Streamlight Siege Lantern Review
Novel Excerpt: Looting and Convoys
This excerpt is an unedited bit from my upcoming working titled novel "Dad With a Flamethrower." As Joe Dolio (buy his books) and I have predicted, convoys with escorts will be a fact of life in the US soon. Twitter: @DolioJ
“Confidential sources within the police department are telling me that over half of the officers scheduled today have called in sick. While this appears to be unrelated to the incidents in Red Rock one cannot help but think that officers across the state may be in solidarity with each other. Union president Luis Ocampo said that many officers are actually physically and mentally unable to continuing working. Excessive shifts, sometimes 16 hours long, and no days off since the Big Freeze has taken its toll, he says.”
I stopped the car and approached a small unit of National Guard soldiers huddled around a propane heater on the back of a Humvee. “Is it true what they’re saying about the police?”
A sergeant who was my age answered. “‘Fraid so. We’ve got it easier than they do. They go call-to-call and we just stand around looking mean, for the most past. We can take turns sleeping.”
“But we can’t call in sick. Or quit. We don’t have a union, neither,” a young private said.
“Write your congressman,” the sergeant said. “Folks gonna have to look out for themselves,” he said to me. “You got a gun, right?”
“Yeah. Well, thank you guys for being here.” The sergeant gave a half-hearted wave as I backed off and headed to the car. It was hard to see what kind of deterrent effect these guys were having sitting in an office complex parking lot.
The gas station had an entirely different atmosphere today. It was as busy as it had been but now cars were being routed in through a line of cones. Four employees or volunteer friends/family members in orange vests were working the lot. Two people with holstered handguns directed traffic while two others with rifles stood watch.
When it was our turn at the pump, myself and a mousy woman were pointed to two pumps. “Bizarre that they have men with guns out but the Muzak is still playing, right?” I asked. The woman flashed a nervous smile and turned away from me. Everyone but the guys with guns seemed on edge.
Ordinarily thousands of people moved around each other in their own bubbles, each going their own way. Now people on the streets moved around like cockroaches caught with the light on. One would think with such artificial desolation that encountering another person would be reassuring instead of a thing to be avoided. Emptiness was preferable to others of our species. Comfort was in solitude, not the company of the crowd.
Here and there trucks loaded with goods moved openly through the streets. It was hard to tell if they were moving, evacuating, or looting. As one neared downtown, these sightings became more frequently. Traffic became more reckless. I watched a car stop at a dark intersection, treating it as a four-way stop, be rear-ended by a someone doing probably sixty. The speeding driver abandoned his wrecked vehicle and ran. I waited for several minutes but heard no sirens.
Hugo had his garage open and a fire burning in a metal barrel in the driveway. TV sounds drifted across the cul-de-sac. Two other neighbors stood inside watching, so I headed over.
“You guys wouldn’t believe how weird it is in the city. Like a ghost town but you can see the ghosts moving around.”
None of them replied to me, just nods from two half-turned heads. Hugo’s garage TV was plugged into a portable battery system and an antenna cable snaked along the way to the outside. It was a local news station, but they were filming with an extreme zoom lens from the top of one of the skyscrapers downtown. On the screen I saw a line of Walmart semi-trucks on the Interstate. There were twenty or so of them stopped going back well over a quarter of a mile. They were being looted with apparent impunity.
The picture switched and the main shot became one at ground level, much closer up. The cameraman was clearly on his belly filming through some small hole or gap of a bridge. The convoy had been escorted by several private security cars. Their windshields were now opaque from being shot and bullet holes marred the body and door panels. Guards lay slumped and probably dead inside.
The camera moved around and showed the remains of a spike-strip in the road and shredded tires. So that’s how they stopped them. In front of these was a line of box trucks stopped so as to block the entire freeway as both a roadblock and as receptacles for the hijacked loads.
The camera angle prevented us from seeing the back but the doors must have been rolled up because men were carrying goods up to them. Men ran, towing and pushing pallet jacks full of food or whatever, down the freeway to the box trucks. One such pair went right past the body of a dead guard who lay sprawled on the concrete.
Near the retaining wall, the truck drivers kneeled facing the wall with their hands on the backs of the heads. Riflemen with masks on stood guard. Probably two-dozen non-descript vans were parked parallel to the trucks and were being loaded. “There’s gotta be one or two hundred people involves in this,” Hugo said.
