PDF Reference and Medical Documents

Kingston_USB-Drive-Fingers-Hand-v01bHaving access to personal records and identification during an emergency situation is important, but other documents, such as medical reference documents, equipment and product manuals, schematics, maps, and other reference materials may also be a godsend.

If you are anywhere other than at home when disaster strikes, you may not have access to your laptop computer or file cabinet, so it makes sense to keep a digital copy on a small USB drive.

An inexpensive, small, USB drive (aka/ thumb drive) that is routinely updated, is an easy solution to this potential need.  These diminutive drives can be used to store hundreds of PDF-formatted or scanned documents, military field manuals, radio, electronics and product user-manuals, shortwave band charts, equipment repair guides and schematics, and repair information for guns, vehicles, mechanical and electric items of all sorts. They can also be used to store vital medical “how-to” reference materials, shelter, and survival manuals, instructions on water purification and dose charts, free USGS maps, an address book of friends and relatives (including phone #s and alternate addresses), close-up photos of family members (in case you need help looking for someone), and a myriad of other useful PDF documents.

Be sure to add to your drive a copy of the PDF-reader software, just in case it’s not already installed on the computer to which you are able to gain access.  Or, include the appropriate-format reader software if you are storing e-books.

This safety and security measure is an inexpensive and easy undertaking.  Costing about the same as a couple of burgers from a fast-food restaurant, a small USB drive (thumb drive) such as the Kingston Digital DataTraveler is inexpensive to purchase.  Kingston_USB-Drive-on-Keychain-v01bIt will fit on your keychain, and adding files to it is as simple as saving a computer file.

While this little device may not survive an EMP or solar flare event, or a swim in salt water, it may nevertheless prove invaluable during most other emergency situations. Yes, it’s worth keeping printed versions in a file cabinet, and electronic copies on your laptop computer or iPad, but you may not have access to these when they are needed most.  Conversely, you probably always have your keys with you, so a keychain USB drive may be your best choice for storing this reference information.  Of course, you will need to borrow a computer to access the files on this USB device, but that’s often possible.

An example of reference materials which may prove to be invaluable are the medical documents which are available from nonprofit organizations such as Hesperian.  Some can be downloaded free chapter-by-chapter, or they can be purchased inexpensively as complete PDF documents.  Note: If you purchase books in e-book format, be sure to also store the reader software on your portable drive.

Recommended Hesperian PDF Documents Include (Example):
– When There is No Doctor (Updated 2017)
– When There is No Dentist
– A Book for Midwives
– Sanitation and Cleanliness

For other reference materials, such as product manuals, go to the manufacturer’s website.  They almost always have PDF versions available as “free” downloads.

Another source of valuable reference documents is government organizations.  For example, there are many useful documents available from the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Army (U.S. Army Field Manuals). These military manuals cover a variety of non-warfare topics such as wilderness first aid, survival, and map reading.  These pamphlets and books can be found online as “free” downloads from government agencies and nongovernmental sources, and they can also be purchased inexpensively as reprints or as PDF versions made by publishers such as Carlile Military Library. These books are available from online retailers such as Amazon.com.

Sensitive or Confidential Data
Since a family member or friend may need to access the reference information on your Emergency USB Drive, or you may forget the password, don’t store these PDF reference documents and manuals on an encrypted drive.

ironkey-USB_Drive_in-hand2However, since sensitive information does need to always be encrypted to avoid theft, your drive either needs to have an encrypted partition (portion), or you need to carry a second, encrypted USB drive containing your sensitive or personal information.

Always store confidential data such as medical records, account numbers, deeds, titles, passwords, and even copies of identification, in an encrypted format.  The simplest way to accomplish this is to use a highly secure UBS drive. For example, a device such as the IronKey D3000 device resists tampering and uses military-grade encryption to protect its contents.

For more on this topic, read the post “Portable Personal Records for Emergency Situations.”

goTenna: Texting and GPS Without Cell Phone Service Reply

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-27,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-YIf you have a smartphone and a goTenna device, you can send text messages even when the cellular phone system is down or overcrowded.  The goTenna partners with your phone, like a headset or your car’s hands-free phone system via Bluetooth, and then uses its built-in miniature 2-way radio (MURS) to transmit your text message to other goTenna devices in your vicinity.

When combined with a “goTenna Plus” subscription ($10 annual), it provides topographic mapping and routes. And, it can show you the location of the other goTenna users that are part of your group so that you can rendezvous with them or help them if they are lost. (Assuming that GPS satellites are functioning.)

Yes, it’s true that a cell phone may be able to send text messages even when voice communication doesn’t work. But in reality, during a major disaster or emergency situation, cell phone systems routinely become overcrowded, making it impossible to connect with loved ones by either voice or text.

If you want to be able to communicate during these stressful times, you will need an alternative communication method.

Don’t depend on a mobile phone for emergency communication.  There is a good chance that it won’t work.

The ‘goTenna’ is an innovative device that is worth considering for emergency communications, and for when you are with friends or family in a rural or wilderness area which does not have cell phone coverage.  But first, you’ll need to understand how the goTenna works, so that you can evaluate if it will meet your needs.  For some, a GMRS walkie-talkie or an Amateur (Ham) 2-way radio will be a better choice (see below).

Think of it as a third option. Your smartphone is already designed to work using both the cellular phone network and Internet wi-fi.  This just adds a third option, a 2-way radio (151.820 – 154.600 MHz).

How Does the goTenna work?


Once the antenna is extended, the goTenna is automatically turned “on” and is ready for use.

When you combine a ‘goTenna with your iPhone or Android smartphone, you bypass the cellular network and its inherent unreliability.  The goTenna is essentially a 2-way radio that is designed to work with your smartphone–but only for sending and receiving text messages. It does not work for voice communication.

Using your phone’s Bluetooth connectivity, the goTenna app, and the goTenna device itself which is essentially a text-dedicated walkie-talkie, you have the power to communicate.  Even when you are off-grid you can pair this device with your phone to send text messages to those who are nearby–as long as they also have a goTenna device.

 goTenna’  Positives

Ease of Use:  The ‘goTenna is easy to use. Since even young children are often comfortable using smartphones, this add-on device for mobile phones gives both kids and adults alike, an alternative communication method. This is particularly useful during an emergency situation when cell phone towers are busy or unavailable, or when the user is in a no-coverage rural area.  No license is required to use this device, nor is there an age requirement. (U.S.)

Range-Boosting Capability: Another advantage of the go-Tenna is that when multiple devices are in use, the radio signal can be automatically relayed by the other goTenna devices which are operating in the same geographic area. This increases the effective transmitting range.

Encryption: The standard signal of the goTenna is encrypted to provide communication privacy, but this feature can be switched off, giving the user the ability to broadcast an emergency text message to all goTenna equipped phones in the immediate area.

GPS and Mapping:  The goTenna app can also be paired with your smartphone’s GPS, a feature which adds yet another level of usefulness.  With this ‘location’ feature enabled, the goTenna can be used to find a user who is lost.  Or, you can use it to send your own location to another goTenna user.

Optional Subscription Service:  For those who have opted for the optional “goTenna Plus” service, which requires a modest annual subscription fee, the ‘location’ and ‘mapping’ functionality is expanded to include some additional useful enhancements such as:

  1. Up to four topographic maps of regions of your choice, to help you with land navigation, and to make it easier to find another user.
  2. It can be used to repeat-send the same message again-and-again over a 12-hour period, at a timing frequency of your choice. That way, if your initial message was not received, the device will keep resending it, so you don’t need to stop and physically resend your message.
  3. It can be used to chart your route, which makes it easy to retrace your steps, or you can send your routing information to another user.
  4. The “plus” subscription lets you ‘group chat’ with up to six users, and it provides ‘message received’ confirmation.

