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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Communications Planning

The Book of Army Management says:  On the field of battle, the spoken word does not carry far enough:  hence the institution of gongs and drums.  Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough:  hence the institution of banners and flags.

Gongs and drums, banners and flags, are means whereby the ears and eyes of the host may be focused on one particular point.
--Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Communications were deemed important even 2,500 years ago when The Art of War was penned.  Without communications, you're operating in a vacuum.  

Look what happens regularly in China, and what worked for a short period of time in Egypt:  The government shuts down or restricts access to the Internet and other mediums of communication.

What is really a more important lesson is that these government actions regularly fail.  Why?  Because people find ways around the roadblocks.

There was a great article in PC Word ("Get Internet Access When Your Government Shuts It Down") that discusses a number of things you can do to get access to the Internet during difficult times.  Many of the options are uber-techy, some are pretty practical.

One of the key things to remember is that it is virtually impossible to fully disable the Internet.  It's not as if there is a single "kill switch" like on a lamp in your living room.  The Internet is a collection of inter-connected private networks to which the owners have decided to allow access.  It's a network of networks.

The biggest soft spots to the Internet are these massive servers called NAPs, or Network Access Points.  These act as the traffic cops to route information requests and retrievals. 

Hypothetically, the government could shut these down - at least the ones located on American soil.  This is VERY unlikely, for a number of reasons. 

First, most of the government runs and communicates via the public Internet.  Yes, some highly-secure communications are completed over private, government-only networks, but they are few and far between.

Second - and ultimately more importantly - is business.  Our commerce is now fully tied to the Internet.  Even for a business that doesn't have an online sales site, the Internet is used to transmit credit card sales to a company's bank, or send sales data to a central accounting facility, or allow for security cameras to be monitored from afar.  Hell, many business have converted from land-line telephones to VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phones (think Vonage).

If the Internet is crippled, so is American business.  That won't last for long, as even a despot needs cashflow from taxation...

So, if an Egyptian-style uprising were to occur here in the States, the Internet might be restricted, but it wouldn't be fully shut down.  My guess is that they would use technology similar to what you use on your email "spam" filter to target and reject messages from specific email addresses, IP addresses or which contained "revolutionary" key words.

They'd restrict cell phone access by phones on some secret "watch list".  They would probably shut down free, anonymous Internet access points, such as those offered at Starbucks, Barnes and Nobles and a gazillion other gathering spots.

Still, you could never restrict everything.  Ask Mubarak in Egypt how well his Internet shut down worked.  People Tweeted, Facebooked, texted, emailed and broadcast to get the information out.  It wasn't easy - at first - but information got out.  Once it got out, people with skills and knowledge made it easier for others to join these new, ad hoc networks, and it went nuts.

Accept The Challenge

As always, think PACE - Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency.  Have back-ups for your back-ups!  Assume failure of at least one of your plans.

We've got a dozen or so posts on various communications ideas - from security to being clandestine - all accessible by clicking HERE.

If you think you have the slightest chance of having your email messages stopped, set up multiple, non-used email addresses on different ISPs.  Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail. 

Tied to this is having a printed list of email addresses.  Why?  One of the ways the .GOV might identify which accounts to restrict would be by checking the online address books.  Got any contacts in there that might catch the attention of some bureaucrat?

Illegal?  Good luck with that while pleading your case to the FEDERAL judge hearing your case...

Pre-paid cell phones, which you keep charged, but are un-used.  I have a number of friends that have this set up.  Here's one drawback:  You must keep the phone full of minutes.  If you buy the phone, load some pre-paid minutes, then let them run out, you will lose your number.  The next time you go to load a card, you will have another phone number!

Now, if your plan is to only use it initially for outgoing calls, that's no big deal.  This also helps with your Operational Security, in that your number isn't listed in someone else's cellphone - most likely under your real name!

For family members, we have sets of walkie-talkies.  Honestly, I don't know if these things will work as advertised.  The ones I have purchased purport to work up to 35 miles.  My guess is that this is the best-case when used in a flat, open area.

To test their utility, my wife is going on a field trip with her students in March to the Marin Headlands.  It's a very hilly, uneven terrain area.  She's going to bring one set and test them over the 3 days she'll be out there.  I'll report the results.

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Copyright 2011 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.


suek said...

I bought a couple of hand held walkie-talkies for very cheap. Probably worth about what I paid for them! The batteries I bought to go in them cost way more. I bought rechargeable batteries, and a recharger.

My reason for buying cheap is basically that I don't know what I'm doing, and decided to just dip my toe into the water - not plunge into the deep end.
Do you have any ideas on where to go for info about various brands - their pros, cons and probable relative costs?

Chief Instructor said...

Sue, I bought mine based upon reviews I read. I went to a number of sites and read what people had to say about the different models.

FWIW, I got the Cobra model that goes 25 miles (oops, not the 35 I wrote). They have a number of security settings, a ton of channels, hands-free, and they come with rechargable batteries. It came with the charger as well.

Supposedly, they will work up to 2 miles in hilly terrain or in a city. We'll see...

Unknown said...

I've used FRS type (motorolla I believe) radios and had crystal clarity at 10 miles but that was up in the mountains from one very high point to another very high point with strait LOS. 1/4-1/2 mile in town or the woods is more realistic.

Anonymous said...

IF TSHTF the internet and cell phones are of no value to me. They are just toys in my opinion. I sit at the computer or the TV and entertain myself. If I have time to entertain myself after TSHTF then in my opinion it hasn't. Since the internet is the mother of all disinformation don't tell me I need it to find out what is going on. I have walkie talkies and have used them when we travel but in general they are only good for a mile or so under good conditions. I don't expect to use these either. I think TEOTWAWKI will be different then everyone seems to expect and communicating with old friends and relatives won't be as important as you think.

Chief Instructor said...

Ryan, I'm skeptical of the distance claims of the manufacturers, to say the least. I think the test my wife will be doing will be very interesting, as it will be done in a very hilly area.

Anon, I see walkie-talkies being used in a bug-out/caravan situation, where you have numerous cars (or on foot) moving to a set rally point and want to maintain some sort of communication.

Personally, I try to have plans for varying degrees of TSHTF. If we get an Egypt-style deal, I think the Internet and cell phone will be very useful tools.

Hell, if we have a full-on EMP burst or something along those line, the Gong and Banners of Sun Tzu might be the trick!

Now where did I store my gongs... ;-)

suek said... did the test go?

I can test locally - I have one site I visit regularly where there's a raised railroad track between it and home. Cell phone transmission is very iffy. Even some radio stations are staticy. If a two-way would work there, it's pretty good.

Chief Instructor said...

My wife's field trip isn't until the end of March. I'll have some info in early April.

I may take them out to play with before then, though... ;-)