In the smaller picture within the picture the building camera panned to show a lone state trooper blocking traffic at an exit a mile down the freeway. Cars were still getting on at the next ramp but kept moving unmolested. At the far end of this mass-hijacking, more gunmen in pickup trucks held traffic at bay.
“Where are the helicopters?” asked the neighbor who’s name I didn’t know.
“Did you hear the voiceover? Someone is shooting at the helicopters as they try to takeoff.”
“Nobody has the resources for this kind of operation,” I said.
“Except the cartels,” Hugo replied.
“How? This isn’t Mexico. They sell drugs, not food.”
“Just how much drugs do you think they’re selling around here right now? Way I see it, this is a way for them to get food and butt wipe. They need that too. They can sell that food too.”
I could scarcely believe what I was seeing. A large armed group had stopped and seized a massive delivery convoy that had been guarded by no less than a half-dozen vehicles, armed I assumed. Walmart planned this out fairly well and spent serious money on the security arrangements, but not enough.
Pandemonium erupted. Men who seemed to be in leadership roles began shouting and whistling. Fingers circled in the air in the universal sign for “let’s go.” Arm loads of things were dropped. Pallets were left in traffic lanes. Within a minute everyone was in a vehicle. The new convoy of escort and spoil vans fanned out via the next two exits. The feed from the cameraman on the ground went dark after a burst of machine gun fire was heard.
The building camera tried to track the vehicles as they split up. The camera panned around, looking for signs of where each vehicle went but given the oblique angle of the shot the buildings got in the way. Finally in the far distance we saw a Stryker armored vehicle drive the wrong way up an off-ramp. Traffic was light enough that no one hit it and its three companions followed it up. By the time the platoon got to the scene of the crime, it was too late. Everyone but the truck drivers were gone.
The four of us stood in silence watching the soldiers clearing the area and setting up perimeter security. “Where were the cops?” Darin asked.
“Smart enough to stay away,” Hugo replied. “They probably had more guys robbing that convoy than the police have working an entire shift right now. What would even a dozen cops do? Re-enact the shootout from Heat on the freeway. They’d be slaughtered.”
The coordination to pull this off was amazing. I had no idea that the cartel had so many people in the city. As bad as River City was, this was the first time that something that happened in Mexico happened here. Walmart’s corporate security was clearly compromised. To plan this in advance would require knowledge of when the convoy would leave. Trucks and vehicles would have to be stolen and the shooters and labor rounded up. From there, the convoy could be easily tracked as it got closer and closer to the city.
The second order effect of this would be that deliveries would cease for a while until new security measures could be implemented. Hiring a couple armed guards who were used to checking out alarm calls and transporting stacks of cash wouldn’t cut it against real sicarios.
Recently, I received the following email from a reader:
“In Limited Exchange Carson used a Victoreen Geiger counter. The only Victoreens I can find are of questionable quality on eBay. Do you have a suggestion for any other radiation meter that I could purchase?”
I replied that I didn’t have any specific recommendations, but I explained that I chose the old yellow Civil Defense (CD) Victoreen detectors because they were quite ubiquitous during the Cold War and still are. They would be easy to source and it would not be difficult for my engineer characters to service and calibrate them. Modern devices are so much better, but they are expensive and it is difficult to find a modern equivalent to the CD meters.
Why should you have radiation measuring equipment? There is no way to “gauge” radiation levels without instruments. That leaves a survivor at the mercy of local emergency services and the federal government/military to provide regional radiation levels. Many civil defense programs have been utterly gutted and focus on higher-probability, lower impact events such as tornados and floods. A nuclear war quite probably will leave you on your own for radiation readings.
Individually, a personal radiation instrument can:
BLUF: Build your own (read on) or be prepared to shell out the big bucks. The selection on Amazon sucks and is nearly worthless. A really good condition and tested CD meter may be a good, affordable compromise.
Radiation detector is the proper term for what is often incorrectly or off-handedly called a “Geiger counter." A better term is radiation detector or radiation survey meter. These measure ionizing radiation as produced by a nuclear reaction (explosion or reactor). Electromagnetic radiation such as radio or microwaves are not a factor in this context. We will focus on the use of these detectors for post-nuclear war survival in a fallout environment particularly for those sheltering.