The primary advantage of the ‘goTenna’ is that it is:

  • a) simple to use,
  • b) compact in size (5.8 x 1 x .5 in. / 147 x 25 x 13 cm),
  • c) lightweight (1.8 oz. / 52 g), and
  • d) you can learn how to use it in under five minutes.

 goTenna’  Negatives

Cost:  Though less expensive than a GMRS radio with a built-in GPS, and cheaper than a single brand-name mobile ham radio, the goTenna is still relatively expensive. (Later in this post, you will find specifics on 2-way radio options.)

The “goTenna MESH” is a cheaper version of the standard, 2-watt “goTenna.”  But in our view, it is a waste of money since it has half the power (1-watt) of the standard goTenna, which is already an underpowered device.

Limited Functionality:  Though the features of the goTenna are robust, its usefulness is nevertheless limited since it can only be used for texting, and its range is limited to a few miles, maximum.

Professional Versions:  The goTenna Pro devices use a different radio technology to extend the operating range of the unit, but they are substantially more expensive. This added cost diminishes their usefulness for the emergency communication needs of most people, which is better served by more robust texting + 2-way radio options such as the Garmin Rhino 755t radio (no license required) or a ‘ham’ (amateur radio operator’s license required) 2-way radio.

Range:  The biggest downside of the goTenna is its limited range.  In a downtown city environment, don’t expect to communicate at a distance greater than ½ – 1 mile.  If you are in a nearly flat, unobstructed rural environment (or if you get to a higher vantage point), you might be able to communicate with another goTenna user at a distance of 2 – 4 miles.  Despite the fact that users have claimed successful communication at much greater distances, such success is highly unusual and cannot be expected.

Note:  Both the sender and receiver need to have a goTenna and a smartphone, and have them switched “on.”  The goTenna will probably not work from inside a concrete, masonry or steel structure, and it will have limited connectivity when used from inside a vehicle.

Short of hacking the device, there is no way to extend its range, other than to make sure it is not in contact with the human body when in use.  For best reception and to achieve the greatest range, carry the goTenna on the outside, very top of a knapsack, or hold it by its strap over your head while transmitting. The unit itself will not operate properly if held in the hand or next to the body.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-27,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-YOther Considerations

Battery Life:  The built-in Lithium-Ion battery of the goTenna has a useful life of about 20-hours, but this can be extended by switching the device and your phone “off” when they are not needed.  To further maximize the battery life of the goTenna and your smartphone, switch your phone to “airline” mode, followed by turning “on” the phone’s GPS.

Like most mobile phones, the goTenna’s battery can be recharged in about two hours using the supplied USB power cord. Unfortunately, the device cannot be re-powered using disposable batteries, but a battery powered recharger can be used to recharge the unit partially.


When in use, the goTenna should be attached to a backpack or held high by the strap. It will not work properly if held in the hand or next to the body.

Durability:  The goTenna is not waterproof, but it is water-resistant so it can be exposed to rain. The goTenna is reasonably durable, but it is not ruggedized to military specifications.

GPS & Mapping Features:  The GPS and mapping features are dependent on the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, which can be damaged, turned off by the government, or intentionally misdirected when the U.S. Government has identified a threat which might utilize the GPS system to coordinate an attack.  Therefore, even elaborate GPS devices cannot be relied upon as your only navigation tool.

Legal Issue:  It is technically illegal to use the goTenna outside the U.S.   However, since these devices have such limited range and look innocuous, their use may not create a legal problem for the user. Nevertheless, some governments may consider them illegal-tech.

Electronic Devices:  Electronic communication devices like mobile phones are inherently unreliable and subject to damage, as well as exhausting their battery power, so a backup communication method is essential.  Therefore you will need more than a goTenna, but this device may still be a viable backup communication tool that is worth considering.  It is included here due to its ease of use by adults and teens alike, and because it is a lightweight add-on which can transform your phone into functioning texting device, even when the cellular network is inoperable. We have also included it here because we consider it to be a “kid friendly” device that phone-savvy children can quickly learn to use.

Click Here for additional ‘goTenna’ details.


Other Emergency Communication Options

Midland_GMRS_2-Way_RadioFRS/GMRS 2-Way Walkie-Talkie Radios.  (In the U.S., no license required, but regulations in other countries vary greatly.)  The inexpensive hardware store/sports store models of these radios are rarely adequate, and in our testing, none of them came even remotely close to being able to communicate over the distances claimed.

Nevertheless, a higher quality GMRS radio such as those made by Motorola, Midland, Uniden, or Cobra, are worth considering. These will have a similar operating range to that of the goTenna, but maintaining a stable voice connection over a radio is more difficult than the digital signal of the goTenna so it can have a greater effective range than most FRS/GMRS radios.

FRS/GMRS walkie-talkies for voice-only communication, are available at a fraction of the cost of the goTenna. But those with the same transmitting power of the goTenna (2-watts) will typically have 15% less operating range.  However, high-power GMRS radios are readily available, such as the Midland GXT1000VP5, which boasts the maximum legal power of 5-watts.

Garmin_Rhino-Trio-ModelsIf the GPS features are important to you, the Garmin Rhino 755t also has a built-in GPS.  Since it also provides the capability of voice communication and text, rather than just text, it is far more versatile than the goTenna. It can even monitor NOAA weather frequencies.  On the downside is the high cost, it’s not quite as easy to use, and the map screen is smaller (3-inch), which is far smaller than some cell phones.

Notwithstanding, detailed and purpose-specific maps can be uploaded to the Rhino 750 series devices. The 755t comes with color topographic maps for the United States, preinstalled. Yet, you may want to add detailed local maps for the area where you will be operating.

If you buy the Rhino 750 rather than the 755t, and later decide you want to add the Garmin U.S. 100K map that comes with the 755t, the cost is $ 100. For both the 750 and 755t, add-on maps are available for specific purposes such as marine and aviation, city maps, and unique maps such as the $80 Garmin “HuntView” maps for each State (2 for TX and CA). These include added features such as landowner names and boundaries, fuel locations, and land boundaries, all applied to a digital topography map that is equivalent to 1:24,000 scale U.S. Geological Survey maps. The HuntView map also includes Garmin’s BaseCamp software. This makes it possible to tether a Rhino 750-series device with a laptop computer to establish a command center for charting the position of the devices operating in the area.

Another plus is that the Rhino 750 is far more durable than the cell phone/goTenna combination required for the goTenna system to work. And, the Rhino 750 is sufficiently waterproof to withstand submersion in 1-meter of water for 30-minutes (IPX7).

The Garman Rhino ‘700′ is less expensive, but it has a B&W screen which negates many map features, and maps cannot be uploaded to the device. Garmin also makes similar-looking devices which are GPS-only, without the 2-way radio features.

BaoFeng_Ham_RadioAmateur (Ham) Radio (Requires a license).  These radios come in various sizes and transmitting power, but a budget radio such as an 8-watt BaoFeng can be purchased for under $50 (each). Whereas a radio capable of transmitting around the world will be larger and be connected to a larger antenna, as well.

If the need is for greater operating range, nothing beats an Amateur (Ham) radio.  These 2-way radios can be used for both voice and digital communication, and they can be operated over impressive distances. With the right equipment and environmental conditions, they can be used to communicate to those who are on the other side of the world.

Even a budget Amateur radio, such as the miniature-size BaoFeng UV-5R Tri-Power (8-watt) 2-way radio, or the improved version of the same radio, the BaoFeng BF-F8HP (8 watt) which has a stronger case, larger battery, and improved antenna, are capable of voice communication at 5x+ the distance of a goTenna–and they are less expensive.  Even when you add in the cost of an external magnet-mount antenna such as the Nagoya UT-308UV which vastly improves radio communication from inside a vehicle, the total price can still be less expensive than a goTenna.  However, these radios do require a license, and advanced features beyond voice communication require more expertise and add-on equipment. For more information about Amateur radio and licensing, visit www.ARRL.com.

Reminder:  To communicate with family and friends, they will need to also be equipped with a goTenna, or a walkie-talkie which uses the same radio frequencies.


