Communications for Preppers when the Grid is Down (Part 2)


One of the most critical parts of a good preparedness plan is the ability to gather information about what’s going on, and what could happen. When cell phones don’t work, the internet is down, or when radio and television is just static, we need good alternatives: long range communications, digital modes, and protecting your equipment; police scanners and weather radios are fairly easy to use, but beyond that things can get a little complicated.

Grid Down Communications for Preppers (Part 2)

Distant Communications: To communicate either by receive-only or by two-way communications outside of the local area.

Example:  If a grid-down occurred, with no phones or internet and you tuned to local radio stations and they were with off the air, how would you find out what was happening?

Here are some questions you may have immediately and over the next few days…
  • How bad is this and how widespread is it?
  • Is this a local or countywide, state-wide, nation-wide or world-wide event? Remember you are in your house and have no electricity, no cell phone, no TV and you turn on a small battery powered radio and cannot find any radio stations.
  • What is the government doing about this if anything? How are people reacting? Human reaction to a wide-spread power and communications failure can be unpredictable.

The New York City blackout of July 13-15, 1977 resulted in thirty-five blocks of Broadway being destroyed: 134 stores looted, 45 of them set ablaze. Thieves stole 50 new Pontiacs from a Bronx car dealership. 550 police officers were injured in the mayhem and 4,500 looters were arrested. Getting information on events like this would be good intelligence.

  • When should we leave the city? I live in a city. I have plans to leave if certain events happen. I subscribe to the Jonathan Hollerman doctrine of, in the case of a grid down, leave the city in the first 48 hours. But I need good intelligence to make that decision. Often things happening in a distant can be a foreshadowing of things coming to us.

Communication equipment options: To get good intelligence well beyond your local area you have really two options. HF transmit/receive (transceiver) Ham Radio equipment and HF receive-only equipment (commonly referred to as a shortwave receiver), but single-sideband capability is a requirement.

Ham Radio transceiver advantages: Communicate directly and exchange information with Hams in other cities, states and nations. Be able to ask questions regarding distant situations that may eventually affect you. Able to use both voice, CW (Morse code) and digital modes of communication.

Voice: Easiest to use but requires more power better band conditions than CW or digital.

CW (Morse Code) requires learning the code or using a computer to send and receive.

Digital modes require a computer and usually free software to encode and decode text messages. There is a moderate learning curve above normal Ham radio to use digital modes, but digital will often get though when voice or even CW will not.

Modern receivers have a “spectrum analyser” display that will let you see an entire band or frequency range graphically. This allows you to see and quickly tune to any transmissions in that band. This could be an advantage when you are looking for information particularly in a SHTF situation.

Security: Because HF mainly uses skywave that skips off of the upper atmosphere, it cannot be DF’d (Direction Finding) from a distant location, adding more security to transmissions.

During an actual SHTF emergency there are a number of Ham operators that have recommended to not use their FCC call sign during that time because the call sign is usually assigned to a home address and that information is public, although PO boxes can be used as the licensed address.

Disadvantages: Requires an Amateur Radio (Ham) General or Extra license that requires a more advanced test than the more limited Technician license.

Transceivers require more elaborate antennas than receive only although I have communicated all over the world using just 100 watts of transmit power and a $145 end-fed wire antenna strung between my chimney and a backyard tree that was stealth enough to avoid detection from my neighbourhood HOA.

Higher cost: Costs will typically start around $1000 and could go higher with more advanced equipment.

Ham Radio or Shortwave Receive-only equipment (Single-sideband capability is a must)

Advantage: Much lower cost. A Software Defined Receiver (SDR) starts at around $100 ( plus a computer to control, decode audio and display the “Spectrum Analyzer” display.

No FCC license required. To many preppers a FCC written test and licensing is not an option.

Still provides good intelligence: Much of the intelligence needed in a SHTF situation can be obtained by stationing someone on the receiver and monitoring.

SDR’s can receive both commercial shortwave AM stations (like the BBC) as well as AM and FM broadcast stations across the USA. Because you will have an outside wire antenna on your receiver, the range is far better than a indoor or car receiver. This alone my give you a lot of good intelligence as you can see what cities and towns are still on the air and reporting events.

A simpler antenna than a transceiver. Usually a 100 ft wire strung along a fence or just laying over the roof or tree will work great.

Disadvantages: With a receiver, since you cannot ask questions, you will have to be more proactive in tuning around to hunt for information.

Equipment Protection: Since both receivers and transceivers are connected to antennas over long periods of time they are ripe for being damaged by an EMP, CME, or even a lightning storm as the antenna would gather the damaging pulses and direct them right into the front end of the equipment where they could do the most damage.

It may be a good idea to store essential equipment in a metal trashcan Faraday cage or something similar. I keep my best receiver out but disconnected form the antenna when not in use but I keep an older standby transceiver plus a SDR Play receiver in a Faraday cage along with other electronics I want to protect.

Standby Power Supply: Both the local and long-distance communications equipment I have described are useless without electrical power. Both will run on 12 volts. So, if your vehicle still runs it could be the source of power for your equipment. Otherwise plan accordingly with a generator, solar or other backup power, including the capability to charge hand held radio batteries. Keep in mind that transmitting uses a lot more power than receiving, so keeping transmissions short will help a lot.

AmRRON: ( specializes in using Ham Radio and other electronic communications in preparedness. It is a great group that is continuously honing communication skills and advancing methods. There are weekly communication nets and you can even participate if you have receive only capability.

Grid Down Comms for Preppers

We went over quite a bit in these 2 podcasts, and it may seem a little complicated if you are just getting interested in SHTF communications options for preppers.

Honestly though, this is just the tip of the ice burgh when it comes to setting up a communications network, or gathering information in a SHTF scenario.

While there are many aspects of preparedness that are important in a grid down scenario, gathering intelligence should rank highly with them. The ability to get information about what’s going on could help you make critical decisions, and even save your life.



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