the front seat of a car!
The great thing about the KX2 is that it’s so compact, it can sit on my clipboard as I operate the radio (although typically I have an elastic strap securing it better). Since all of the KX2 controls are top-mounted, it makes operation a breeze even in winter weather while wearing gloves.
Since I routinely use the KX2 for shortwave radio broadcast listening as well, I know I always have a radio “locked and loaded” and ready to hit the air. My 40/20/10 meter band end-fed antenna works well for the broadcast bands, as long as there is no strong local radio interference (RFI). When I’m faced with noisy conditions, I pack a mag loop antenna as well.
What’s in your radio go-kit?
Having a radio kit stocked and ready to go on a moment’s notice gives me a great sense of security, and not just for recreational ham and shortwave radio listening reasons.
Sometimes I travel in remote areas by car where I’m more than an hour away from the nearest town and where there is no mobile phone coverage.
If my car breaks down, I know I can always deploy my radio kit and get help from the ham radio community in a pinch. Herein lies the power of HF radio!
If you haven’t built a radio go-kit, I’d highly recommend doing so. Although I’m a bit of a pack geek, keep in mind that you don’t need to purchase special packs or bags for the job. Use what you already have first.
I’m plotting a detailed post about the anatomy of an HF radio field kit. In the meantime, I’m very curious how many of you in the SWLing Post community also have a radio kit at the ready–one based on a transceiver or receiver. Please comment!
Better yet, feel free to send me details and photos about your kit and I’ll share them here on the Post!
Each year at the Dayton Hamvention I enjoy checking out the latest radio products and services. This year (2019) I found an exceptional number of innovations and will share these in Hamvention Highlights posts. If you would like to check out 2019 Hamvention Highlights as I publish them, bookmark this tag: 2019 Hamvention Highlights
At the 2013 Dayton Hamvention, Palstar showcased a prototype HF transceiver called the TR-30. I posted a note about this at the time on my ham radio blog, QRPer.com. The TR-30 never seemed to make it to the market, but that’s not surprising considering the Elecraft KX3 and a number of other QRP transceivers were released the following year.
This year when I approached the Palstar booth, I found a new prototype transceiver: the Palstar TR-30A EMP.
This TR-30 iteration will, without a doubt, have a unique place in the radio market since it has been designed to withstand electromagnetic pulses (EMPs). To be clear, I know of no other transceivers on the ham radio market that are EMP hardened.
The Palstar TR-30A EMP requires no external EMP shielding or special handling/storage. It will be natively EMP-proof, even while hooked up to an antenna and without an RF ground attached.
I spoke with Paul Hrivnak (N8PH), President and CEO of Palstar, at Hamvention and he shared a few details about the Palstar TR-30A EMP:
The transceiver will be general coverage and will be able to operate on all of the HF ham radio bands.
It will have a very simple set of functions–at this point, he doesn’t even plan to have dual VFOs.
The output power will be 20 watts.
The front panel controls will be very simple and intuitive.
The TR-30A EMP’s unique internal antenna tuner will–if I understand it correctly–be able to match pretty much any load. It will have manual controls, but will be digitally controlled. Paul said that the ATU is being designed so that a satisfactory match can be found for any make-shift field antenna. I can’t wait to check it out for myself because I hold Palstar in high regard when it comes to antenna tuners.
Of course, from the ground up, the TR-30A EMP will be hardened against EMPs.
He hopes the Palstar TR-30A EMP will be in production by the end of 2019 and retail for $1,100 – 1,200 US.
Of course, I will post any news and updates about the Palstar TR-30A EMP here on the SWLing Post. I will also plan to review and evaluate the transceiver when it hits the market.
Thomas: I know you’re a self-proclaimed pack geek and so am I! You published a photo of your EDC pouch in a post last year. Just a teaser really! What is that pouch and I assume you have a larger carry bag as well? Can you provide more details? I’m ever revising and honing my own EDC pack. Any details would be appreciated.
Thanks for your question Matt! Besides radio, you’re bringing up on one of my favorite topics: packs! You may regret having asked me!
Yesterday evening, I snapped a few photos of my EDC (Everyday Carry) bag and the pouch you’re referring to. Your inquiry is prompting me to consider publishing a more detailed look at my EDC gear–especially since radio is such an important part of it.
