Thinking Ahead – Being Prepared as an Amateur Radio Operator

Another post in the Thinking Ahead series started with

“Being Prepared as an Amateur Radio Operator” is a serious concept.  One that probably deserves a book length discussion.  Will touch on a few highlights and provide some reference materials for those who want to dig in deeper.

By definition being prepared for the unforeseen is not a specifically solvable problem.  If you truly prepared for an elegant solution it would be unlikely the problem was “unforeseen” rather than simply a foreseeable problem you hoped wouldn’t actually happen.  Being prepared isn’t like one of the stylized action novels where the hero has just exactly the right gear, training and skills to get out of the bad guy’s dastardly plans.  That is literary-preparedness for artistic reasons.

Instead preparing for the unforeseen is a broad brush solution situation, where through preparations you have a raft of problem conquering tools available when the unexpected occurs.  Think more along a first aid kit concept, where you don’t know what injury might befall you or someone else, but the kit is intended to contain a flexible and viable tool set of responding in a positive way.

In this post I am not going to cover personal preparedness, but focus more on some amateur radio specifics that deserve our consideration.

Personal Safety – in addition to generalize personal safety issues, the radio amateur faces a couple extra issues.  First many of the agencies requesting our services are bluntly afraid of us, expect volunteers to turn out unarmed and dependent on what, if any, physical protection the agency provides.

Now think about this – this agency is requesting volunteers because it can’t handle a lower level communications need.  Can we expect them to have their physical security well sorted out?  Hardly think so.

In the end you are ALWAYS responsible for your own security in life.

There are several ways to handle the unprepared served-agency issue – ignore their request that you serve unprepared either or side-step their request by gaining other authority to be prepared.  In many radio amateurs’ cases they either quietly defend themselves unbeknownst to the served-agency or obtain an unchallengable personal right to self-defense by becoming a deputy.  Some become reserve deputies with the idea that if they deploy first to their radio served-agency they would be unlikely to be diverted to serve elsewhere.

There is a third method that I’ve heard discussed, to bring your own security team.

Lastly in physical security you have to consider what security is being provided for the rest of your family.  There is no point in being off with a served-agency if your family will be at risk.

Reports vs Propaganda – Much of what a served-agency desires in their communications network is “control.”  Control has good reasons, such as reducing panic or population flight to even higher risk scenarios, but the other edge of the sword is that control often leads to varying levels of manipulation.  This may range from obscuring the actual situation – say reporting at the agency’s request that “45 have died” in a disaster knowing that the numbers are actually 45-hundred (4,500) by agency reporting “code” to outright propaganda.

As much of our communications are “in the clear” subject to anyone listening in, agencies will certainly endeavor to manage the information leakage.

As a radio operator you will need to decide if you’re okay playing their information game, or not.

Most likely you will be limited/prohibited in much of private usage of your own gear.  You might be able to use your own gear to communicate with your family and friends.

Knowing that much of your communications can be overheard, some hams have created a signal code that their families and other trusted people can understand.  Everything from specific words being included into their messages to indicated if the message was under duress or inaccurate, to deliberate typos in digital work.

If you cannot abide by the introduced distortion and possible propaganda you need to have a a plan.  Do you withdraw serving if things go sketchy?  Can you and will they let you?  Or do you communicate only if reporting in accuracy?  Or do you also communicate a backstory or send signals?

Preparing as an Independent – If you decide to go “Freecom” where you take personal initiative to be prepared for a communication emergency while avoiding entanglement with conventional Emcom/EmGov organizations, your preparedness responsibility falls squarely on your own back.

This responsibility goes beyond the radio, as you will be on your own to secure your own logistics.

But is that a bad thing?  What risks have you ignored if you are dependent on Emcom/EmGov to provide logistics for you?  And what happens when they either cannot or will not provide them?

Truly in the end the responsibility is always the individual’s.

An axis of manipulation organizations use to control volunteers is making the organization’s support of the volunteer conditional.  Now this is somewhat nuanced, as any organization has finite resources and a need to maintain organizational control.  Kind of an on-team/off-team sort of scenario.

Where it gets sketchy is when the organizational coordination becomes blackmail.  Where you get told to do something morally, legally, or just “wrong” or your support will be withdrawn.

Remember that many of the leaders you will be asked to serve under are desktop scenario survivors without actual leadership experience.  Leadership opportunities may be given, but actual leadership is earned.

Back to Freecom, in addition to your radios – if you choose to use them for other than your own needs – you will need every other basic:  Security, Shelter, Food/Water, Sanitation, Power and so on.

If you are taking care of your family preparation responsibilities you most likely have this already in hand.

If not you have some work to do.  There are plenty of resources to help you think through the preparations for an emergency you should consider.

Consider avoiding consultative resources that are cliquey or dominated by aggressive personalities.  One peer-contributed resource worth checking out is which is curated by a team led by an Army Veteran who has penned numerous books on the topic.

On resource books they tend to divide themselves into:

  • Military FM type and Military-Style “Manuals”
  • Personal Accounts
  • Fiction with a Preparedness lesson
  • Subtopic Specific References
  • Book of Lists (data dump)

Perhaps in another post I can cover some of these resources.



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