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The Keys To Effective Prepper Communication

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Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from S.S. Gregory. If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today.


Communication is imperative in survival situations. This article attempts to cover some of the basic pros and cons of various forms of communication and introduce the reader to some additions that should prove helpful in crisis and bug-out situations.

TWO WAY RADIOS: can come in handy when a group is out of direct visual range, they are simple to use and relatively lightweight. However, they can also give away your position. Not only are they noisy but the messages can be intercepted, and interference created.

Uniden Submersible 50 Mile FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radios with Charging Kit – Dark Grey

CB RADIOS: are a favorite for long distance truck drivers and can be used over short distances to converse when two way walkie talkies may not be an option. They can be mobile (in a vehicle) or stationary. Anyone on the same channel can hear the discussion, so definitely keep that in mind. Use coded messages, preferably phrases that sound like normal conversation, to ascertain if any allies are in your vicinity.

Uniden 40-Channel CB Radio

HAM RADIOS: are not as common as two way radios and CBs. They are more complicated to use, and in many areas you need special licenses to operate one with any significant level of power. They provide some added security because they are less likely to be used by amateurs. They are also a good way to transmit Morse Code. In a SHTF situation, where current regulations are no longer regarded, these will allow you to contact others across much greater distances.

Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio

HAND SIGNALS: have long been used by military forces to quietly communicate in tactical situations. This is both a benefit and a drawback. They only work if you are in formation and everyone has a clear line of sight. Many people already know some of the gestures, and for those that don’t, there are countless YouTube videos that demonstrate them and their meaning. Therefore, if you are inadvertently seen, you are also relaying your exact moves to the onlooker, potentially compromising the location of the rest of your team. A way out of this problem might be to create some variations that only your group is aware of. A particular motion that alerts your team that you have been seen, followed by whatever signal you want the opposition to think you are going to do next. This may work if you already have an agreed upon protocol for the scenario. Another option might be to completely switch them around, and create some of your own. Additionally, if you have a group of ten people, and only fully trust five, these unknown signs can be used to indicate when it is time to desert the others.

MORSE CODE: is one of the best forms of communication. Although the code itself is universal, the language you use is not. If anyone intercepts a message of “frog legs” they probably won’t know that the meaning might be to stay away from the pond, it has been compromised. The messages can be transmitted over airways, by light signals, or even in writing, or in the arrangements of rocks and sticks along a path. The real disadvantage of Morse is the level of difficulty. Learning the code is not for the faint of heart, or the memory impaired. I recommend creating short acronyms and memorizing them. BLB=bug out location B. NGC= no go, the area has been compromised etc.

SMOKE SIGNALS: can be a good way to advertise your location, if that is what you want to do. The color of the smoke, and the frequency and pattern of puffs can also be used to relay messages, but again, this only works if you don’t mind letting everyone know where you are.

COLORS: such as flags, can be used in lieu of hand signals when traveling in formation. Ribbons, paint, and chalk can be used to mark trees, buildings, or other landmarks as needed. Marking bags and gear by color can also be useful in case you quickly have to decide what to grab.

ANIMAL CALLS: are an alternative that can work well in a rural setting. Invaders may mistake them for the real thing, and/or be unfamiliar to the patterns of the native animal calls. In this manner you can effectively send basic messages across hostile territory without detection. Be sure your pattern is different enough from native species that you don’t misinterpret a real duck call as a message from your other party.

BOOBY TRAPS: that alert you to intruders are always a good idea. Some can be set up in such a way as to be widely seen. I’ve read of people who attach a charge to their trip wires that can set off a small firework. Marauders do not always have the intention of a hostile takeover, and there may be other bands of unpleasant characters wandering the area. Now everyone knows the location of the prowler. If you are forced to camp out and build a fire, keeping some black powder and smoke bombs on your person can be helpful. If your camp is ambushed, quickly throwing both into the fire creates a wall of smoke and flares, thus producing a useful diversion as well as an audible distress signal.