I do carry a larger EDC bag at all times. Typically, this is the Tom Bihn Pilot:
For years, I carried a Timbuk2 messenger bag, but it didn’t have the type of organization I prefer in an EDC bag. My EDC bag must be rugged, water resistant and accommodate my 13″ MacBook Air while still having enough depth to comfortably fit the rest of my gear.
I’ve been using the Tom Bihn Pilot for almost a year and have been very pleased. The Pilot is an investment to be sure, but (like Red Oxx) Tom Bihn construction quality is superb and comes with a lifetime warranty.
It’s amazing how much gear will comfortably fit inside without making the bag bulge. The Pilot also has a dedicated water bottle pocket in the middle of the front panel. While I do carry water, it primarily houses my never-leave-home-without-it Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug (affiliate link) which is filled with piping hot dark roasted coffee!
I also use the water bottle pocket to hold full-sized handled VHF/UHF radios. It accommodates either my Kenwood TH-F6, Yaesu FT2D, or Anytone AT-D868UV perfectly. Indeed, all of the front pockets will accommodate an HT since the zippers terminate at the top of the bag. Long antennas can easily poke out while the zipper still seals 99% of the opening.
The Pilot has one main compartment that houses my 13″ MacBook Air laptop.
Everything has its place. Not only does it hold my Yaesu VX-3R handheld, but also a multi-function knife, a Leatherman Style PS tool, clippers, earphones, multi-bit screwdriver, USB stick, notepad, spare VX-3R battery, a mini first aid kit, titanium spork, and much more! Someday I’ll pull the whole thing apart and note each item.
Why do I choose the Yaesu VX-3R? First of all, it’s compact. This HT is so small it’ll tuck away anywhere. Not only is it dual band, but it’ll also receive the AM broadcast band (even has a little ferrite bar inside), the shortwave bands, and the FM broadcast band.
The mini rubber duck antenna will work in a pinch, but I also carry a flexible Diamond SRH77CA in the floor of the Tom Bihn Pilot’s main compartment.
When I attach the Diamond antenna, it significantly increases the VX-3R’s capabilities.
While the VX-3R does cover the HF bands, don’t expect amazing performance. Selectivity is poor, but sensitivity is adequate. For a shortwave antenna, I carry a short length of coax: one end is terminated with an SMA connector, the other has the center conductor exposed.
I also carry a short alligator clip cable which I clip to the exposed center conductor and then to a length of wire. The end result is a very cheap, flexible and effective portable HF antenna!
Someday, I’ll take everything out of my EDC pack, inventory the contents and publish a post about it. Somehow, that’ll please my inner pack geek! I’m overdue a review of the Tom Bihn PIlot and Synapse 25.
Post readers: Do you have an EDC pack built around a radio? Please comment and include links to your favorite gear!
Will modern portable radios survive an EMP? Likely not without protection.
Here on the SWLing Post we tend to cover topics related to shortwave radio, ham radio and international broadcasting. We also cover an array of other topics our contributors and readers find appealing.
Lately, I’ve noticed an uptick in one particular question–at least, variations of it–from readers and people who found our site searching for emergency/preparedness radios:
“What radio can survive an EMP?”
“How could I protect a radio from an EMP?”
What is an EMP?
In case the term EMP is new to you, check out this explanation from Wikipedia:
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP), also sometimes called a transient electromagnetic disturbance, is a short burst of electromagnetic energy. Such a pulse’s origination may be a natural occurrence or man-made and can occur as a radiated, electric, or magnetic field or a conducted electric current, depending on the source.
EMP interference is generally disruptive or damaging to electronic equipment, and at higher energy levels a powerful EMP event such as a lightning strike can damage physical objects such as buildings and aircraft structures. The management of EMP effects is an important branch of electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) engineering.
Weapons have been developed to create the damaging effects of high-energy EMP. Misleading or incorrect information about such weapons, both real and fictional, have become known to the public by means of popular culture and some politicians’ claims. Misleading information includes both exaggeration of EMP effects and downplaying the significance of the EMP threat.
In short? A strategic EMP could cripple our electrical grid and potentially many other electronic and digital devices.
Most of us are concerned with wide-spread disruptions from electromagnetic pulses originating from:
Man-made atomic weapons
Natural occurrences, like solar flares/storms
A solar flare erupts on the far right side of the sun, in this image captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Image: NASA/SDO/Goddard Space)
As the Wikipedia article indicates, there’s a lot of confusing and misleading information out there regarding EMPs. And while some of this reportage underplays the seriousness of this very real, if rare, concern, a great deal of it, including the fiction about it, is more alarming than it needs to be.