The most dangerous phase of a fallout event is the acute (early) phase when the particles are falling down. Radiation is greatest in the first 48 hours, decreasing dramatically until the next major plateau stabilizes after about two-weeks. If local emergency authorities are intact, they will provide regional radiation readings but the continuity of emergency services or the specificity of these readings may be spotty. Individual measurement is the best way of knowing one’s radiation exposure.
Anyone exposed to more than incidental global fallout would benefit from having a way to measure radiation while sheltering. An expedient Kearny Fallout Meter (KFM) can be made at home using common household items, but a purpose built detector will be more accurate, have additional features, and are not susceptible to human error in construction and calculation.
Radiation detectors come in two types: survey meters and dosimeters. Survey meters are like a thermometer which is intended for an instant read and dosimeters are a measure of cumulative exposure over time like a rain gauge.
Fallout produces three types of radiation: alpha, beta, and gamma. Alpha and beta radiation typically produce burns. Alpha radiation will be stopped by your skin or clothing. Beta radiation is a bit more powerful, but will not penetrate the walls of a typical home to any great degree. The danger these two present is from ingestion, so filtration of air, water, and careful cleaning of any contaminated food is the precaution for them.
The most dangerous form of radiation (unless you eat fallout) is gamma radiation. This is what people are thinking of when they think of nuclear radiation. Gamma rays will penetrate all but the densest of materials easily. Eight-inches of lead or six feet of dirt is required to reduce the penetration of gamma rays to essentially negligible levels. Gamma radiation is what you are worried about.
Not all devices will measure gamma radiation. A detector that only picks up alpha and/or beta radiation but not gamma will give dangerously low readings. The same problem will happen with meters that do not register high enough; .5 R/hr might not seem all that dangerous, but if that is as high as the meter will go, one could be in serious danger.
The characteristic clicking sound that radiation detectors make in films are a result of ionizing events that are detected, that is, when a gamma particle passes through the detector. This causes a change in the electrical signal which is then used to produce a click through a speaker or headphones. The audible noise serves as a kind of warm/cold indicator.
Count rate measurement (cpm or counts per minute) is mainly for alpha and beta radiation. A “count” doesn’t help you. A count is defined as the number of ionizing events. For survival needs, counts don’t help as they do not convert into dose rates.
Dose, represented by Roentgens (R) or Sieverts (Sv), indicates how much radiation is present in a form that can be interpretated as risk to human life. A dose indicator is like a thermometer. I recommend Roentgens because a Sievert equals 100 REM (Roentgen Equivalent Man) and use R/hr because the differences between REM and RAD (Roentgen Absorbed Dose) are minimal. R/hr is also how old Civil Defense publications will read as well so it eliminates the need for conversion.
Note that μSv (or uSv) is a micro-Sievert, or one-one thousandth of a micro-Sievert (mSv), one-one thousandth of a Sievert. 1 μSv is equivalent to one-ten thousandth (.0001) R and 1 mSv is one-one tenth (.1) of an R. A Sievert is the rough equivalent of 100 R.
The “Geiger counter” is not what most devices are today, though they may incorporate that technology. Geiger-Mueller tubes can be saturated by high levels of radiation which may lead to an erroneous conclusion that the radiation is lower than it actually is. Radiation detectors that measure higher ranges of gamma radiation use alternate technologies such as different types of gaseous ionization chambers or scintillation counters.
Civil Defense meters
Civil Defense (CD) yellow radiation detectors were made for various purposes. Victoreen was the most prolific manufacturer of radiation detectors in the early days of the Atomic Era. Many of these models were sold by FEMA as surplus in the late 1990s and can be commonly found for sale in various states of appearance, repair, and precision.
The V-700 was intended for low-level radiation, such as an accident, contamination, or a long time after a fallout event. These were Geiger tube only designs. The V-700 is particularly susceptible to saturation of high radiation and would be worthless in a heavy fallout environment that a nearby nuclear explosion would produce. The V-700s are best suited for detecting alpha and beta radiation giving them little utility to a survivor.
The V-715 is the most common model available today, followed by the V-717 and V-720. They are capable of measuring radiation between 0.1 R/h and 500 R/h using four scales (multipliers): ×0.1, ×1, ×10, and ×100. The V-717 model came with a remote probe and anti-contamination bag that could be placed outside a fallout shelter to provide the outside radiation level without leaving safety. The V-720 has a moveable shield on the bottom that can be slid open for measuring the beta radiation level as they cannot penetrate the steel case as gamma rays can.
