Amateur Radio (Ham Radio) for Communication During Disasters – Field Day Training Reply

The best opportunity to experience amateur radio operators in action is ARRL Field Day.  This is an exercise where amateur radio operators (ham’s) “take to the field” to set up stations in simulated emergency conditions.  This annual event is held on the 4th weekend of June.

If you are interested in mid-range or long-distance communication in an emergency situation, Field Day is a great opportunity to test your skills.  Start working on getting your amateur radio license now, and then take part in the next Field Day.

It’s best to get both “Technician” and “General” licenses so that you have more frequencies available to you, but at least complete the first-level of training before the next Field Day.  This will let you fully participate.

Even if you don’t yet have your own radio equipment, join a amateur radio club in your area and find an “Elmer” who will help you get started.  Unless you are operating a radio with the assistance of an experienced ham, you need to have a license to operate a two-way radio which transmits on a amateur radio frequency.  ($15 FCC license fee).  To find a club, click on this link and enter either your city or state:  http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club

If Field Day is a ways off but you’d like to learn more, contact a local club and ask if you can join one of their meetings.   Field Day is an ideal opportunity to meet ham radio operators, observe radio equipment in action, and talk with those who are training to be able to help their community in an emergency situation, but many clubs are happy to welcome a “newbie” anytime during the year.

Field Day itself is an informal annual event, so you can show up at a site in your area whenever you’d like, from noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday.  But showing up early, during the set-up time, may your best opportunity to talk with the radio operators.  The below link will help you find a Field Day group operating in your area:  http://www.arrl.org/field-day-locator

Field Day is sponsored by the national association for amateur radio (ARRL-American Radio Relay League), which is the largest organization of its type.  For more about Field Day, visit:  http://www.arrl.org/field-day-info

A book which will help you learn more about amateur radio and prepare for the first test is: “Technician Class: FCC Element 2 Amateur Radio License Preparation,” by Gordon West.

For more about amateur radio and how to get licensed, visit the website:  http://www.arrl.org/new-to-ham-radio

To download an article which will help you select the right radio for you, click here:  ARRL-Choosing_A_Ham_Radio

Already licensed as an amateur radio operator and interested in participating in Field Day?  Be sure to read the post:   “Tips for Mobile Communications on Field Day – Ham Radios for Emergency Communications”.

Tips for Mobile Communications on Field Day – Ham Radios for Emergency Communications Reply

For those who have a two-way radio (and have obtained an operators license), the annual Field Day event sponsored by ARRL is the perfect opportunity to test your skills, and to practice setting up your equipment in a mock disaster scenario.

Always held the fourth weekend in June, “ham” radio operators participate in this event by establishing contact with other operators who are transmitting from thousands of other locations around the country.  To find a location near you, visit:  http://www.arrl.org/field-day-locator  To learn more about Field Day, read the post: Field Day, the Annual Amateur Radio (Ham Radio) Disaster Preparedness Event

1. When setting up antennas within close proximity: If you are using wire antennas such as dipoles, and they run parallel to each other there will be interference on your HF operating bands in the form of hash so arrange them at right angles to each other and at slightly different heights. If you use wire antennas such as dipoles, try to stay away from trap dipoles and use full length antennas instead.  You may also wish to run your dipoles in different configurations such as have one as an “inverted V” and another as a sloper, etc. An antenna cut to the exact band you are using will decrease interference to and from other bands. Do not use compromise, trap or “all band” antennas. (The only efficient “all band antennas” are a log periodic and a “fan dipole” NOT a “folded dipole” or others that claim they use “balancing resistors” as this only wastes RF energy in the form of heat.) With others you may make a few contacts, but they are junk and will cause harmonic radiation. Dedicated operating needs the right antenna. Wasted energy on trap antennas (some of your RF energy is used up in the form of heat) and that equals an inefficient radiator, especially as you go lower in frequency. On HF, do not use vertical antennas as they receive too much man-made noise from sources such as generators, etc.

2. When NOT to use a tuner!  Tuners are great and some people use them all the time. (This includes any rig’s “built in tuner” or any “out board tuner”) HOWEVER, you need to concern yourself with something called “insertion loss”. Every time you use a tuner, there is a power loss due to heat of matching an antenna system to a rig. READ THIS: If the antenna system is measured at an SWR (standing wave ratio) of 1:1.5 or less before using a tuner you do not need to use a tuner to do a perfect match as the insertion loss of using the tuner will be off-set by any matching it does. Power (erp) will be lost in the form of heat within the tuner. If you don’t believe me, do-a-test using a field strength meter at a distance of several wavelengths away from the antenna and you will see that what I’m saying is correct. Tuners do not work miracles, so don’t expect them to.  Using a tuner for NVIS is another story as it is an emergency “compromise antenna”. Using a tuner to compensate for an antenna that is way “out of whack” should tell you to use a better antenna (or FIX it), matched by it’s length, for whatever band you wish to operate. If you use a tuner to match, say a 20 meter signal to work with a 15 meter antenna, it will also create harmonic distortion on the other bands!