You do have choices when it comes to emergency communication. But to communicate with family and friends during a major disaster or emergency situation, you will need something other than your mobile phone. Don’t expect your cell phone to work during a widespread emergency. A communication device such as a goTenna or 2-way radio is a necessity.

Emergency Radios: “All-Hazards” Notification and News Updates During an Emergency Reply

Kaito Voyager Pro KA600 Digital Solar-Dynamo AM-FM-LW-SW-NOAA Weather Emergency Radio with Alert n RDFor those who live in the United States, the U.S. Government maintains a nationwide network of 1,000 emergency radio stations (NWR).  These continuously broadcast region-specific weather information, and now other emergency information, too. Therefore, all emergency kits assembled for use in the U.S. should include a radio which is capable of receiving these “All-Hazards” radio broadcasts.

Originally designed to provide the public with emergency storm warnings, NWR radio stations are now equipped to broadcast official warnings for all sorts of public safety emergencies.  These broadcasts are generally in the format of recorded messages which repeat the important details continuously until the next update, or until the hazard is over.

Working with the Federal Communication Commission’s Emergency Alert System , NWR is now an “All Hazards” radio network.  It is the single best source for reliable and up-to-date information on storm alerts, and for receiving “official” government information during any major emergency situation.

The dispatches for these regional NWR broadcasts are assembled from information gleaned from NOAA meteorologists (for weather events), as well as input from other government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security.  Since NWR incorporates information from federal, state, and local Emergency Managers and other public officials, it is a consolidated source of important time-sensitive information for local, regional, and national disasters and emergencies.

In it’s new format, regional emergency broadcasts include information on nearby natural disasters such as earthquakes, environmental disasters such as a train derailment which created a dangerous chemical spill, as well as all other major public safety emergencies.

NWR regional stations have the ability to provide rapid notifications for routine local matters such as AMBER Alerts, as well as network-wide national warnings on active terrorist threats.  NWR will be used to broadcast DHS information on nuclear, biologic and chemical attacks; CDC information on the spread of a pandemic and quarantine measures; and by local law enforcement to notify the public of lock-down measures and curfew information during periods of social unrest.  In short, any broad emergency which impacts the lives of the general public regionally or nationally.

Historically known as the “Voice of NOAA’s National Weather Service,” it’s important to understand that NWR now provides a much broader range of warnings.  However, since it is still a service provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it can be expected to maintain its primary focus on weather-related warnings.

NOAA_Weather_Radio-Coverage_Area-MapTo accomplish it’s threefold radio-broadcast mission of early warning, disaster response, and post-disaster information, NWR maintains a network of more than 1,000 transmitters to cover all 50 U.S. states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Territories.

However, as the above maps shows, there are still some rural areas without good reception.  Nonetheless, all population-dense areas are well covered, usually by several broadcast stations, thus the need for multiple radio frequencies.

To receive NWR broadcasts, a special radio receiver dedicated to that purpose is required, or, a radio which is capable of receiving these seven frequencies (MHz):

162.400 162.425 162.450 162.475 162.500 162.525 162.550

!BReTGuQ!Wk~$(KGrHgoH-DUEjlLlypo6BJ-KyEkTNQ~~_3_5101_1Radio Selection

If you are located more than 150 miles from a NWR transmitter, or in a mountainous area, select a radio receiver that is equipped with an external antenna which is capable of boosting a distant radio signal.

Since each region uses a specific frequency(ies), identify the ones you will need in an emergency.  (Click Here for NWR transmitter locations).  If your radio has pre-sets, lock-in your station frequencies in advance, so that you won’t need to search for that information during an emergency situation.

In addition to specialty radios designed to listen to these NWR stations, you can also find AM/FM radios which include the seven NWR frequencies.  These are usually advertised as including “NOAA Weather Alerts”, “NOAA Emergency Broadcasts” or “WB” frequencies.  The term “NWR” is rarely used.

Uniden PC68LTW Bearcat Series 40 Channel CB Radio with NOAAAlso, some 2-way radios, such as certain brands/models of CB radios, SSB, marine, FRS and GMRS radios, have an added feature which allows them to be used to listen to these NWR emergency broadcasts.  Multipurpose 2-way radios such as these can provide an added advantage during an emergency situation, especially if paired with a walkie-talkie.

Emergency radios marketed under recognizable brands such as “Red Cross,” do not necessarily indicate high quality.  Among knowledgeable experts, popular emergency radio brands include:  Grundig, Kaito, Yaesu, and Sangean.  Also popular are emergency radios made by Midland, Cobra, Sony, Uniden, Motorola, Eaton and C. Crane.


La_Crosse-810-106_front_back_LCD_NOAARadio Power Options

With all emergency radios, AC (wall) power and battery-powered operation is essential.  And, automotive 12-volt adapters are a top priority option.

Some emergency radios can also be powered with a built-in hand crank, which is a nice, albeit laborious-to-use helpful feature.  Or, a small solar panel incorporated into the radio, which generally only works marginally well even on bright sunny days.  Yet, these minuscule solar panels still provide a modest benefit if you are in an area where daylight also brings distinct shadows (indicating enough sunshine to energize a small solar panel).

Despite the shortcomings of hand-cranks and radio-mounted solar panels, it is still advantageous to have an emergency radio that is equipped these features.  The Kaito Voyager Pro KA600 digital radio, depicted in the photo at the top of this article, is an example of a compact radio which incorporates all of these power options, plus a telescoping external antenna.

Some hand-crank models not only power the radio, but can also be used to charge your cellular telephone.  But if you intend to use this added feature, be sure to purchase the power-tip adapter needed to connect your model of cellular phone, and don’t forget to buy a new adapter if you get a new phone.

Less-expensive models of hand-crank radios generally use Ni-Cad batteries, and these can fail after long-term storage.  If your radio came with a Ni-Cad battery, check the manual to see if it can be replaced with rechargeable Lithium batteries.  These will provide more hours of listening, and they have a long shelf life.

Either way, if you won’t be using your radio for daily listening, be sure to remove the batteries prior to storage.  If you leave the batteries in the radio, after a few months of no-use, even the best batteries might corrode or leak, causing damage to the radio.  Don’t risk this potential problem; remove the batteries before storage.

During an emergency situation, NWR/NOAA radio messages are constantly transmitted, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  To alleviate the jading effect caused by the repetitiveness of these recorded messages, some radios provide an alert signal when the message changes.  This is a helpful feature.

Batteries-D-C-AA-AAABattery Size:  To increase adaptability, select an emergency radio which uses standard-size batteries such as: AAA, AA, C or D.

A radio which requires a special battery is not as useful during an extended emergency.  It’s not unusual for these proprietary batteries to fail, or no longer accept a full charge.  A replacement or spare specialty-battery may be impossible to find, whereas a standard battery can often be cannibalized from another device.

When possible, standardize the batteries you use in your radio, flashlight and other battery-powered devices.  This will make it possible for you to share batteries between devices.

Also, just as with flashlights, some radios work longer than others, even when they are using the same type battery and the same number of batteries.  So look for information on “operating time per set of fresh batteries” when you compare different radio makes and models.

Long-term power consumption is an important consideration which is often overlooked when purchasing an emergency radio.  This run-time difference can be very significant if you are in a protracted emergency situation.  The battery pack in some radios can be drained after just a few hours of listening, while another brand of radio can continue to operate for multiple days, powered by an identical set of batteries.

Earbuds:  If conserving battery power is a concern, use earbuds (in-ear headphones).  These can substantially extend battery life since the battery isn’t being used to power the radio’s internal speaker.

Extra Batteries:  Each radio must be stored either with sufficient back-up ‘spare’ batteries to keep it powered for two weeks, or utilize an off-grid recharging method such as a hand-crank, efficient solar, or an adapter which makes it possible to connect the radio to a 12-volt battery which has been removed from a vehicle.  Or, an external hand-crank or solar device designed for charging batteries.