So I turned to a good friend who happens to be an expert on EMPs.
My pal has worked for thirty-five years designing military radar equipment, broadcast transmitters, and automotive electronics.
His profession requires that he knows how to “harden” equipment against all types of EMP threats, and thus is regarded as a specialist in this field. Because of his professional ties he’s asked that I withhold his name.
My EMP expert friend is also very pragmatic. That’s why I asked him to explain how EMPs might affect us both generally and specifically, in terms of communications and the radio world.
I asked him to address what effects an EMP might have, both nuclear and solar originated, and how what practical preventative measures we might take to mitigate the damage to our radio equipment. His reply follows…
Anxiety over EMP seems to recur every time there is a change in the established order. The premise of Mutually Assured Destruction that has kept us ‘safe’ in the nuclear age vanishes when confronted by a suicidal adversary. That _seems_ to be the case at present.
So let’s look at the facts available:
A nuclear EMP has its peak energy in the 1 MHz range, with appreciable energy even in the 1 GHz range. It has field strengths of up to 50 kV/m.
The wiring inside of modern consumer electronics, including PCB traces, is close to GHz wavelengths, so they will be effective [in] receiving that energy and carrying it to any electronics [to which] it is connected.
There was a series of articles in QST 30 years ago by Dennis Bodson (W4PWF) that should be the go-to reference:
[Note: the following links require that you’re logged into the ARRL website and are a current member.]
The author related results of a number of tests on equipment by the US in EMP simulators.
The impact on vehicles
One observation was that vehicles were not affected.
As a former automotive engineer, I can attest to the lengths to which designers go to make automotive electronics resistant to damage. A vehicle must be designed to withstand operation with no battery, reverse battery voltage, inductive surges, and other abuse. Automotive electronics are designed to operate under radio and TV transmitters without damage.
There are of course anecdotal accounts of ham equipment causing vehicle computers to go haywire, but if (and that is a BIG IF) the equipment was designed properly, there will not be damage. One area where EMP will cause damage in a vehicle is the car radio. It is tied to an antenna that will conduct the surge directly into the very fragile receiver circuitry.
That said, the amount of electronics in a vehicle is hugely increased since these articles were written in 1986, and even after I left the automotive industry in 2006.
The specs for automotive EMI resistance have not changed in that time, though.
The way that you keep EMP out of any object is to surround it in conductive metal, so that no gaps exist. Think of a microwave oven that must keep the radiation _in_. The screen in the door window has tiny holes you can see through, but much smaller than the wavelength of the oven. Where microwave leaks are most likely to occur is around the door, where the metal shield is not continuous.
If you want to shield electronics from EMP, the coverage by the metal shield must be continuous. A gap or slit will permit the energy to penetrate.
Sample of reclosable ESD bags.
In the silvered plastic Electrostatic discharge (ESD) bags that are very popular for EMP protection, the zip-lock seam is the weak point in the shielding. You can very easily just use two bags, one inside the other, with the seams in opposite directions, to make a greatly improved shield.
Aluminum foil is a great shielding medium, [and] it’s cheap and plentiful.
Use a big piece, and wrap several overlapping layers. It’s hard to do better.
Many of the solutions used for EMI and RFI lose their effectiveness in the high field strengths of an EMP.
The ferrite snap-on chokes saturate at high magnetic field intensities, and lose their permeability, and the ability to stand off conducted surges.
Use of ammo boxes or file cabinets for EMP protection [a popular method promoted by many on the Internet] is of limited effectiveness because of the large gaps between sheets of metal, and the poor conductivity of steel.
A galvanized trash can is a better solution, because of the conductivity of the zinc galvanization.
The gap around the lid should be covered with adhesive copper tape, available at craft and garden supply stores.
Batteries are not affected by EMP. But a battery pack with a built in smart charger may be.
Be aware that LiFePo batteries tend to have built-in smart charge controllers.
Store battery packs safely shielded also––but make sure the terminals cannot contact the metallic shield and cause a short!
Tube/Valve radio equipment
Vintage tube radios will likely survive an EMP, but how do you power them without mains electricity? By modern standards, valve gear is power hungry!
Vacuum tube equipment is very resistant to EMP, as [it] can withstand arcing and surges with no damage.
The bigger question is, how do you power it afterward?