Can you use old Civil Defense meters?
Yes, as long as they have been refurbished and calibrated by a competent source. For this, you will need to check the reviews and qualifications of the seller carefully. These are mechanical devices which, as long as they are in good working order, should function just fine with fresh batteries.
Kearny Fallout Meter (KFM)
Noted nuclear survival author Cresson Kearny had an important caution that some meters might under-read high levels of radiation. He actually summarizes this article and his 1987 advice is frighteningly contemporary even today, 35 years later. This is why he recommends his own meter, the KFM. See also: Nuclear War Survival Skills
Neither calibration against a radiation source or tuning should be performed by an end-user who does not have specific knowledge, experience, or training doing this kind of thing. Drift of the gauge may occur over time and can be adjusted by the means of a screw inside the case. The “check source” of lightly radioactive material has well passed its half-life and cannot be assumed to be accurate. If you really expect to need to use your radiation detector, an incorrect reading may get you killed in one of the most horrible ways possible.
V-715 has the least features of all the high-range CD detectors. Additionally, unmodified V-715s can have issues with losing calibration. Models with an “R” marking indicating a retrofit are much more reliable. Non-R marked V-715s should not be used, even if the seller claims that they have been rebuilt or refurbished. Non-Victoreen brand models should not be used.
The V-715 includes a remote probe and a 25 foot cable that can be placed outside a shelter for remote radiation monitoring. It can also be used as a general survey meter, making it perhaps the most useful CD detector. The V-720 is considered generally reliable although the beta measurement capability may not be a factor for most users.
The V-740 dosimeters are rare due to electrical leaks and failing accuracy tests. They were superseded by V-742 dosimeters and also the most common. It is necessary to buy a charger in order to use CD dosimeters. These chargers are original, special equipment and charging is not like how we would charge a phone or something similar.
Should you use a 60 year old instrument? Your life may depend on this device, so why not get something that is guaranteed to be reliable and accurate? Old CD detectors don’t have return policies where you can just take them back to the Eisenhower Administration and get a new one. Modern designs include features like a digital readout, self-diagnostics, superior battery life, increased accuracy, alarm functions, and a smaller size.
To answer the question, not if you can afford a modern one; affordability being the key.
Wherein the problem lies with price and availability. Since the customers for these devices are industrial or government, prices are on a “quoted” basis and several hundred to thousands of dollars. Someone with the money may want to make an investment otherwise for persons of average income, a quality CD detector is probably the best purchase.
Survey Meters, Dosimeters, and Alarms
Survey meters are generally handheld and may include remote probes. These detect surface contamination and background radiation in an instant-read method like a thermometer. The above section on the CD V-series is a good explanation of what a civilian survey meter should include.
Do not buy an “EMF meter” or one for electromagnetic radiation; these are either ghost hunting tools or measuring things like radio or microwaves. You are measuring ionizing radiation. These tools are worthless for a nuclear war.
A dosimeter measures personal exposure to radiation, sort of like a “sunburn detector” if there were such a thing. Damage to the body from radiation exposure is cumulative. Damage done by very small doses over time can be repaired by the body but as the dose increases, the chances of a damaged cell becoming malignant and causing cancer or other serious injury rise.
These are individually worn passive devices. They do not provide an immediate reading of the radiation level making them useless to determine the radiation danger until after exposure has occurred. Some models allow for the wearer to see a real-time reading of the accumulated exposure. Only modern electronic dosimeters can provide helpful real-time information.
Dosimeters are useful for knowing how much radiation you’ve been exposed to, especially in environments where conditions and radiation levels vary or are unexpected, making measurement difficult. These are most often found being used by emergency personnel or those who work around nuclear materials. Normal occupational rules prohibit exposure of more than 5R/500mSv which would prompt someone to be pulled out of danger before serious radiation injuries could occur.
In a post-nuclear war environment, levels for emergency workers performing absolutely critical emergency work (i.e. rescue) in radioactive environments can be as high as 30R. Sources of contamination may vary wildly when out and about, so a live-read dosimeter is critical for knowing when they need to get to safety. For survivors, a dosimeter may be helpful but not necessary. Those sheltering will have relatively static rates of exposure and if they have a log of accurate readings individual dosage can be calculated.