Kaito Voyager Pro KA600 Close-Up-circleSelecting Optional Features for Your Emergency Radio

Having a radio that can receive broadcasts from commercial radio stations on the AM and FM bands, in addition to the NWR/NOAA broadcasts, is extremely helpful during an emergency situation.  Local radio stations may be off the air, but a station which is located outside the disaster zone might still be a valuable source of news and information.  Therefore, a multipurpose emergency radio which also includes AM/FM bands, provides a clear advantage.

For emergencies of extended duration, and for non-weather emergencies of all sorts, a radio capable of receiving international broadcasts (shortwave radio) presents yet another advantage.  Unfortunately, most lower-cost hand-crank radios which receive AM/FM/SW/WS (NWR/NOAA), provide minimal access to shortwave (SW) frequencies, but some access is better than none.

Some emergency-style radio brand/models claim to be able to receive the audio of television broadcasts, police and fire department activity, and airline or airport frequencies.  Though this sounds impressive, these claims are generally false.  Though this was possible a decade ago, today most government broadcasts are digital and encrypted, making it impossible for the general public to receive these broadcasts without sophisticated equipment.

Having the ability to re-charge your cellular telephone through your emergency radio may be a life saver.  For some people, this will be an important feature.  However, there are other methods for recharging a cell phone.

Note:  During a terrorist incident or times of social unrest, the government will likely turn-off the cellular network, or block civilian use of the system.  So don’t count on communicating via cellular phone, text messaging or Internet during certain types of disasters.

Also, during extreme weather incidents, cellular towers are often damaged, making cell phone use impossible or coverage spotty.  Moreover, since cellular systems often operate at near capacity routinely, high-demand during an emergency will quickly overwhelm the system.

Don’t count on a cellular phone’s radio app or news app, either.  These will not work if the cellular network is inoperable.  So don’t depend on a mobile phone for communication, or news gathering, during an emergency situation.


Oregon Scientific WR602 Portable Public Alert Weather Radio with SAMERadios for GO-Bags

Our recommendation is that every GO-Bag (aka/ Bug-Out Bag, GOOD Bag, Evacuation Knapsack) be equipped with a small, lightweight AA or AAA-battery powered radio which is capable of receiving AM/FM/SW/WS (NWR/NOAA) broadcasts.

Earbuds (small in-ear headphones) should be stored with the radio, since battery life can be greatly extended by using earbuds.  Plus when using earbuds, a small radio can be quietly used while on the move, and it can also deliver clear audio even in a noisy environment.

Keep a Cyalume Light Stick (aka / Snap-Light, Chem Light, Glow Stick), or an inexpensive flashlight with batteries installed, stored in an outside pocket of your GO-Bag.  During hours of darkness, this light source will help you install batteries into both your radio and better-quality flashlight.  If your emergency situation occurs at night, a Cyalume light (or inexpensive flashlight specifically designed for emergency use and long-term storage), can be used to quickly find items stored in your knapsack.

As to quantity of batteries, a GO-Bag should be equipped with at least two extra sets of batteries for each radio, flashlight and important electronic device.  For radio use at home and work, a sufficient quantity of batteries should be stored to facilitate 2-weeks of radio operation.  Or, an off-grid smart charger and sufficient quantity of rechargeable batteries, to power your radio and essential devices for two weeks.

Selecting flashlights and other electronic devices which use the same type of battery provides a major logistical advantage.  If your radio, flashlights and other electronics use the same type/size of battery, you can share extras if that becomes necessary.

Be sure to store your emergency radio and one set of batteries, inside a plastic container with padding, and then put the container in a Zip-lock bag to help protect it from damage.   When you’re in the midst of a situation but not currently using your radio, return it to the Zip-lock bag and protective container.

For long-term radio and electronics storage, the best solution may be a heavy duty heat-sealed Mylar bag and desiccant packet, in addition to a Zip-lock bag and plastic container.  The sealed Mylar bag and desiccant will protect your electronics from atmospheric moisture, as well as exposure to leaky food and beverage bottles, rain and floods.

Since Mylar bags are generally one-time-use containers, also utilize a Zip-lock bag.  After you have torn open the Mylar to retrieve your radio, the Zip-lock bag can be used to provide some water protection, and a rigid plastic container can be used to further protect the radio from damage caused by accidental drops.

In an emergency situation, between uses of your important electronics, it is still prudent to protect these items from accidental damage.  For more on safe storage, and easy do-it-yourself tips on Mylar packaging,  Click Here.


Sangean-CL-100-2Emergency Radios for Home and Work

In addition to a GO-Bag emergency radio, your vehicles, home and office should all have a more substantial portable emergency  radio.  These larger radios should also be equipped with an external antenna.  (An attached telescoping antenna is the most common, but other types of external antennas can be even more effective in Kaito-external-antennapulling-in distant radio stations).

These radios should also be equipped with a hand crank (or in sunny climates, an external solar panel), in addition to having extra Lithium rechargeable batteries on hand.

Even if your home or workplace has an emergency generator, these usually produce unfiltered electrical power, so they may damage sensitive electronics.   It’s therefore better to operate your emergency radio using battery power.  Use the generator to power a separate smart-charger unit to re-charge your radio’s batteries, not to run your radio.



Warning:  Never store batteries in your radio or electronic devices.  Batteries can leak acid or corrode, causing damage.  Batteries stored in an electronic device for more than a month or two, can render it inoperable.  

Rather than store your equipment with batteries installed, it is much safer to store batteries in their own container.  Yet, it is important to keep at least one set of batteries handy, so that you are able to quickly install batteries and make your radio operational.  So be sure to include a container of fresh batteries in your radio bag.

Consider using duct tape, rubber bands, plastic wrap, or some other method to securely attach a set of batteries to the outside of your radio (and your other battery-powered equipment).  This makes it possible for you to quickly insert the batteries and use the device, while still protecting your equipment from damage caused by in-device battery storage.

Over time, most disposable batteries, including the better-quality Alkaline and Lithium types, will leak if installed in a radio, flashlight, or other battery-powered device.  Short-term storage is fine, no problem.  However, long-term storage of a device with batteries installed, will generally damage the device, often rendering it unusable at a time when it is needed the most.

It may seem odd, but the same batteries stored separately, rarely leak or corrode.  Nevertheless, it is still a good idea to wrap batteries in plastic wrap, a small Zip-lock bag which keeps them tight together, or a small plastic battery box (above photo) made for that size battery.

When packaging batteries, store them in a manner which keeps the poles of the batteries from touching each other, and also keeps the poles of the batteries from coming into contact with anything which might drain them of their energy.

A plastic box designed to store batteries is not essential.  Three layers of plastic wrap, or electrical tape, is usually sufficient to protect standard AA, AAA, C or D-cell batteries.

Alkaline and Lithium batteries are the most stable disposable batteries, and they provide longer operating life than standard batteries.  So unless you have the money to buy exotic batteries, Alkaline and Lithium batteries the best choice for emergency kits.  (Lithium batteries are generally more expensive than Alkaline, but they will last longer.)


Tenergy-Smart-Charger-110v-12-v-SqRechargeable Batteries and Battery Chargers

If you intend to recharge your batteries (a good idea) rather than use disposable batteries, Lithium rechargeable batteries are generally the longest-lasting consumer battery.

Note: You cannot safely recharge disposable batteries.  When in doubt, read the label.  Rechargeable batteries are always labeled as being rechargeable.

When it comes to selecting a charger to re-power your rechargeable batteries, make sure it is designed for use with the various size batteries you intend to recharge, and the type of rechargeable battery you want to use (i.e. Lithium Rechargeable, etc.).  Importantly, though sometimes a bit more expensive, a “smart” charger will do a far better job of recharging your batteries.

A smart charger will condition your batteries during the recharging process, will protect them from overcharging which can be dangerous, and will enable the batteries to power your device as much as 30% longer.  Plus, a smart charger gives your batteries 200-300% longer life (recharge cycles).

