How will you communicate off grid?
by David M. Hill, Sr.
Let’s first cover what we are talking about when saying OFF GRID. Most all forms of communications today require grid support. The internet, landline telephones, and cell phones all require some form of support to function. Now if we either chose to go off grid or we are forced to go off grid due to natural disaster or man-made causes, we will all be looking for a way to communicate outside of our family group. The fact is, as humans, it is part of our nature to communicate with others. If you doubt me, try doing without all forms of communications for a weekend, or better yet an entire week.
What are your options?
GMRS/FRS radios and/or CB radios work well but have a very limited range. Any of theses will work for excellent local communications within a 1 to 3 mile range for most people. They are limited in many ways by different terrain and also by the surrounding structures. In many areas, like in the mountains, they have very limited capabilities. Let’s look at some of the specifications.
FRS or Family Radio Service: This form of radio uses seven different channels and transmits using 0.5 watts. There is no FCC license required for use.
GMRS or General Mobile Radio Service: This service does require a license issued from the Federal Communications Commission. The cost is currently 85 dollars for a five-year period. GMRS radios are allowed up to 50 watts of transmit power, but 1 to 5 watts is the most common in use.
CB or Citizens Band Radio: Does not require a license to operate. The radios have 40 channels and are limited to 4 watts transmit power on AM and 12 watts on sideband modes.
What if you want communications outside of your local area?
The solution for that is amateur radio, also known as ham radio. There are a lot of misconceptions out there today about ham radio due to recently passed new rules for ham radio testing and licensing. The biggest one is the dropping of CW or Morse Code from the licensing requirements in the United States. With CW not being required anymore, many people that struggled with learning have now gone on to get their licenses and have begun to enjoy the fascinating world of ham radio. There are currently only three classes of licenses issued by the FCC—Technician, General and Extra.
The Technician class, or entry level class, will open up a much greater geographical range than any of the previous mentioned forms of two-way radio services are capable of providing you. You will even enjoy the privilege of using a very small portion of the allocated frequencies available to ham radio operators that allows you to be able to talk pretty much world-wide during certain band conditions. This class of license is very easy to obtain with just a little dedication to studying for the test required.
A very good way to find out what ham radio is all about is to look for your local ham radio club. Once you find it, go there during one of their meetings and ask questions. Make sure you have plenty of time on your hands because we hams love to talk and share our hobby with others! By doing this you could also get the opportunity to possibly use the club station to make a few contacts of your own and see what you think. You can go to this web site and use your zip code in the search box to find your local club—http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club
Another way you could find a ham in your area is by doing a search for all the hams in your zip code. You never know, one of your neighbors just may be a ham or at least someone in your community that you may just know. If so, all you have to do is ask them for help and I am sure they will be more than willing to help you find your way. You can do this by going to http://qrz.com and again, in the search window at the top left of the page, enter your zip code and see what you get.
If you have never considered becoming a ham I would urge you to at least look into it. Ham radio is truly the only reliable form of communication that truly Works When All Else Fails. All you need is a 12-volt battery, a radio and a simple-to-make wire antenna in a tree, and the whole world is at the other end of your radio waiting to chat with you.
73 “Best wishes in radio talk”
David M Hill, Sr.
Ham Radio Works When All Else Fails