Dosimeters worn by radiation workers in nuclear power plants measure the whole body dose. These are usually clipped to clothing and provide a digital readout of the cumulative dosage received and may have an alarm for dangerous levels of radiation. Digital electric models typically use MOSFET transistors to measure the radiation level. The oldest dosimeter technology is the film strip badge that does not provide a reading in real time and requires the film to be developed which is where much of the cautions come from.
Older CD pen-style dosimeters (pocket ionization chamber) used a quartz fiber that would take its measurement from the change in static electricity held on the fiber. These require charging before use. Electrostatic repulsion of gamma rays ionizing the gas in the fiber chamber causes the fiber to become straight, which in turn moves the gauge. This is the same principle by which the Kearny Fallout Meter operates on.
Other detectors include thermoluminescence. These are composed of a crystal matrix of elements that when exposed to radiation trap the radiation and release it was light. The light released is proportional the radiation intensity which allows the exposure to be accurately calculated. Electronic devices measure the light being released while non-electric devices have strips that change color, like an instant-developing film badge.
Electronic Personal Dosimeter (EPD)
Modern electronic dosimeters are best and most can take instant readings of the ambient radiation level (like a survey meter) in addition to recording the cumulative dose. Some may include high radiation alarms. Preventive models are used in scientific or energy settings where radiation exposure is planned. These models are primarily administrative in nature and not designed for high radiation environments. If a nuclear worker’s dosimeter alarm sounds, it’s time to leave.
Personal Emergency Radiation Detector (PERD)
Emergency models are like the EPDs above, but are made for first responders and are thus more robust. PERDs are appropriate for use in much higher exposure rates, and have variable settings for different response zones (Cold, Hot, and Dangerous Zones). They are specially designed to avoid oversaturation effects. HAZMAT and nuclear response teams use these devices as their work will expose them to level of radiation where a scientist or engineer would simply evacuate away from.
Affordable non-alarming PERDs are like film badges but are instantly readable. One such is the RADTriage Model50 Personal Radiation Detector is a credit card sized dosimeter that uses a color-coded matrix to provide visual indication of radiation exposure. Measurements are approximate and insensitive to lower levels of radiation. Their main advantage is their small size, robust nature, lack of batteries, and cheap cost.
The above only measures medically significant doses: 50-4,000 mSv (5-400 R/.5-4 Sv), making it suitable for a nuclear fallout environment. Additionally, it boasts a 2-10 year shelf-life (extension possible in freezer) and does not require batteries or calibration. It measures cumulative doses; the more radiation it receives, the higher it will indicate until the maximum is reached. It cannot be zeroed for reuse, however. They have been used in the real world in Japan during the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Radiation alarms will sound if radiation is detected. These are called Personal radiation detectors (PRDs). While they look like dosimeters, they are not. These generally only indicate the presence of radioactive sources and are intended for low-levels of radiation. Their occupational use is in detection of radiological leaks, nuclear terrorism, or regulatory control by law enforcement or customs officials. Consumer devices like NukeAlert™ are simplified to alert when radiation is detected.
A radiation alarm would be useful in situations where, such as after an EMP, there is no way to receive official warning of fallout arrival. Radiation alarms work by detecting the mere presence of ionizing radiation. There either is no radiation or there is—many do not provide a reading or if they do it can be quickly saturated by heavy radiation. Again, you wouldn’t buy a thermometer that only gives a reading of “yes” if you wanted to know the specific temperature.
Occupational models, in fact many of them on the market, are intended for laboratory, regulatory, police, medical, or energy-sector use. Their warning levels and readouts are much too low for fallout situations other than indicating that a radiation emergency is occurring. A radiation alarm may be useful if you expect to have no other warning of fallout arrival or do not want to take routine surveys after a nuclear attack.
What Should I Buy?
Virtually all of the radiation detectors and dosimeters sold on Amazon are too low for practical use in a nuclear fallout environment. You will need to source your high-rate detectors elsewhere. Frankly, most of Amazon’s “Geiger counter” products are the same Chinese crap ad infinitum. For low levels of radioactivity, they may be fine but they are not what you should be relying on after a nuclear war. The dosimeters, depending on the actual reviews and field performance, may be okay. I would buy one to test out before outfitting the family.