GoalZero-Portable_Solar-w-Battery_ChargerA smart charger is well worth the added expense.  Some models can be used using multiple power sources: 110/220-volts and 12-volt power, while others, like the “10 Guide Plus” made by GoalZero, are bundled with compatible solar panels for recharging.

A radio without power is useless, as is a radio which is unusable due to poor storage, so don’t neglect these concerns when preparing your GO-Bag and emergency kit radios.  Further, a radio you don’t know how to use is of minimal value, so learn how to use your radio now, before the emergency situation.  Even if you are familiar with the operation of your radio, pack the instruction manual with your radio, inside its protected long-term storage packaging.

For more information on NWR: Coverage MapsStation ListingsAutomated VoicesReceiver Info, SAME CodingAll HazardsEASReport NWR Outages, Special NeedsFAQs
NOAANational Weather ServiceOffice of Climate, Water, and Weather Services.  National Weather Service, 1325 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910

Portable Personal Records for Emergency Situations Reply

Micro_SD-CardOne aspect of disaster preparation which never seems to get any attention is access to important personal records.  These may be urgently needed during a time of disaster or emergency, but without advance planning you may not have what you need.

Basic records which are critically important include basic identification such as copies of your driver’s license and passport, as well as proof of insurance, basic medical records and copies of prescriptions.  You should also have photos of each family member, as well as emergency contact information for family and friends.

Copies of essential records should be kept in three places:

1.  Secure protection in your home or place of business;

2.  Off-site in a safe deposit box of a financial institution; or, encrypted electronic ‘cloud’ storage with a company that has its servers in a different state; and

3.  An ultra small portable data-storage device which is kept in your wallet, pocket or purse.  Since most people are well aware of the needs in the first two categories where there is an abundance of information, this article focuses on the third category which is essential but often overlooked.

Photocopy IDA few pages of photocopied documents such as your driver’s license, medical cards, and passport, can (and should) be kept in a Ziploc bag stored in your emergency essentials knapsack (Go-Bag). This is a good start, but it isn’t nearly enough.  Since we live in a data-dependent world we also need a digital data storage solution which makes it possible to safely carry dozens, or even hundreds of pages, of truly essential records.  To do this, we need an ultra-small and durable mobile device.

For many people, low-cost is also important, so this article provides both our recommendation as to the best option, as well as the best low-cost solution.

Whatever data is essential to your everyday life and well-being needs to be backed-up and securely stored on a portable device which you keep with you.  (Examples of these types of documents are included at the end of this article).  Since size and weight are factors which limit practical implementation, this article explains how to responsibly meet this need with minimal inconvenience.

These same documents, and more, should be kept in a safety deposit box or uploaded to cloud storage in a different city or country, but it is still advisable to keep a copy of essential information with you at all times.  Disaster often strikes unexpectedly, so access to stored data can be terminally interrupted.  For example, if a bank is destroyed in the same storm as your home or place of business, the documents stored at those locations might be gone forever.  Similarly, cloud (Internet) storage of data can be damaged or lost, or it can be inaccessible when you need it.

Thankfully, the miniaturization and low-cost of data storage and advances in data security, now make it possible to carry this essential information with you at all times.  Even if your house or office is burned in a fire, damaged as a result of flood or storm, or otherwise inaccessible because you have fled the area to escape from turmoil, or simply because you are on vacation, important records can still be quickly accessible as long as you have access to a working computer.

This article provides ideas on how you can safely and securely store essential records in a small lightweight package, so that you can keep this important information with you at all times.  Various tools can be used to accomplish this, but this article describes what we consider to be the two most viable solutions.

The process starts by using a scanner to copy your important records, transforming them into PDF documents which can be opened with any computer.  At the end of this article you will find links to free software for making and reading PDF files, and for the products mentioned in this article.

Ultra-Small Data Storage Options

For many, they see their laptop computer or smart phone as the place to store this vital information.  That’s fine, but since these tools are prone to theft and damage, and security of the data is iffy even if you use security apps, this isn’t sufficient.  Keeping this data on an encrypted memory card or USB device is far more secure and even more portable.

Micro SD CardOption #1:  Memory Card (Approx. Cost, $10)

Memory cards such as those used in digital cameras are relatively inexpensive and ideal for data storage as well as photo storage.  Card readers for these memory cards are abundant, but adding an extra-small USB card reader to your GO-Bag is nevertheless a good idea.  In an emergency situation the data contained on your memory card can be accessed using almost any computer—as long as you have a card reader along.

At little more than ½-inch and less than the weight of two aspirin, the ultra small memory cards like the SanDisk ‘micro SD card’ (15 mm x 11 mm x 1.0 mm, 0.5 grams), is a portable data marvel. These tiny cards can store from 8 GB-32 GB of data or more, so they are ideal for this purpose.  Be sure to buy a well-known brand card like SanDisk as quality is important.

Transport and Packaging of Your Memory Card:  After you’ve added data to your memory card you need to protect it.  To protect the card from moisture and damage and still keep the package small, insert the card into a tiny Ziploc bag such as those used for electronic components or jewelry.  For added protection, consider adding a piece of rigid plastic to keep the memory card from flexing, and then wrap the plastic bag with a small piece of tinfoil to shield it from static, etc.  When you are finished, this little package can still be smaller than ¾-inch (20mm) in size and less than one gram in weight.  Using a piece of duct tape, secure the tiny package to the inside of your wallet for safe storage and ready access, or to the underside of your wristwatch or some other item you wear daily.

Total cost of this project (depending on the storage capacity of the memory card you select), can be as little as $10 (USD).  Note: Remember to always encrypt confidential data; see the below section on “Data Security is Essential” for suggestions.

IronKey USB DriveOption #2: ‘IronKey’ Encrypted Flash Drive (Approx. Cost, $37+)

Designed originally for the U.S. government, defense contractors, and to meet the needs of those who transport secret corporate data, an IronKey flash drive (aka/ ‘USB drive,’ or ‘thumb drive’) is the most secure portable data storage method available to the general public.  And, it’s small enough to carry on your key ring.

An ‘IronKey’ data storage device requires a password to open it, and the data stored on the drive is fully encrypted.  Even the least expensive IronKey model, the D80 (4GB $37; 32GB $116), automatically encrypts anything you add to the drive.  Since it uses the high industry standard of 256-bit AES hardware-based encryption, it is very secure.  At only 3 x 3/4 x 3/8-inch (75mm x 19mm x 9 mm) in size, and designed to ‘plug and play’, you can insert it into the USB drive of any computer to quickly access your stored information.

If you want an even higher level of protection, select the IronKey S250 or D250 USB drives (capacities range from 2GB-64GB, $109-599).  These have an even higher level of encryption, 256-bit AES Cipher-Block, chained-mode (government-grade) encryption, plus an impressive tamper-proof design of the drive itself.  For routine daily use of your personal computer, as well as during a disaster situation when you are using someone else’s computer, these models include the IronKey ‘Identity Manager’ which provides a safe and quick method to store and retrieve all of your passwords.  In regard to durability, all of the IronKey USB drives are water resistant, but the S250 and D250 drives are waterproof and extra durable.  Follow the link at the end of this article to compare the different IronKey models.

ironkey-KeyRing2Summary: When kept on your keyring, your IronKey USB device is available for daily tasks such as routine data transfer between computers, as well as for recovery of your personal records after a disaster.  Though not as compact as a Micro SD card, the IronKey USB data drive (models S250 or D250) is the option which provides the most durable and secure, portable data storage.

For Info on the D80, visit: http://www.ironkey.com/en-US/secure-portable-storage/d80.html

For Info on the S250 and D250, visit: http://www.ironkey.com/en-US/secure-portable-storage/250-personal.html

*** If convenience, ease of use, and easy-setup are important to you, a ‘IronKey’ flash drive is your best choice.  If cost or small-size are your most important consideration, then use a Micro SD Card to store your important records.