Suppress Surges and Unplug
Much of the damage from an EMP will be conducted, coming in on power lines. Always unplug any critical electronics when not in use. Also, put a surge suppressor on every outlet [into which] you have electronics plugged.
It is cheap insurance. Even of you are not in line-of-sight of an EMP, the conducted surge can wipe out costly appliances. I do this as protection anyway because of my ham antenna. When lightning hit the tree outside my house ten years ago, we only lost two CFL bulbs, while every neighbor on our block lost TVs, microwaves, and washing machines.
Gamma Ray Bursts
EMP radiation should be distinguished from ionizing nuclear radiation. Exposure to a gamma ray burst from near proximity to a nuclear event will disrupt electronics also, but that is an entirely separate topic.
Most Important Communication Medium During Disasters
(Hopping on soap box) The most important form of communication is that which covers the shortest distance. Get to know your neighbors. When bad things happen, they will be the people who will help you out, and be the most grateful when you help them. We’re seeing this happen on a massive scale in Houston [Florida and Puerto Rico] right now. (off soap box).
The subject of EMP is very controversial. There is a tremendous amount of misinformation out there. There is disagreement even among the experts.
The problem is that since aboveground nuclear testing…ended a generation ago, there is very little relevant information existing, since semiconductor electronics were in their infancy at that time this occurred. Most information that there is has come from EMP simulators, which are assumed to create waveforms close to that of a nuke. We all know…how risky assumptions can be!
But we do know how to make shielding, and we do know what kind of effects will damage electronics, and we can use this knowledge to try to assure that the preparations we make will be sufficient to protect our electronics.
All of these are very hostile EMI/EMC environments, and the specifications for their design are very strict. These designs offer guidance as to how to create EMP resistant electronics. What are offered are opinions, but hopefully well informed opinions. If I’m wrong, I won’t argue about it, there is more at stake than ego.
Answering common questions
Many thanks for these useful insights and explanations. And now, with all of this in mind, let’s re-evaluate questions about EMPs and radios:
“I understand tube/valve radios can survive an EMP. Which model should I buy?”
My answer: You’re correct; as discussed above, vacuum tube equipment is very resistant to EMP, as it can withstand arcing and surges with no damage.
However…without mains power (the most likely result from a strategic EMP) how will you power tube gear––? Many tube radios were never designed to be operated from a battery source. Those that could, require batteries with a fairly exceptional amount of capacity. Vacuum tube radios are not efficient compared with modern solid-state battery-powered radios.
If you have an generator or power source that is hardened to survive an EMP, and you have a plentiful supply of fuel to run it, then you may consider a tube radio. Otherwise––or better yet, additionally––protect a much more efficient portable radio.
“What radio can survive an EMP?”
Any radio that is properly shielded from the effects of EMP should survive an EMP.
“How can I protect a radio or other portable electronics from an EMP?”
After you’ve chosen which radio to protect, take the extra precaution of removing any attached telescopic antenna. Most antennas are held in place with a simple tiny stainless steel screw/bolt. Unscrew it, pull the antenna off, place both pieces in a small bag and keep it with the radio.
Next, place the radio in a container that will act as a “Faraday cage” to exclude an EMP’s electrostatic and electromagnetic influences. There are a number of commercial products specifically designed for this use, but it’s more simple and affordable to adopt one of the procedures our expert outlines above. Let’s re-cap:
Find a bag that’s large enough to fit your radio; many of the bags designed for SATA hard drives should fit more compact radio models.
Place the radio (and its detached antenna) into the ESD bag and close the zip seam.
Then, place the ESD bag containing your radio equipment into another ESD bag, making sure the bag seams are on opposite ends.
Consider wrapping your radio or electronic device in its box. Not only does it insulate the contents, but it makes an easier surface to wrap in foil.
Wrap the radio in at least three layers of aluminum foil. Make sure all seams are tightly sealed with each layer of foil. Each layer should completely enclose and protect the radio.
I wrapped this radio in three layers of foil, carefully sealing seams on each layer.
Galvanized Trash Can
As mentioned above, items can be placed in a galvanized trash can for protections.
Simply line the inside of the can with a dielectric material (cardboard, thick cloth, foam, or something similar) so the contents cannot touch the sides, bottom, or lid of the can.
It may be overkill, but I might also wrap my electronics in aluminum foil before placing it inside, again making absolutely certain your equipment in its foil wrap is NOT touching the metal of the can. This would simply serve as a secondary–redundant–layer of protection.