Low-rate survey meters and dosimeters are intended for industrial settings where any radiation above normal background rates is an emergency calling for evacuation. For the average person, these are a mere curiosity unless you are traveling to Chernobyl or Fukushima.
The low-rate dosimeters may be acceptable in a well-protected shelter where the cumulative dose is expected to be lower than 5-10 R. Again, 5 R is the yearly limit for radiation workers in the United States and is a good gauge of an acceptable risk level. Note that if a product advertises a 1000 mR/hr, that isn’t much, only 1 R.
The selection of radiation detectors on the market for post-fallout events is poor. The majority of the market is aimed at routine monitoring and regulatory compliance, not emergency management. There does not seem to be an easy to find, cheap analogue to the CD V-series. The dearth of nuclear war tailored devices seems to be a product of market forces than anything else. It is more profitable to make and sell devices for routine radiation work than a contingency niche product.
A Kearny Fallout Meter (KFM) is affordable and effective, but it is not suited to low-levels of radiation that a post-war world years and decades down the line will present. It's also not authoritative and many ignorant people will have a hard time believing a home-build device can actually measure radiation.
A combination of a KFM could be used while the radiation is high and a relatively cheap 5-10 R device used when the sheltering period is over (and the radiation is lower). If you plan on building a KFM, consider building a practice model in peacetime and purchasing a gamma check source to calibrate it yourself. Watch this video on the KFM including construction.
The most cost-effective radiation detectors (survey meters, in particular) on the market are the old Civil Defense products. Take the time to research the CD Victoreen V-series meters. Don’t just buy one sight unseen off Ebay Carefully vet the seller and their refurbishment/calibration process. Read the reviews and purchase a check source to verify accuracy yourself. KI4U (www.ki4u.com) is one such well reviewed supplier.
Personally, I will be building a KFM. The KFM will be used as a gross radiation monitor as I feel I only need to know about the radiation levels within its range. This will be supplemented with colorimetric dosimeters. If I was building a shelter, I would find a very good condition, calibrated and refurbished V-717 to place the probe outside the shelter. If I expected to have no warning of a fallout event (such as no news or radio warnings), I would get a radiation alarm to trigger at the first arrival of radioactive fallout.
A brief selection of various models, mostly for informative purposes to show what’s on the market, follows.
Low-rate dosimeter (5 rem) https://amzn.to/3FAYr5x
10 R https://amzn.to/3j5Fn7N
50-100 R https://amzn.to/3uUkS0x
Note that most of the products sold on Amazon are for very low radiation levels and will be of very limited use in a fallout scenario. They may have utility months or years later when the radiation level has fallen dramatically.
This one claims to server as a dosimeter of up to 9,999 Sv, but that seems too good to be true. https://amzn.to/3YpQHvD. And here’s another https://amzn.to/3Wd2OdI.
This dosimeter promises up to 99,990 R or 999 Sieverts. https://amzn.to/3Py5BvH
High rate dosimeter (up to 1000 R—10 R/hr metering capability)
High rate personal meter, 300 Rem
Survey meter, 100 R/hr
Survey meter, with a pole
Up to 100 R
Up to 50 R
Up to 9,999 R/hr
The average person who gets a Baofeng radio will have no idea how to tune in when they turn it on and see an input like 445.000 staring back at them. Pushing the buttons to blindly tune the frequencies up or down doesn’t work like a CB radio, car stereo, or marine radio. You can’t just pick a frequency at random and start using it. First, there will probably be no one to talk to. Second, you could be transmitting on a frequency or in a mode that is prohibited.
My pre-ham radio experience was with VHF law enforcement radios; my agency has 16 channels programmed in on the main ‘A’ bank. For public safety/business use, the FCC assigns frequencies. Not in the ham world. Ham radio does not have defined voice channels like Marine radio, CB, or GMRS/FRS. The concept of saying “Go to channel __” doesn’t exist.
What exists on the ham bands are portions of the frequency spectrum that is generally understood to be used for simplex (radio-to-radio) voice communication. Imagine it as a freeway without any marked lanes. To better navigate that lane-less freeway, radio users have decided to separate portions of each band and dedicate them to specific uses.
Simplex, or radio-to-radio voice, is just a small part of that. In order for the various uses of the ham bands to all get along, local radio coordinators outline what ranges and frequencies should be used for what. These coordinators are unofficial bodies and the plans aren’t legally mandatory, but they are mostly obeyed to avoid chaos, the same way people obey traffic signals when a cop isn’t around.