Data Security is Essential

If you are storing your data on a memory card or anything other than an IronKey USB drive, confidential data needs to be encrypted.  This is essential for keeping your data secure even if your storage device has been lost or stolen.  Identity thieves would have a field day if they got their hands on your personal records, so all confidential data needs to be password protected and encrypted before you make it portable.

Some manufacturers of USB drives have models which password protect the data.  In our experience, this is inadequate.

At the very least, use the encryption software which probably came with your computer.  With both Microsoft and Apple computer operating systems there is an encryption option built into the software.  Though far from ideal, this software can be used to encrypt the data on a memory card or portable drive.  This protection is far better than nothing, but there are better alternatives.

To learn more about the software that is built into your computer’s operating system, use the “help” feature of your operating system to learn how to access and use the tool.  On PC’s running the various versions of Microsoft Windows operating system, the file encryption feature is referred to as ‘EFS’ (Encrypting File System).  If you are using a Mac computer, you will find the encryption software by searching for the term ‘FileVault’.  Keep in mind that if you utilize either of these methods to encrypt data on your portable drive, you will only be able to access your data by using the same type of computer (PC or Apple), and in some cases, the same version of the operating system.  This might seriously limit your ability to access your data after a disastrous event.

To achieve a much higher degree of data security, use the free encryption program, ‘TrueCrypt’ on your memory card or portable storage device.  This free software provides true 256-bit encryption, and it will also run on nearly all desktop and laptop computers.  For more information and to download TrueCrypt encryption software, visit: http://www.truecrypt.org/.

TrueCrypt encryption software provides a very high level of encryption, plus it makes it possible to hide encrypted files, so even a hacker who has accessed your memory card won’t be able to find the files.  On the TrueCrypt website, be sure to read the ‘Beginner’s Tutorial,’ which is part of the TrueCrypt User’s Guide.  In it you will find instructions on how to set-up the software in ‘portable mode’.  This method loads the TrueCrypt encryption software onto the memory card (or flash drive), and lets you partition the drive.  This makes it possible for you to run the encryption program on nearly any computer, and lets you store both encrypted and unencrypted data on the same drive.  The minimum size for a memory card used for this purpose is 8MB, but a larger memory card will be needed if you plan to store much data.

Whether you use a memory card such as the SD Micro Drive or a flash drive (aka/ ‘USB drive,’ or ‘thumb drive’), remember that you must routinely have it with you, so that your data is available to you when disaster strikes.  An encrypted drive that is left behind may not be a security risk, but the work of preparing it will have been wasted if you don’t have the drive with you when you need it.

What Records to Store and EncryptWhat Records to Store: Encrypted and Unencrypted

Even the most basic personal data such as your driver’s license should be encrypted.  However, you may want to make some information, such as photos and your address book, accessible without entering a password.  At the very least, an unencrypted text file which includes your contact information will make it possible for a lost or stolen drive to be returned to you, and emergency contact information available to authorities, so that they can notify your loved ones if you have been seriously injured.

Remember to add PDF ‘reader’ software to your memory card or USB device, too.  You may need to borrow a computer which does not have this software installed (see links at the end of this article), and the owner of the computer may not want you to download software onto their computer.  Or, the Internet may be down making a download impossible.

It’s up to you to decide what records you store, and what you encrypt, but don’t let a lengthy list delay implementation.  It is much better to have an encrypted drive with just a little information stored on it, than to have nothing at all at a time when it’s needed.

Start with preparing your memory card or USB drive’s encryption.  Then, use a scanner to make copies of your most important ID cards and documents, perhaps starting with what you carry in your wallet.

These scanned records should be stored in PDF format, so that your documents can be read, and even printed if necessary, using any computer.  The below list isn’t your list, it’s simply included to stimulate your thinking, to help you develop your own list of important documents.  If your list is long, don’t let the enormity of the task prevent you from starting right now.  Store your wallet documents now, and get started with the project today.  Continue it as soon as you can.

Consider, too, that you might want to include the same records for your spouse, children, or other close family members or trusted friends.  It’s a simple task to make two identical sets of emergency records, and two identical portable drives.  You might even use the same password on both drives so that you and your spouse can both access either drive.

When you make two identical memory cards or USB drives, your spouse will be able to carry a backup of this same essential information.  If you are separated by circumstances, each of you will have what you need.  And, if one or the other is lost, damaged or stolen, you will both have what you need on the surviving device.

Records to Consider IncludingRecords to Consider Including: 

  1. Driver’s License
  2. Company or Employee ID
  3. Concealed Handgun License (CHL) and Firearm Records
  4. Passport (The two page spread which includes your photo)
  5. Social Security Card
  6. Medical Insurance Cards
  7. Dental Insurance Cards
  8. Organ Donor Card
  9. Pharmaceutical Prescriptions or Prescription Medicine Labels
  10. Medical History & Immunization Records
  11. Copy of your Last Will and Testament
  12. Vehicle Insurance
  13. House/Office Insurance Documents
  14. Titles for Vehicles and Property
  15. Property Descriptions with Serial Numbers
  16. Professional Licenses or Certification Documents
  17. Credit Card Numbers & Contact Info for Card Companies
  18. Banking Information, Including Account Numbers and Passwords
  19. List of Other Access Codes and Passwords
  20. Important Membership or Affiliation Cards (Particularly those which give you permission to occupy facilities and property which you might want to access during an emergency)
  21. Letters of Permission to Occupy Land or Facilities
  22. Address Book (Contact information for family, friends and colleagues)
  23. Photos (Be sure to include close-up, passport-like images of yourself, family members, key friends and colleagues that you might want to find during an emergency situation.)
  24. Physical Description (Yourself, family, friends, and colleagues)
  25. Fingerprints and copies of dental x-rays
  26. Maps and Directions

To download a PDF copy of this article for printing, click here:   Portable_Personal_Records_for_Emergency_Situations.

Links to Products Mentioned in this Article: 

– Free PDF Maker Software:  Girdac  http://www.girdac.com/Products/PDF-Converters/Free-PDF-Creator/Info/Features.htm

– Free PDF Reader Software:  Adobe http://get.adobe.com/reader/

– Free Encryption Software:  TrueCrypt http://www.truecrypt.org/

– Cloud Storage:  Dropbox is one of many options https://www.dropbox.com/

– SanDisk Micro SD Cards, General Information: http://www.sandisk.com/products/memory-cards/microsd/   These cards and card readers are readily available online, as well at electronics stores, and many other retailers such as Costco, Target, and Walmart.

– IronKey D80 Datasheet: http://www.ironkey.com/en-US/resources/documents/Ironkey_D80%20Hardward%20Encrypted%20Flash%20Drive_Sellsheet_Letter.pdf

– IronKey products are not readily available from retailers, but they can sometimes be found at online stores such as Amazon.com.  The below links are to the IronKey official website:

– IronKey Purchase Info for D80: http://www.ironkey.com/en-US/secure-portable-storage/d80.html

– IronKey S250 and D250 Datasheet:  http://www.ironkey.com/en-US/secure-portable-storage/250-personal.html

– IronKey Purchase Info for S250 and D250: http://www.ironkey.com/en-US/secure-portable-storage/250-personal.html

– IronKey Products by Type: http://www.ironkey.com/en-US/resources/documents/IronKey_Product_Diagram_Apr2013.pdf

– IronKey S250 and D250 Comparison Chart:  http://www.ironkey.com/en-US/resources/documents/IronKey_S250_vs_D250_SellSheet.pdf

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

DSC05168bThe 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 an 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 an 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. 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/

Radio Scanners to Monitor Police, Fire, and Emergency Services Reply

What are Scanners Anyway?
A scanner is a radio receiver (it cannot transmit) which allows you to scan multiple frequencies at one time for two-way radio activity. These devices are commonly known as “police scanners” in that most people use the devices to listen to police radio communications although fire department monitoring is almost of equal interest, and scanners can also be used to monitor the two-way radios of taxis, mall security, commercial aircraft, ambulances and so much more. Just like an FM radio station might broadcast on 105.7 FM, a police department will use, for example, 155.625 FM for its dispatcher to communicate with the patrol cars. Because a police department, unlike an FM radio station, does not need to broadcast continually with talk or music, but only when there’s an incident to discuss or respond to, a scanner allows you to sample a multitude of local (within 20 miles or so) public safety agency and business radio channels for activity. The scanner will stop on the first channel it comes to that has activity and the radio will resume scanning when that radio transmission has ended. Note that there are many new types of radio systems such as digital and trunking which are discussed below.