If you live in a humid area, you might put some sort of moisture protection inside as well.
More to come…
In the final part of our primer, we’ll take a look at what sort of radios you should consider packing away for emergency use, discussing selection criteria.
I’ll link to this article once it’s published, so stay tuned for more on this intriguing subject. Follow the tag: EMP
It’s a good time to be technical. Maker communities are thriving around the world, tools and materials to create and adapt are cheaper and more powerful now than ever, and open source hardware, software, and information mean that if you can think it, you can learn how to do it and then make it happen.
For one group of technological explorers, this is more than just a golden age of opportunity: it’s providing the means to save one of the oldest traditions in electronic invention and self-education, one that helped shape the modern world: amateur radio. That matters.
Radio amateurs get a sweet deal, with effectively free access to many gigahertz of the same radio spectrum that companies pay billions for. They’ve earned it. Throughout the history of electronics, they’ve been at the borders of the possible, trying out ideas that commerce or government deem impossible or pointless—and making them work. One example of hundreds: Allied military comms in World War II needed a way to reliably control the radios used by front-line forces, replacing tuning knobs with channel switches. Hams had the answer ready and waiting: quartz crystal oscillators. (That’s part of computing history too—you’re probably using about ten of them right now.).
[…]Then, there’s backup. Take the European HAMNET, for example. That’s a four-thousand-node high speed data network covering a large part of continental Europe and providing full IP connectivity at megabit speeds. It connects to the Internet—ham radio owns 16 million IPV4 addresses, believe it or not—but is independent of it, doing its own robust and flexible routing. If the Internet was to go away, HAMNET would still be running. The same’s true of nearly all ham radio infrastructure: when everything else fails—power, comms, roads—ham radio is still there, and these days it can be a full-fat digital medium.[…]
In my home town, I’m know as the guy who does ham radio with the Boy Scouts, setting up and operating a full off-grid campsite field station at ARRL Field Day and the Scouts’ Jamboree On The Air. This has been a great learning experience both for the boys and myself, as a great way to determine what works and does not in less than ideal circumstances. Professionally, I work for a defense contractor, with expertise in military radio systems and their power requirements.
On a personal note, I’ve had first-hand experience with emergency radio communications during the Mississippi River Flood of 1993, Hurricane Isabel in 2003, and the Cedar Rapids Flood of 2008. My evaluation of contest entries were based on these first hand experiences, and lessons learned from published accounts of other natural disasters.
The parameters of the Challenge were drawn from these first hand experiences.
“As is often said, stuff happens. Indeed, our modern communication infrastructure is a fragile thing. Let’s imagine that your area suddenly loses power–as well as cell phone and internet service–for an indeterminate period. Home and personal electronics remain unaffected, but must be powered off-grid (without mains power). Moreover, you may be required to evacuate your home…perhaps even on foot….”
“Therefore, how do you intend to:
obtain information about local and world events?
communicate within your local region to assist emergency services?
pass messages to friends and family over long distances?
power your kit for an indeterminate amount of time?”
To make the evaluation of the contest entries as fair as possible, I kept off of the SWLing Post blog during the duration of the contest, arranging with K4SWL to send me the compiled entries with identifying information removed.
In an emergency or natural disaster, as power and communication infrastructure is damaged or degraded, the main avenue for transmission of information to the populace will be the oldest and most common broadcast medium – AM radio.
Most middle-sized towns have a station, and most families have a battery operated portable receiver. The local new/talk station will become a conduit of information on hazards, evacuations, and requests for assistance. This essential component of the emergency communications kit is the item that most people already have.
There are other sources of information that can provide detail that will not be presented in a radio broadcast. A VHF/UHF scanner pre-programed to local utility frequencies, as well as FRS and GMRS frequencies will let you monitor emergency responder traffic, as well as up-to-date NOAA weather broadcasts.
Those bearing an amateur radio license have the opportunity to not only monitor, but to participate in disaster relief. If two-meter repeaters remain in operation, amateur radio operators have often served to supplant or replace overloaded phone services between hospitals, police, and other first responders.
Where the devastation from a disaster is more extensive, or if you are forced to evacuate to a remote location, local communication infrastructure may be completely absent. Shortwave radio broadcasts from around the world can supplement local broadcast media. To handle health and welfare messages from an isolated group, when cell phone reception is absent, long-haul radio capability is required. In many disasters, this has been commonly done using portable HF radio transceivers. When our Boy Scout troop embarks on a high-adventure trip, a satellite phone is packed along. This alternative has the advantage of being able to be used reliably without any skill or licensing.