You can create “lanes” for your own channel plan as long as you play by the rules that everyone else does. This is really no more than agreeing on specific frequencies to use and giving them a name or alpha-numeric designation. Having a channel name or number is for brevity and communication security. “Go to five,” is shorter and more secure than saying “Go to 158.730.” So, within your own group/family, you can know that “VHF channel 1” means 146.415 MHz. Again, this is an in-group thing because there are no public ham channel allocations.
How to get startedMy semi-facetious suggestion is become friends with a likeminded, experienced ham and let him provide you with his pre-existing plan. I kid, but there are hams in your community that have already done this and will have saved you a bunch of trouble. Connections can and do pay off. But for the rest of you…
Start by finding the basic band plan for the band you plan to use; in our case it will be 70cm or 420-450 MHz UHF. Note that 420-450 MHz is the basic frequency range for that band; it will be divided up into different groups for various uses, such as Morse code (CW), television, etc. Be sure to review the band plan for frequencies that are reserved for specific uses, such as digital packet transmission only, often noted “no voice.”
Note the bandwidth spacing for each band. For 70cm, this is 25 kHz while in some parts of California it is 20 kHz. For 2m VHF, this is 15-20 kHz. Think of spacing as a separation lane to keep the radio traffic from bleeding into each other. Too narrow of spacing and the radio signals start interfering with each other.
Using the no-lane freeway above, technically speaking is the bandwidth separation. As long as the traffic is within the limits of the range and far enough apart from each other, who talks on what frequency is unregulated. You can simply plug in a frequency in the right range, check that the bandwidth is set properly (the radio should do this automatically), and start talking. Shy of SHTF or an emergency this can be a nuisance.
Practically speaking, you need to mind the upper and lower end of the frequencies for both the FCC-defined band and the range for simplex voice. Orderly ham radio depends on everyone coloring (or parking or driving, whatever analogy you prefer) within the lines. One can’t reasonably just start yakking away on any frequency for this reason.
This problem with choosing a frequency at random is you may be talking slightly off a locally defined channel and interfering with that traffic. That’s a quick way to make other hams unhappy, sort of like making the other guy pull off a one-way road so you don’t have to get your car’s passenger side all muddy by driving on the shoulder. What needs to be done is see if there are any local channel plans for the band you intend to use.
Locate your state or regional band plan. These are gentlemen’s agreements by local ham organizations to allocate the different frequency ranges for various purposes to better regulate and coordinate traffic. Many organizations do not coordinate simplex frequencies. In this case, generic spacing and allocations can be used. You will need to Google “[state or region] ham radio band plan” to find this information. Alternatively, you can ask a local ham club.
In the 70cm UHF band, you will want to check your local band plan (down to the county, if there is such an organization) and the repeaters carefully before deciding on using a certain frequency. For example, you may want to start at 445.000 and go up to 446.975 at 25 kHz channel spacing intervals. At each interval you would check that the band plan doesn't reserve the frequency for something like high-speed packet transmission or that it's assigned to a repeater.
Note that you don't want to break the pattern of intervals because your signal will bleed over to other frequencies and cause interference with other traffic. That's rude, like parking in two spaces. It's going to make people mad and if you have a problem that comes to the FCC's attention you will be the at-fault party. So once more, random frequency selection is suboptimal.
Check your local repeaters to ensure that you are not talking on a repeater input/output frequency. Repeaterbook.com is the most popular resource for repeater information. This becomes more of a concern in 70cm UHF because the simplex (voice) range is shared with repeaters. For instance, in Missouri 445.900–445.975 is shared between simplex and packet traffic; at 25 kHz spacing that leaves four voice UHF channels that can be used. Don’t forget to actually listen to the frequency for a while to determine what kind of traffic is used on it.
Finally, remember that the airwaves are all shared and open to the public. There is no privacy or reserving of frequencies. All FCC regulations will apply. Your channels are nothing more than a memory device for certain frequencies and will be specific to your group only. Any outsiders you are communicating with will need to be given the actual frequency to tune to, not your channel number/name.