3. When operating within a tight area, as required by FD rules, it also pays to use “band pass filters” such as those manufactured by ICE. I have a full set of these HF filters and they work great. They are only about $ 38 per band and drastically reduce interference from your other operating posts. Make sure they are grounded as seen by the grounding lug on the photo. If your pocketbook can’t afford them, use coax “stub” filters. The lengths of these and how to build them can be found at: http://www.k1ttt.net/technote/k2trstub.html.  They are simple to make and easy to use. Both systems have been used by the major DXpeditions all over the world with great success. On HF frequencies make sure each operating station is properly grounded. Do NOT use a common ground for all your operating posts. If you do, you will get “ground loops” with energy going where you don’t want it, including in to computer logging systems and the possibility of RF burns by operators or anyone touching the equipment.

4. Make sure that each operating position has a laminated chart of frequencies that can be used under your station’s or club’s operating license. Watch out and don’t operate too close to the band edges. ( and remember: no one “owns” a frequency)

5. If using computer logging, always have paper logs and scratch pads ready to use in case your computers bog down or crash. (ever use a “dupe sheet”? Don’t know what it is? Find out!)

6. Whenever  I operate either in contests or operating events, I find it advantageous to camp out (remain on) a frequency rather than tune around (hunt and pounce). Remember that propagation conditions will change so stick with it even if you think the band has died or other stations appear on your frequency that weren’t there earlier. That’s just how propagation works. Save “hunting and pouncing” for near the end of the event.

7. Keep your calling frequency active by calling CQ often. Don’t wait! Leave a gap of onlyseconds between calls or stations tuning by will miss your call and other stations wishing to camp out may take over your frequency. In events such as FD, it also pays to use an automatic voice unit such as MFJ 434B “voice keyer”. (Cost is about $170.) If you can’t obtain one, use a cheap electronic memo reminder and just play back your pre-recorded CQ while holding it close to your microphone. This form of “acoustic coupling” is an inexpensive way to save your voice. I have used both methods over the years with success. Keep your calls “short and sweet” using ITU phonetics ONLY. Don’t use any “cutesy” phonetics.

8. If you are lucky enough to cause a “pile up” (several stations calling you at once) answer the easiest one to hear first. If you can’t make out complete call-signs, ask for the station with the easiest partial call to reply. The others will wait. Do not get flustered. If you do, simply state “QRX”. This will give you a few seconds to re-focus your thoughts. It is at this time where it also pays to have another person with you to help sort out any call signs or help with logging.

9. Ignore jammers. Do NOT bother answering them.

10. Have your station’s call-sign and exchange info posted in large letters at your operating position in case you get a bit tired or flustered so you won’t forget and announce your own call by mistake.

11. If possible, bring your own headphones to make your life easier and to cut down on ambient noise from your area. An “odd ball” pair of headphones can actually put stress on you if they don’t fit properly.

12. Talk in a loud, clear voice. No need to shout as it distorts your signal and makes it splatter to adjacent frequencies. Speak in to the microphone at an angle.

13. Pace yourself, drink plenty of fluids and let whomever is in charge know when you need a break. Do NOT be a “mic hog” as other people may wish to gain the experience of operating. I’m sure there will be plenty of ops around which will allow you the chance to rest a spell.

14. Learn a bit about propagation characteristics for each band and time of day before you come to FD. With sunspots on the raise, the higher bands will be a bit more active than in previous years, unless there is a solar flare or other disturbance.

15. If there are enough people, have someone do the logging for you. This way they will learn to copy call-signs under less than perfect situations and will make life easier for you. A “double set of ears” makes it easier to operate and log. It might even entice non-hams to get their license. If you aren’t operating at the moment, try to keep the “chit-chat” down at any operating post. Save the talk when you are away from whoever is operating as it may confuse them.

16. If you want your FD to be more successful, WAIT until all members have arrived before deciding what amount of stations you wish to put on the air for the event. You can always change bands, even with a 1A station. Years ago one club I was a member of on Long Island decided to operate 20A! That’s 20 stations operating. The only problem was there wasn’t enough people to man all the stations for the length of FD, so we were stuck at times with 10 stations we couldn’t use. You can’t change your exchange once the event starts. Talk about bad planning. Make sure everyone signs a log-in sheet so operator tally can be accounted for.