A Short Scanner History
Back in the early days of radio, in the early to mid 1900s, tunable radio receivers were used to monitor police channels. In actuality many police departments used a frequency just at the end of the AM radio dial around 1700 KHz to broadcast to their patrol cars. In the 1960s, when police and fire departments were using FM radio channels around 40 and 155 MHz (VHF Low and High band), enterprising radio enthusiasts developed the scanner which in effect performed a rapid tuning function, searching local radio channels for activity by “scanning” them. The first scanners scanned four or eight channels. To monitor these channels people had to buy crystals for the specific radio frequency used by their local departments, and install them inside the scanner. In later years a keyboard replaced the crystal and now you can program thousands of channels into a scanner from a keyboard or a PC.

Who Uses Scanners and Why?
Scanners are used by a wide spectrum of people, from radio hobbyists to everyday folks who just want to keep an ear on what’s happening around town. Scanners are also used by the news media as well as people who love news and want to hear all about it as it happens. Others are concerned in today’s environment for personal and neighborhood safety and want to stay in tune with the fantastic job our public servants perform. Speaking of our public servants, police departments nationally use scanners to allow them to keep tabs on adjoining departments and jurisdictions in case incidents in one community, such as a car chase, may move into their own or, in the case of fire departments, they may be called for mutual aid at a fire. This is called communications interoperability and scanners can be a critically important tool for public safety in this manner. Newspapers, TV and radio stations all use scanners to gather the news and report on it. There are actually hundreds of ways scanners are used for a variety of public safety, social and even entertainment purposes.

Buying Scanners for Security, Information or Enjoyment

Scanners keep you in the know better than the local news, provide a sense of security, and all the while scanners can be a lot of fun. When buying a scanner for your home, work or as a gift, there are a number of key points to remember:
Determine the type of radio system your local town and county uses
Most communities still use basic radio systems that can be “scanned” using low-end/inexpensive scanners. A low-end scanner though will not have the features, such as alpha-tagging (allowing the scanner to display “Chicago Fire” rather than a frequency) or a PC port, that can be very useful. Your community or region may also use advanced radio systems which will require a more expensive scanner.

Scanners can seem complicated at first, but the low-end models, in particular, are very easy to use. When buying for personal use or as a gift, try to keep it simple by programming and listening to the police and fire department for your own community and perhaps some surrounding communities. Then, as you get more familiar with scanning you can broaden your listening if you desire.
Programming Your Scanner
You must program the local police and fire department frequencies of course before you begin listening. This is akin to entering your favorite AM-FM radio station, but there are a lot more public safety frequencies to choose from. There are a few ways to go about programming your scanner. First, you can buy one of our frequency guides to program the radios yourself. After reading the scanner owner’s manual to understand the programming process, you look up the frequencies and the trunking system details in our book and then enter the information into the radio. Some web sites also maintain this data. The frequency guides offer a wealth of information on all sorts of public and private entities that use radio including police, fire, EMS, DOT, DPW, fire towers, railroads, utilities, colleges, malls, auto racing and so much more. If learning the programming process and finding the frequencies doesn’t appeal to you, you can have Scanner Master program your scanner.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How far will I be able to listen?
Distance depends on too many factors to provide an easy answer, such as the elevation of your home, whether there are hills or other obstructions between you and the agency you wish to monitor; the transmitter power of the agency you wish to listen to, etc. These and other factors all play a part. Generally speaking, with a handheld or desktop scanner you can hear in a 10 to 20 mile radius, but that’s not set in stone.

What is Trunking?
As public safety agencies and businesses grow they require more and more radio frequencies for their operations, consequently available radio spectrum has become more valuable and more difficult to find. To help resolve this problem, radio manufacturers developed “trunking” which works on the same principle as a trunk telephone line. Let€™s take for an example the city of Worcester, Massachusetts. This mid-size city used to have two or three frequencies for the police department and two or three for the fire department as well as one for public works and one for parks. Now, with their trunking radio system, they have upwards of 50 or 100 groups of users on 10 radio frequencies.
One of the frequencies in the system is the “control” or “data” channel, continuously broadcasting a stream of computer data that sounds like a buzzsaw over the air. Every time a police officer, a firefighter or a sanitation worker presses his microphone button an instantaneous computer command is sent out to all the other users within that person’s radio group to move to one of the nine available voice frequencies in the system. The channel the group is assigned is almost completely random so there’s no way to follow a communication unless you have a trunking scanner that works on a principle similar to that of the actual two-way radio. Hence, the TrunkTracker. One moment an officer in the police east side traffic division may be calling his dispatcher on one of the nine frequencies, and seconds later that dispatcher may reply to that officer on a completely different frequency. So now, a small group of radio users, such as the Water Filtration division, can effectively have their own radio channel. It’s not a frequency per se, just any one of the 9 available radio frequencies as long as it’s not in use by another talk-group of users.

The two major types of trunking systems are manufactured by Motorola and by M/A-COM (known as EDACS). A popular business trunking technology is known as LTR. Most, but not all, public safety trunking systems operate on the 800 MHz band. As the technology has evolved over time, each manufacturer has some different flavors of their trunking system. With Motorola you’ll hear about Type I, Type II and IIi. Type I requires something called a fleet map to work properly (although these systems are gradually being phased out). EDACS has narrowband, wideband and SCAT. There are a number of LTR style systems, including one known as MultiNet for public safety (there is no scanner today that can track it) and Passport which is primarily for business communications. There is also some encryption on these systems which makes it impossible to monitor. All of it sounds very complicated and it can be, but here we specialize in providing you with the information to make it easier to set up trunking for your area and once it’s done right it may never have to be touched again. Note: EDACS, MultiNet and Passport are trademarks of their manufacturers.

Trunking systems can be complicated to program for novices (although our Butel software makes programming much easier), but you will find that scanning these trunked systems to be more pleasurable, interesting and informative than ever before. You can hear both sides of a conversation and you can listen in to just those groups which interest you.

Scanner Basics/Information and FAQ’s 

What is Digital and APCO-25 all about?

Just like your cell phone, a digital two-way radio system converts voice into ones and zeros and transmits this data to another radio which decodes the information so the voice communication (sometime sounding a bit robotic) is heard on the other end. Older public safety radio systems are often being replaced with the new digital systems. There is no way to upgrade an older or non-digital scanner. You must buy a digital scanner (such as the Bearcat 296 or 796) or a digital-ready scanner (the Bearcat 250 or 785 which accept a digital card) in order to monitor digital communications.

Digital scanners decode APCO-25 non-encrypted transmissions automatically (encrypted communications cannot be decrypted). A few agencies operate in encryption full time. There are also a few non-standard digital radio systems that are not monitorable at this time such as EDACS ProVoice, M/A-COM OpenSky and European Tetra. Many agencies also used MDT’s (mobile data terminals), the computers in the patrol cars as well as cellular and NEXTEL phones for private communications. These cannot be monitored in any way.

What are PL and DPL (private line & digital private line) or CTCSS and DCS sub-audible tone codes?

Many scanners have the ability to program both a frequency and a sub-audible tone code (PL/DPL). It’s not required that you use it but it is recommended if you have the PL/DPL information. As many agencies and businesses share radio frequencies they use these codes to insure that they only hear others within their department or company. You can do the same. PL helps limit interference by pre-selecting only those transmissions your most interested in and filtering out unwanted conversations. PL data is not always available but most scanners today provide a method of automatically determining the PL or DPL in use.