This raises a valuable point: there has been in recent years a surge of interest in amateur radio among those interested in emergency communication and preparedness.
Amateur radio is a powerful tool for communication, and can be an invaluable emergency resource. However, without the user skills acquired through their frequent use before an emergency occurs, the challenge of operating unfamiliar radio equipment in a critical situation greatly reduces their utility.
Without practice in using repeaters, participating in nets, or passing message traffic, the added stress of having to learn these skills under pressure may make a bad situation worse. In short: if you get an amateur license and equipment, use them.
A further requirement is the ability to power the communication equipment. Power-hungry transmitters will burn through batteries quickly.
The selections available for rechargeable batteries are numerous, but options for charging are somewhat more limited. Thin-film solar panels have recently become an economical power choice for portable operations. Other options, such as hand-crank generators and thermoelectric converters can provide power when sunlight is not available.
With the Challenge entries in hand, it was a matter of evaluating each versus the stated goals of the Challenge. I was impressed by the documentation accompanying most entries, and justification of choices made.
Nearly every entry specified a portable general-coverage receiver with shortwave and SSB.
The Tecsun PL-660 was a popular choice. Radios of this type are very versatile, reasonably economical, and capable of receiving a wide variety of broadcast signals.
Many of the entries included a BaoFung dual-band HT. This is another excellent choice. Although lacking features found in more expensive HTs, they have the capacity to perform scanning, and can be pressed into service as a FMR or GMRS transceiver in an emergency, The economy of these radios makes their inclusion an obvious choice.
Most entrants showed a great degree of thought in their selection of power sources. Many included solar panels or hand-cranked generators to maintain power over long-term operation.
A minority of entries added equipment capable of long distance two-way conversation. For the most part, these consisted of low-cost fixed-frequency QRP CW transceivers such as the Chinese Pixie or Frogsounds kits. The shortcomings of these kits is having the skills needed for proficient operation–thus limiting their utility–but they are better than nothing.
The Winning Entry: Mehdi
One entry took a different approach to long-distance communication; I consider it the winning entry.
The following was the entry submitted by Mehdi:
Here are my thoughts on how to prepare for the virtual Radio Challenge IV:
I’ve already had this idea on my mind, because I live in a densely populated city (Tehran) and the possibility of an earthquake in near future is not improbable, so the least I could do is to be mentally prepared.
I’ve already bought things like torch, portable radio, and even a real US military compass!!
First of all, I chose the Tecsun PL-310ET for this scenario. Why?
I need a light portable radio and it’s got all the functionality I require (AM/FM for local/regional news and SW for international news). I don’t need weather broadcast as we haven’t got that service here. SSB is also not required (found in better models like PL-660). I have also added a 12 pack of AA batteries for it.
The third item is a cheap and small VHF/UHF two way radio which lets me listen to local authorities (fire/emergency/…) and other organizations’ radios and also communicate with them in case of emergency. It can also be operated on FRS/GMRS. I’ve also included two spare batteries. (Because the total price of all is above 35$, they’ve got free shipping).
And about Thuraya phone: I chose it because it’s easier to use and smaller/lighter than a portable HF rig. I have also considered portable HF transceivers before, but they have a few problems:
1- Need good power source
2- Propagation affects it (and regarding propagation, we’re not in a very good time now)
3- Not everyone can operate them easily
4- It needs an antenna to be set up
5- A good rig (even a used one) is more expensive than our budget.
I’ve also selected two spare batteries for Thuraya plus a SIM card.
The sum of all these items is $397.99 and I’ve considered portability, availability and power selecting these gadgets. I also should stress that I have also considered the compatibility and availability of these gadgets in my own country, so it may not be the best match for US citizens. I’m not sure if Thuraya has US coverage, so it could be replaced by something like Iridium or InmarSat. Also, US citizens may benefit from Weather/NOAA enabled radios.
If I were allowed to spend a little bit more, I would include a solar panel charger (about 20 dollars) too.
It’s just the “radio” related part and I will carry other necessary items in my bag (torch, knives, water, lighters, etc)
P.S. My solution is based on some presumptions, most important of them is leaving house on foot. If I were allowed to spend more and I could bring my car with myself, I probably would select a Yaesu FT-817 which operates on HF/VHF/UHF bands and can be powered from car battery and just needs a car-mounted antenna (It can be replaced with all above items).