Repeaters You may want to put repeaters in your channel plan. For instance, my group notes these with an R (Romeo) for repeater, as “31R.” Again, the repeaters are public but saying 31R is easier and more discreet than saying “McClellan Peak UHF” or “W7RHC.” Some notes about programming repeaters in:
For repeaters, the input (receiving) frequency is published. This is the frequency that your radio will talk to the repeater on. You will need to program in an offset so the radio knows what frequency to listen for the output signal (that the repeater is re-transmitting the traffic on). Note the offset for your band; this varies. 70cm uses a 5 MHz + or – above or below the repeater input frequency. 2m VHF is 600 kHz or .6 MHz.
Most radios will automatically set the offset frequency once you note + or – in the software so you don’t need to manually enter the offset frequency. Most repeaters will use a PL tone to activate the repeater. The offset and PL tone will vary on each repeater.
Common simplex voice frequencies 2 Meters (144-148 MHz)
146.520 National simplex calling Frequency
70cm (420-450 MHz)
445.000-447.000 simplex (shared with repeaters and other services)
446.000 National simplex calling Frequency
Example 2m simplex channels (SoCal)
144.310-144.375 (15-20 kHz apart)
144.405-144.490 (15-20 kHz apart)
146.520 (calling freq.)
Note that the 70cm UHF equivalent of above is extremely uncommon.
Sample band plan
This simple band plan is taken from Los Angeles area information. It includes a Channel of the Day (COD) so each group member knows where to go each day to listen and make contact if necessary. While a real plan would have the frequency order switched up, changing the “main” frequency each day will inhibit any easy monitoring by bad guys. Note that the days must rotate because there are not enough frequencies for a 31-day month.
Channels of the Day will need to repeat, and more often on bands with lesser available simplex frequencies, especially on UHF. Repeaters that are intended to be used are included as well. This method will work for 2m/1.25m/70cm and GMRS/FRS. A similar plan can be made up for CB with the ordinary channel numbers switched up.
The duress channel is an unused frequency that can be switched to if your transmissions are being monitored by bad guys. The code word can be spoke and everyone will know to switch without further prompting. Credit to Andy for coming up with my group’s plan, from which I modeled this example chart (because the public isn’t seeing our actual one).
Note: this is an excerpt from my book Basic SHTF Radio: A cop's brief guide for understanding simple solutions for SHTF radio communication, available on Amazon.
Don't forget a programming cable.
New Book: What if Santa Were Real?
A shameless Christmas cash grab! Just kidding, it's actually a thoughtful look at how Santa Claus could exist within the American Christian conception of both the mythical jolly old man in the red suit and mainstream religious belief. It's a fun, short novelette that's good for the whole family.
I will say that I did rush this out to get it published during the Christmas season, so yeah, that'll probably be reflected in it, but remember, I'm not charging you Madison Avenue publishing house prices!
What if Santa Claus was real? It’s a question that many of us have had since we were old enough to know the truth. How would he deliver the presents? What would the theological implications be of Santa?
In this novella, a New York Times reporter gets a mysterious invitation to meet Santa at the North Pole. Witha the help of the United Postal Service, the reporter travels to the remote Alaskan town of Barrow, the northernmost place in the United States. From there, he travels out onto the Arctic Ocean with a shadowy man in black before being turned over to an eskimo guide. When he arrives at the North Pole, the cynical journalist is confronted with a wonderous world that seems like make believe every December.
Anyone who wants a fun examination of just how Santa Claus would work, if he was real, can follow along with our protagonist as he asks all the questions a good reporter would want to know of Saint Nicholas.
This work is not to be taken seriously. It is for entertainment purposes and not a serious theological examination. No actual religious implication should be taken away from this work and no particular Christian sect is endorsed nor is criticism intended. The author does not condone the veneration of saints. Suitable for all ages.
What Radio Book Should Beginners Buy?
If you are totally bewildered and confused by ham radio and what options you have, start with my Basic SHTF Radio. This is a guide to let you know what your options are (if ham is too much for you, GMRS & FRS are great, easy options with a lot of close similarity to UHF ham that will work right out of the box).
I consider this next one to be the companion and "Intermediate SHTF Radio" to my basic book. Brushbeater, aka NC Scout, who runs an excellent radio course by all reports, has published his guide to using a Baofeng radio: The Guerrilla's Guide To The Baofeng Radio. If you have a Baofeng and kinda understand the basic of radio and what your needs are, or if you have a new Tech ham (amateur operator) license and need to figure the stupid thing out, start here. Also check out Scout's classes at Brushbeater.org.
Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.