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Monday, June 7, 2010

Preps: No Communications Services, Part 2

You can see Part 1 of "No Communications Services" by clicking the linked text.

As we noted in Part 1, the first scenario already happens every single month somewhere in the United States.  Honestly, if you don't have plans and equipment to address the first scenario, you're so far entrenched in the, "someone will take care of me" mentality, that you most likely are not a regular reader of this blog!

Scenario 2:  Wide-spread, regional disaster.  It could be the result of a massive natural disaster, or a deliberate act of semi-localized terrorism where key communication infrastructure sites are disabled.

The likelihood of cell/text/email/internet service is extremely low.  Assume you'll be going "old school".

Minimum Gear/Equipment:  All of the gear/equipment from Scenario 1, plus:  Short-wave radio, flares-glow sticks and signalling mirror, whistle, CB radios.

Also consider:  Learning Morse Code, two-way radios ("walkie-talkies")

Having a communications plan as a part of your overall emergency plan is paramount.  (The general principle of what follows was gleened from some other prepper site which I can't remember for the life of me.  If anyone recognizes it, let me know, and I'll gladly give attribution):

Let's say your emergency plan calls for your family/group to go to Site B based upon the emergency at hand.  Your route to the site is pre-determined - with alternatives - and has "rally points" where messages can be left (and where supplies can be cached). 

No one in your family/group knows if you're OK, or if you're on the way to the site.  You can let them know by employing pre-assigned signals.  Each person is assigned a geometric symbol.  Dad is a triangle, mom is a circle, sis is a diamond and bro is a star.

You also have pre-determined information symbols to indicate physical condition, danger, alternate directions and supply levels.  For instance, dad is first to reach the first rally point.  When he leaves the site, he marks the agreed upon place with his triangle.  He puts the date below the triangle.  He also draws a straight line below it, indicating he is in good health. 

Right below that, he writes "S+" indicating he has plenty of supplies with him to make it to Site B.

He walks a few miles along the planned route and observes a road block manned by some Mad Max types.  He turns around and returns to the last rally point.  He writes a "2" in the center of his triangle symbol, indicating he is now using the alternate route to Site B.  He also writes a series of X's and an arrow pointing in the old direction indicating "danger ahead".

Mom and sis then arrive at the rally point a few days later.  They see dad's signal to take the alternate route.  They write their symbols and the date, and put a "2" in the center of each indicating they're taking the alternate route as well.  Sis puts a straight line under her symbol indicating she has good health, but places a wavy line under mom's, indicating she is ill or injured in some way.  They also put an "S-" symbol indicating they are both low on supplies.

Keep abreast of events using the standard radio.  If this does not get a signal, the short-wave should be able to pick up a signal, albeit likely from a longer distance away, plus they can pick up "ham" radio signals.

CB (Citizen Band) radios give you the ability to speak and listen to anyone that happens to be on one of the 40 possible channels at the time.  There is no ability to speak privately with another person on these radios - what you say is heard by anyone close with a CB tuned to that channel.

Walkie-Talkies CAN give you some privacy, but even encrypted devices can be "hacked".  Generally, the distance between radios must be much closer than it is for CBs.  They do give a small group the ability to stay in contact more easily (and semi-privately).

The flare, light sticks, whistle and signaling mirror are all used to bring attention to yourself and indicate distress.  If you have the ability to build a fire, green boughs thrown on a fire make a great deal of smoke, and act as a very effective signal as well.

Scenario 3:  An EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse), CME (Coronal Mass Ejections - "solar flare") or similar catastophic event.  All public communcications services are out of service for extended periods of time, possibly forever.

These ares VERY bad.  If it's from an EMP, it means we've been attacked with at least one nuclear weapon.  It may have been a one-off shot by a country such as Iran or North Korea.  Or it could be the first salvos in a much bigger and nastier war.

With an EMP/CME, remember that it will not only be communications equipment that dies, it will be all electronic equipment.  Cars, refrigerators, airplanes, etc. - anything with a transistor in it.  Both the electronic equipment and the power grid supplying the electricty are fried.

Minimum Gear/Equipment:  Everything listed in Scenario 1 and 2, plus:  Non-Transistor (vacuum tube) communications equipment, "hardened" equipment or equipment shielded by a Faraday CageHam radios or other similar two-way communications capabilities.

With the first two scenarios, the equipment needed could be carried with you in a ruck sack.  For this last scenario, we're moving into "base station" types of equipment.

And just in case you're saying to yourself, "Uhm, Chief, I think you may have your tinfoil hat screwed on a little bit TOO tightly...", CMEs happen, and they're unpredictable.

There was a massive CME in 1859 that was so strong, they saw the Northern Lights.... in Cuba.  Obviously, we dodged a bullet at that time, since we were technological infants, so to speak.

In March 1989, a solar storm much less intense than the one in 1859 caused Quebec to go dark for over nine hours.

What is a Faraday Cage?  Basically, it is a metal box that absorbs the electrical charge and diverts it away from the equipment being protected.  These can be made fairly easily and inexpensively using a large metal can, such as those used to hold the big batches of popcorn you usually see in the stores around Christmas.

The key is ensuring that the equipment you are protecting does not touch the metal can.  Wrap your small equipment pieces in a number of layers of newspaper.  Pack the bottom of the can with some sort of insulating material - crumpled up newspaper, for instance - place in your wrapped equipment pieces, making sure each piece has insulation above, below and on each side.  Put the lid on the can and store it away.

To improve the efficiency of the "cage", tape a wire to the outside of the can, and attach (ground) it to a large metal structure, such as a metal rack or metal plumbing.

As an aside, those of you that have back-up generators or solar/wind systems are at risk as well.  Do some research on what needs to be done with regards to properly grounding/hardening your life-saving power generating equipment.

Accept The Challenge

If you are going to make a communications plan that employs symbols, obviously you will need to share and discuss the various symbols and their meaning.  Think of as many contingencies as possible.  How will you indicate you're going to a back-up site?  How will you indicate someone has been captured, killed or is missing?

Putting together a Faraday Cage for a handful of basic communications (and other small electronics) is relatively easy and inexpensive to do.

For a fictional story that has a plausible storyline for the outcome of an EMP or large CME, I recommend you read, "One Second After".

***UPDATE***  It seems that NASA is getting a bit nervous about CMEs as well.

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.


Anonymous said...

I've read a lot of conflicting information about Faraday cages. Some say they absolutely must be grounded. Some saying to ground, but not to the house ground, it MUST be an entirely separate ground. Others say there is absolutely no need to do so. All claiming to be electrical engineers.

Then how to test the Faraday cage? I thought good test would be to block radio waves (cell phone, radio, etc.), but it's not necessarily so, I've read.

I finally said 'screw it' and covered a shoe box in foil, and covered it in duct tape. Then covered a slightly larger box in screen, and taped that. My GPS, SW radio, and GRMS/FRS radios go in the shoe box, which goes in the screened box, which goes in the drawer of a metal filing cabinet. Hopefully they'd work in the case of any pulses, man or sun made.

Not many items, but as much as I'd want to carry if on foot.

Chief Instructor said...

Suburban - I will most likely be doing a cage similar to the one I described - in a popcorn tin. From what I've read, the key is to have a metal cage (grounded or not) that has its contents insulated from the metal container.

It sure does seem like a bit of a crap shoot - not being able to test and verify this stuff. Makes me a bit nervous...