To a kit containing a BaoFung HT and a Tecsun PL-310, Mehdi added a Thuraya satellite phone. Even though I am a ham radio fanatic with a bias toward HF radio operation, I recognize that the ability to achieve reliable worldwide communication using a device with a minimal operator learning curve gives it a clear advantage for communication in an uncertain environment.
While Mehdi specified a list of battery options for his setup, he was not able include a means of recharging within the $400 budget. He did, though, mention the possibility of adding a low cost solar panel, substituting it for one of the spare battery packs would have been a prudent option.
While Mehdi’s solution is very good, it should be recognized that the satellites employed by the satellite phones do have vulnerability to EMP and CME, as would any other communication method requiring terrestrial infrastructure. I would prefer to see a high-end HF transceiver included as part of the communication package, though this is very challenging within the cost target of the Virtual Radio Challenge. Within that cost constraint though, the satellite phone is an excellent choice.
A very close runner up is the entry submitted by Ashok, who in his write-up described his emergency experience during the landfall of a super cyclone in his home of Cuttack, near the Bay of Bengal.
Cuttack, my QTH, is about 90km by road and about 70km by air. The intensity of devastation happened in cuttack due to Super Cyclone is frightening. Till date those who have face to face with that have never forget the dreaded situation that day.
In the morning at 9:00 AM wind started and power supply failed within 5 minutes. The only way to get news was through radio.
Unfortunately, we were not aware that such a severe cyclone is on the way, so batteries for radio and flash light were not available. My Father and Uncle were worried and wanted to know what is the situation and precautions we should take. As batteries are not available, I reached out to my “junk box”.
I found a IN34 diode an MW antenna coil a 2j Gang capacitor a old telephone earpiece. Immediately I joined them in to a “Crystal Radio” (no soldering just connected those with hookup wires). I managed to receive Local HPT MW broadcast station AIR Cuttack.
Gradually wind condition and rain got worse with the passing time.
In the evening about 8pm I heard the announcer saying “only GOD can help us survive this cyclone–we wish to speak to all our listeners tomorrow, if we survive” and after that suddenly the transmission is broken and nothing is heard. Later we learned that the transmitting tower was uprooted.
Currently I am trying to get a Restricted grade or General grade Ham Radio license. After I get the license I can operate in the HAM bands, but Citizen Band radio doesn’t require a license in India, hence currently I have only one FRS radio (though FRS and CB radios are not popular in my part of India). Still there is a hope that a nearby monitoring station or defense establishment may pick up my signal and may come to rescue.
What I propose is as follows.
1) A very good standalone radio receiver (Eg. the Tecsun PL-660). A World band radio can be useful to get news from any available station nearby. The stations in the area hit by cyclone may not have any transmission facility, hence nearby broadcast stations can relay news about the situation.
Keep dry foods: Biscuits and sliced breads, 4 liters of drinking water
My prior experience says one must be prepared for 3 days survival. To survive in a natural calamity like a cyclone, food and water is a must. 2 packs of biscuit and 4 liter of water is enough for only one day. Next 2 to 3 days can be managed after the cyclone recedes by exploring nearby area.
i) Antiseptic cream 1 small tube
ii) Chlorine tablet for water purification
iii) Paracetamol tablet 1 strip
iv) Anti Diarrhea tablets
v) Anti acid/Gastro regulator tablets
vi) bandages 1 or 2 rolls
vii) clinical alcohol for disinfection
In emergency situations generic medicines are vital for survival to fight odds. these medicines are for tropical cyclone survival.
4) few matchboxes or cigarette lighter, candle
to light up the shelter in the night candle is needed. to make fire to survive cold matchbox or candle is needed
5) A Craftman’s knife
To cut clothes, scale wood for fire.
6) PIXIE like transceiver for SOS use PIXIE transceivers are easy to construct, very small in size and Low power consuming QRP devices. situations like natural calamities or devastation need smaller devices. it also can be powered from a 9v transistor battery.
7) Hand-held HF SSB Transceiver (DK7IH Handheld QRP SSB Transceiver or TJ2B Portable 4 Band)
Baofeng UV-5R VHF/UHF Transceiver
Voice communication is needed as we can communicate naturally with peers at other end and can convey our feelings easily.
