Life in the Peace Zone:  Gig Harbor, WA   Emergency  CB and 2 meter radios    Norwegian underground cranks up Old Sparky during WWII --Photo by Normann
                                                                           by KB7WEE
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Get both if you can, but the average person will want a CB for the following reasons:

CB drawbacks: Two Meter amateur radios, advantages: Two Meter disadvantages:                                                                                                                                         Top  
Any port in a storm

 Get two CB radios, on sale if possible.  I have a Radio Shack TRC-236 handheld CB, and a mobile rig for the house.  The handheld are most convenient and portable.  You don't have to leave it in the car for thieves; put it in your lunchbox, purse or fannypack.  Everything needed is contained in the unit: transeiver, power supply, antenna.  This is one item you CAN take with you.  (Try to do this with a fancy mobile or base rig.)
 These radios can be operated in your car using a cigarette lighter power cord and a mag-mount antenna (get on sale) using a Motorola jack input.  Tell your friendly Radio Shack salesman what you want, he'll find the parts.  If you buy an AC/DC power supply, you can operate radio from inside your house, saving your AA batteries against the time the power goes out.  A 12 volt auto battery (which you can charge using your car engine or AC charger) makes a good home based backup.  Put the mag-mount antenna on a metal cookie sheet or metal garbage can lid, and you have the necessary ground-plane for "out the window" operation (the unit has it's own antenna, but it's long, and the rig will fall over if you set it down on a table. Save the unit antenna for when you must carry it).
    This radio can fit inside a ziploc bag, fastened closed with a rubber band around the antenna to protect it from exposure to the elements.  Another advantage with this radio is that it has a low/high power switch.  "Low" power saves batteries, and limits the signal so your neighbors hear you, but your presence isn't advertised to the entire world.  (Another way to limit signal is to shorten the unit's antenna a bit.  Your radio won't like it much, but on low power it won't matter.)

     The radio has 40 channels.  Channel 9 is the emergency and hailing channel.  You can call someone on it and switch to another to talk.  Channel 17 is the I-5 corridor trucker's channel. In a local emergency, the foulness and chatter won't be the problem it is normally.  With a good antenna (homemade or otherwise) you can monitor the activities of refugees prowling for food, relay distress messages or call for help.  The C.B. legal power limit is about 5 watts, which means you might hear someone on your set, but they might not hear you.  Many C.B.'ers have power amplifiers that push their signal far beyond these limits, so they can't hear you if you're trying to respond with a legal unit.  This won't matter with a neighborhood network, where the idea is to have "off-the-grid" communications with those you know and trust.

Setting up a NET: (assuming you know people friendly enough to cooperate)
In a "power out" situation, saving batteries is paramount.  Set up a Network with agreed times for monitoring certain channels for traffic and information.  Use agreed "handles", or codenames (3 digit numbers are easy to hear in fuzzy conditions).  Decide beforehand if the giving out of personal info (addresses, phone numbers) over the air is worth the risk to all parties.  This will be determined by the type and cause of the emergency at hand.  Bad weather generates a different kind of refugee than political or infrastructure emergencies.

Controlling the NET:                                                                                                                                                  Top
Start the NET at a regular time, perhaps once a week, with each party taking turns as control operator.  Practice makes perfect.  Doing this will help determine whether everyone is in range, and what type of power and antenna setup is necessary for reliable communications.  Topography can be a problem, and some folks might need to drive to a high point during NET times in order to keep in touch.  (on this note,  if the Bridge were ever to close while I'm at work, I can drive to a point in Tacoma where my signal will reach my house in Gig Harbor, and call for a boatride)  Keep a dedicated notebook for a Radio Log, writing down Time; Date; Participants and other vital traffic.  Keep Log in safe place for future reference (yours).  Running a weekly net assures everyone that their radios are working, batteries juiced up, and discipline in following an order of exchanging info.

 "Welcome to the Eagle (or any other bird) NET.  The time is _____,  date____.  meeting every ___on channel____.  I'm ____ your control operator for this session.  (give reason for NET, like "preparedness" or whatnot.)
 "Do we have any check-ins?"
-the operator waits as "check-ins" call in with their handles (or numbers) and writes them down in order.  When all check-ins have checked in, the operator calls them one by one in order to ask if there's any traffic,  messages etc. and writes them down under each respective name.  When he gets to the end of the list of check-ins, the call goes out:
 "Are there any other check-ins to the Eagle NET?"
- New check-ins are dealt with and added to the bottom of the list, and the list is gone through over again, as many times as possible during the pre-determined length of the session.  This is a good way to exchange info on radio propagation and share ideas for improving reception.  Ham radio nets operate this way (heard with a scanner on the 144-148 mHz "two meter" band and their readiness during emergencies was heard during the last icestorm).
-When session is finished, close out the NET with information it was opened with and clear the channel.                        Top

It may be a good idea to have agreed upon alternative channel and local strategies in place for low power communications.  An example: monitor a certain channel every few hours at the top of the hour, to listen for calls.  If no calls occur, turn off the set to save juice until next time.  In this way, no transmissions occur unless needed, and security is enhance by radio silence.

Antenna cutting formula:
The formula for cutting antenna wire for a half-wave dipole is 468 / mHz = length in feet.  Each length of wire is a quarter-wavelegth, so divide "length" by two and attach to conductor and shield of coax.  Lots of good antenna plans can be had on the WEB.

Final note: Preparing for an earthquake prepares you for any other thing coming down the pike, whether it's a speed bump, tank trap or tidal wave.

               The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.
                                                                                                                                            -Proverbs 27:12


Page by Arne Herstad                                                March 10, 2001                                                                     Back