17. Flag all coax runs, power cords and antenna guy lines with brightly colored caution tape so no one walks into them or trips over them.

18. Never assume you’ve “worked them all”.  In 1991 a pair of inexperienced ops came out of the 40 meter SSB tent claiming they “worked the band dry”. I told them they hadn’t and taking another op to log for me, in 30 minutes I worked an additional 60+ stations on that “dry band” by hunting and pouncing. Lesson learned: There are always other stations out there to work.

19. Know the rig you are operating by reading each radio’s instruction manual. By doing so you’ll avoid problems and make more contacts.  Be especially careful of the filters in complex radios as they could filter out wanted signals. Keep your operations simple so the next person assigned to your station won’t get confused twisting and turning knobs! Have a rig’s “cheat sheet” handy.

20. Turn off all gear during refueling of any gas generators. Use proper safety procedures so voltage spikes won’t harm your radios. This means to turn off your radios BEFORE the generator shuts off and wait until it reaches operational speed before turning your gear back on. You can get voltage spikes during the shutting off of the generator and the start up cycle. Use care when refueling the generator and NEVER gas it up while it is running. A gas spill even when the generator is off but HOT can also spell disaster.

ARRL training in emergency radio operation:  http://www.arrl.org/emergency-communications-training

Skywarn resources for emergency radio operation:  http://skywarn.org/skywarn-training/

The 10 Rookie Food Storage Mistakes to Avoid Reply

Are you new to food storage?  Each experienced prepper began just as you.  Take advantage of their mistakes by learning the 10 Rookie Food Storage Mistakes that should be avoided:

1. Having buckets full of grains, beans or wheat, but have never cooked them before.  Make sure to practice cooking with your food storage.  Also note that if storing wheat berries you will need to have a wheat grinder to make flour.

2. Storing food that your family does not eat.  In a stressful emergency time, it will be such a comfort to serve familiar foods. Make a list of favorite foods then begin storing them.

3. Not rotating food storage.  Even though some foods can go past their expiration dates, you should try to use your oldest food storage first.  A system of putting newer food toward the back of the shelf and rotating the oldest to the front of the shelf will help prevent food waste.

4. Minimal variety of food for a balanced diet.  To prevent food burnout it is best to store a wide variety.  Try storing many varieties of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, meats, seasonings and staples.  Also keep on hand foods that are freeze dried, canned, dehydrated, MRE’s, and prepared as instant packaged meals.

5. Poor choice of storage containers.  Prevention of pests and rodents invading your food storage is key.  Using the right food storage containers also prolongs shelf life, nutritional value and taste. Food grade plastic containers, Mylar bags, glass canning jars, #10 cans and even buckets all help to maintain a longer shelf life.

6. Never put all your eggs in one basket. Store dehydrated and/or freeze dried foods as well as home canned and “store bought” canned goods.  These varieties will help to balance out your cooking options and even add a variety of textures and flavors.  Another take on this point, is to not store all of your food storage in one location.  Instead of having all of your food storage in one location, it may be wise to have other hiding locations.  False walls, under floor boards, another building on your property, at your emergency bug out location or even a storage facility.

7. Forgetting salt, cooking oil, shortening, baking powder, soda, yeast, and powdered eggs. You can’t cook even the most basic recipes without these items.

8. Not storing water to cook the food.  Many food storage meals require water to rehydrate.  Pasta, beans and soups all need water for cooking.

9. Forgetting to store spices, salt, oil and basic condiments that are needed for your food storage. How will your famous spaghetti sauce taste without Italian seasoning, salt, olive oil and that pinch of sugar? Beans are a great staple to have on hand and can be seasoned in a variety of ways using salt, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, soy sauce, ground red pepper and more.

10. Not having an alternative cooking source if the power goes out.   There are many alternative cooking sources such as the Kelly Kettle, Volcano Oven, Wonder Oven, Propane Camp Stove, Solar Oven and much more.  Research now to see which option is best for your family.

One last tip, don’t forget to store easy to prepare foods to help you get through on difficult days.  Even though they may not be on your list of required food storage foods, you may want to reconsider puddings, juice boxes, instant packaged foods, coffee, candy, muffin mixes, cake mixes, Hershey’s chocolate syrup (lasts a long time without refrigeration), brownie mix and other specialty comfort foods.

– Cindy Castillo, American Preppers Network