Also there is a psychological factor: when we hear a comforting voice we gather our courage and patience.
8) A QRP antenna tuner
Antenna tuners come in handy as we don’t have proper antenna during and after disaster.
9) A very long electrical wire. (Twin flexible wires are also good)
Wires are needed for antenna and also can be used for fastening
10) A 12v 7amp hour maintenance-free rechargeable UPS battery.
this is the prime battery for several purposes.
i) Lighting the place with LEDs 4White LEDs plus 1 red LED in series can be connected across 12v
ii) powering the TRX Both DK7IH trx and Pixie
11) 9v batteries (quantity of four)
I mentioned 4 batteries as a careful guess work and my previous experience of 1999 cyclone. (We were cut off from the world for 15 days!)
With 4 9v transistor batteries and the Pixie QRP transceiver, I can use it in extreme condition.
12) 1.2v NiMH battery packs
These batteries are needed by the DK7IH transceiver, so 1 or 2 sets extra will be nice to have.
13) Solar charger for 12v
To charge DK7IH trx batteries. and also for charging the 12v UPS battery. Can be usable after the cyclone recedes. Cloud cover recedes few hours after landfall.
14) Hand crank or cycle dynamo. (needed if the situation is extreme and not much sunlight) OPTIONAL…
The most heavy parts are 12V 7Ah battery (2 Kg approx), next heavier thing is solar panel around 1/2 Kg.
The Tecsun PL-660 is next 470 grams. So total weight of communication system and power sources combined won’t exceed 5 Kg, Which is comfortable for a back pack.
The above prices are for radio communication purpose only. But survival of a cyclone not only depends on communication. It needs a presence of mind and making the right decisions.
The DK7IH hand held transceiver is a very compact and nice looking rig. I have it in my wish list I guess it wont exceed more than $100.00.
A hand crank genset is good for situations when sunlight is not available. But it can be considered optional.
I have considered the 12v 7Ah lead acid maintenance free battery from Indian market it costs Rs.850.00 which is $16.00 approximately.
So if we calculate the prices of all the materials then it will cost $336.45. If a hand crank generator is added to this list it will go to $447.77
If I am not taking the hand-crank generator then the remaining money i can go for few meters of wire, some biscuits and water bottles for me and other survivors.
Ashok’s setup included a Tecsun PL-660, a Baofeng UV-5R, a Pixie, a wire antenna and QRP antenna tuner, and a homebrew 20M SSB transceiver based on the DK7IH design.
Power was provided by 12v, 7AH SLA, and NiMH AAA batteries, recharged by a solar panel. Ashok also had budgeted emergency food and first aid supplies, which while not required in the Challenge, are still an important consideration for emergency preparedness. While the 20M SSB transceiver is not as reliable for long-distance communications as a satellite phone, it does have one important advantage: it is not reliant on satellite infrastructure that would by impacted by EMP or CME.
As I write this, there is a massive relief effort underway in Chennai India as devastating floods affect the region. There are reports of amateur radio operators providing emergency communication to those affected. Lessons learned from this tragedy will help guide us for future emergencies. Exercises like this Radio Challenge help prepare us to face these very kind of situations.
I would also like to thank CountyComm Government Products Group. Readers should know that Nick, with CountyComm, is a ham radio operator and regular SWLing Post reader. When Nick read about our third radio challenge, he wanted to sponsor our next challenge. Fortunately, I had already started working on a draft of this challenge in the SWLing Post hopper. CountyComm was a perfect fit as a sponsor since much of their product line is used either in tactical situations or for emergency preparedness. Nick went above and beyond the call of duty with his prize package–he has been an enthusiastic supporter. Having a prize makes the whole hypothetical challenge even more fun. Thanks, Nick!
Last but not least, I’m very grateful to our judge, David Cripe (NM0S). Dave is a busy guy in both his professional life and in his spare time. When I approached him about being a judge, he knew it would entail hours of research. This was a blind evaluation–Dave only knew entrants by first name or initials. He spent several days worth of his spare time during the Thanksgiving holidays researching product specifications, comparing, evaluating and picking our winners. He is the most knowledgable engineer I know on this particular topic, too. We’re quite fortunate to have him as a resource for this challenge. Thank you so much, Dave!
Early in 2016, I’ll post another–completely different–radio challenge. Like our other challenges, it is based on actual SWLing Post reader questions. I believe it will be a more accessible challenge for those of you who are new to shortwave and ham radio.
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