Can I listen to cellular phone calls? Can scanners be modified to listen to it?

By federal law monitoring private phone conversations is prohibited. No scanners made in the last 10 years have been capable of monitoring cell phones or are capable of being modified to do so. Most cellular phones are now TDMA or CDMA digital which is completely different from APCO-25 digital and couldn’t be monitored even if the cellular frequency range was still included in the radio. Government agencies can purchase scanners which still contain the cellular band but special ID is required.

What is this new Close Call feature of some of the Uniden scanners?

Close Call allows the scanner to instantly tune to most any standard (non-cellular/Nextel) radio transmission within your line-of-sight, or in some cases even further. So, if you’re at a mall, a sporting event, or happen by an accident scene for example and you don’t know the local security, event or police/fire/EMS channels, Close Call will automatically tune your scanner to the frequencies being used. If you’ve been waiting for the right time to buy a new scanner, buying a scanner with Close Call is a great reason to finally make the move.

How can software help me with scanning?

Other than some of the low-end scanners, most scanners today are computer programmable. Using a serial cable and software you connect your scanner to your PC and then you can create multiple files for different areas or events to which you might take your radio. For trunking scanners and/or scanners with alpha-tag capability, programming on a computer (usually in spreadsheet like form) is considerably easier than programming on the scanner itself. More advanced software allows you to also control your scanner from the PC and log activity, record audio, and do much more than you could ever do on your scanner alone. Uniden includes demo software with their scanners but Scanner Master recommends the BuTel ARC (Advanced Radio Control) software which is widely considered the world’s best. It’s extremely easy to use, loads and works seamlessly with your PC, and it is very powerful and feature rich.

What accessories do you recommend?

Antennas – There is no better way to improve reception, whether for base or mobile scanning, then by adding an outside antenna. For home or office scanners we recommend a base station antenna, such as the Discone for all-band monitoring. If you want to really improve performance on a single radio band, check out our professional base station antennas, either omnidirectional or directional for most receiver gain. Aiming a yagi (beam) antenna at a station or region that uses a common band (such as 800 MHz trunking or 460 MHz UHF) will pull in signals you never dreamed of. For mobile scanners we urge you to mount a mobile antenna somewhere on your vehicle. Getting the antenna out from under the steel roof of your car or truck will provide a huge improvement. Not everyone wants another antenna on their car so we offer various types and mounting options. For portable scanners you can buy antennas tuned to specific bands (such as 800 MHz) for improved trunking performance for example, but other bands will suffer.

Software – For all scanners with a PC connection we highly recommend scanner software which will make programming easier and operation more enjoyable. If you’re not convinced go online and check out the demo software that we offer for many models.

Frequency Guides – We offer specialty frequency guides for the Northeast, Southwest and Police Call on CD only, the 7-volume set that covers the nation.

Scanner Legality

It is 100% legal in the United States to purchase, own and operate a scanner radio with a very few minor exceptions. We note that because radio law sometimes, but extremely rarely, changes, and because we are not attorneys, you should check your state, local and federal laws if you have any concerns.

There are a few states that have laws on the books regarding the use of scanners in motor vehicles. Kentucky, Indiana, New York and Florida come to mind. There are a few additional states where it’s illegal to use a scanner in the furtherance of a crime. Click these links below (which may or may not be up-to-date) for further information:


It is illegal to intercept cell phone and cordless phone communications (most cordless phones today are spread spectrum and cannot be monitored anyway. It’s also illegal to monitor cellular phone conversations and for the last 10+ years the major scanner manufacturers, by federal law, have not produced a scanner capable of monitoring the cell phone band. At any rate, because 99.9% of all cell phone calls now are CDMA, GSM and other highly advanced types of digital (not APCO-25 digital), cell phone calls couldn’t be intercepted anyway.

It is also illegal to decrypt encrypted communications. Most public safety communications that use DVP/DES and other types of highly-sophisticated encryption couldn’t be decrypted without years of work and a supercomputer anyway. Luckily, relatively few public safety agencies in the U.S. use such systems. In other parts of the world, particularly we know in Europe, the public safety radio systems cannot be monitored.

Scanners are a well regarded and respected tool for the news media, public safety agencies themselves, and for the general public. Americans like to be in the know. They like to be aware of what’s going on around them and they like to help the police and fire services whenever possible, by reporting crime, fire, and the like. Knowing what the local authorities are doing and perhaps helping (without interfering — very important) after having heard something on-the-air, benefits us all.

So scanners are completely legal to own in your home, on your person, and, in almost all states, in your vehicle. They help you build a healthy respect for the job our public servants our doing while at the same time keeping you in the know. Buy a scanner radio today and be informed and enjoy!

How Scanners Deliver News as it Happens as well as Entertainment and Peace of Mind

This is a long way of asking, “Why are scanners so great?” Or, “Why are scanners such a useful and enjoyable product for everyone? There are many reasons why and below we’ve just begun to cover them.

Let’s take the first part, “How do scanners deliver the news as it happens” We all want to know what’s going on around our city, our nation and the world, but it’s the local news that’s most important to us. It’s what’s happening in our community, in our neighborhood, that we most want to follow.

We can watch TV, read a newspaper or look online for our news. But in all cases it takes time for a reporter/photographer to go to the scene of a fire or a bank robbery and report. With cutbacks in news organizations of late, most public safety incidents won’t be reported on at all, or the report will be delayed. And, if you’re just curious why that police car raced down your street, you’re likely never to know by just relying on news services.

With a scanner you solve all these problems. With a scanner you hear the dispatch* and then can generally follow the police and fire communications as they report from the scene.

So with a scanner you learn of the news “as it happens” rather than relying on some news service to, perhaps, go to the scene and file a report. The media relies on scanners, too, so by using a scanner you’ll know right when your local TV and radio station knows when something important is happening.

With a scanner you’ll also be entertained. Let’s face it, listening to police chases live is unbelievably exciting. Hearing firefighters call for more water pressure as they’re inside a building fighting a fire is thrilling. Hearing planes and trains be dispatched and routed is just plain fun. And in all cases you’re admiration for the jobs these public servants and private professionals are performing only grows while your knowledge and understanding of their work increases.

You can have a scanner on in the background while you watch TV. Some people even go to bed listening to a scanner at night and, over time, instinctively know and wake up when something exciting or important is happening – you can tell by the tension in the voice of the dispatchers and officers in the street who are communicating.

Particularly for kids, when you’re listening to a scanner you’re practically riding along in that patrol car or you’re in that fire truck racing to a scene of a fire. It’s really mesmerizing, entertaining, informative and educational all at the same time.

And, particularly for adults, perhaps those who are concerned about crime in their neighborhood or dry brush around their homes during the fire season, a scanner will keep you abreast of what conditions are in your area. Are police responding to suspicious persons on nearby streets? Do you hear the fire department being called out to hose down homes in the development a few blocks away? This is invaluable information that you can find nowhere else or not nearly as quickly. A scanner radio does it all.

So we hope you’ll consider buying yourself or a loved one a scanner today. For information, for entertainment, for peace-of-mind, and more. There’s nothing like a scanner.

(*In minor police incidents some department dispatches are sent via computer to in-car “mobile data terminals.” However if the incident is at all significant all departments will use radio communications to disseminate information the quickest way its entire force.)

Copyright 2009 Richard Barnett, Scanner Master Corp

Valuable Resources
Be sure to visit www.radioreference.com for the ultimate resource of scanner frequencies, trunking information, radio forums and more.

A guide to The Best “Police” Radio Scanners
by N4UJW Hamuniverse.com (A Ham Radio Web Site)

See this great article on the Ham Universe Website.

Source:  http://www.scannermaster.com/Articles.asp?ID=165