GRAFFITI: is a common sight in most urban areas, as it has long been used by misfits and gangs for marking territory (hence the name “tagging”). Knowing the meanings of certain tags can be useful. Having symbols of your own is also beneficial. In a situation where graffiti is popping up everywhere, a simple character hidden in a midst of urban art can communicate to the others in your party. Avoid using words or marks that are too obvious or easily counterfeited to avoid being led into a trap by imposters.

Hobo code.

HOBO CODE: is the simple pictographs etched into old telephone poles and drawn on buildings and railroad ties that vagrants who hopped trains utilized to identify if there were camps nearby or known friendlies/hostiles in the area. Many train station museums have examples of these signs and their meanings. Not many people are familiar with it, giving it a certain appeal. If you do attract actual wanderers, be sure you are set to deal with either hostility or recruiting them into your ranks. This is a possibility for those who have a loose association with other preppers and are only interested in full collaboration during an invasion or other ‘worst case scenario’. If you have such a set of connections, than learning this code will help these smaller cells find each other and form a more cohesive resistance.

RENDEZVOUS: points or another plan of action for when contact is lost should be a central element of all communication plans. Everyone in your group (be it your family or your entire neighborhood) needs to know how to reach one another in an emergency, what the signal or code means, and what to do if they lose contact. Practice makes perfect.

This is only a preliminary list, and is not meant to be all inclusive. It is important to assess your individual circumstances when developing your plan. Take into consideration which methods you have easy access to and can rely on.

Happy Prepping!

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  • Huples

    Wow. Clicked on the article thinking it would be the usual blah, blah. Excellent article and I have printed off copies of the hand signals, morse, and hobo signals for each BOB I have. Happy New Year and thank you

    • The usual Blah Blah?? 🙂 Happy New Years Huples! See you on the other side.

      • Huples

        On comms mate. On comms.

  • Joe

    You need a license to operate a ham radio with pretty much any level of power.

    In a SHTF situation, who’s gunna check your paperwork?

    • John Hertig

      You are correct that in a SHTF situation, enforcement of FCC regs will probably be minimal. However PRIOR to that time, many licensed hams hunt down violators for sport (fox hunt). And the penalties are quite expensive. This means that you won’t be able to learn how to use the equipment before you need to use it, which means it will me much less effective for you than it could be.

      Go ahead and get the license. You can do it in a week and for, I think, under $20.

      They do have handheld CB walkie-talkies. In addition, there are FRS (no license, very low power and fixed, crappy antennas), GMRS (license only requires paying the fee, and one license is good for the entire family), Marine (pretty much restricted to water and perhaps coasts), and MURS, which is another license free option

      • Bolofia

        John, For what it’s worth, I live roughly 350 miles inland from the left coast but pick up a fair amount of chatter on designated maritime port and ship frequencies. This traffic originates within 40 or 50 miles of my location. That tells me that persistent, unauthorized use of these frequencies is largely disregarded. I’m certainly not advocating that practice, but I will also say that I have programmed a maritime VHF and UHF channel on my handheld radios specifically for SHTF situations. MURS VHF frequencies are also a good choice for folks that have programmable radios.

        A point worth mentioning is that the only practical way to pinpoint the stationary source of a transmission is by direction-finding (DX). This requires not less that two fixed-base station operators to triangulate a location, or a mobile unit (ground or air) that is actively looking for you. I’ll leave it to the readers to assess how likely that would be if SHTF.

        The basic premise of this article is a good one. Conduct your communications in an operationally and tactically secure manner.
        Happy New Year to all.

        • John Hertig

          It would not surprise me if much of the tracking of unauthorized transmissions was performed by Hams rather than the FCC. And Hams might not bother with Marine frequencies because they are not licensed for them. I believe the Coast Guard has some jurisdiction over Marine usage too, but they are not likely to be operating much inland. So, what you have experienced is not a shock to me.

  • christopher

    Great article and often overlooked subject…one thing also to consider also is a book code. a real book or magazine, either with a overlay or #’s and paragraphs for a letter on each page. buy 3-4 books of the same, and give to your contacts just incase the radios are unusuable. more than likely in a serious sthf, radios may not work due to emp (unless you kept them in emp proof cage) or gov confiscate radios or will jam freq or may be using tracking vehicles to find radio transmissions. (as always, keep transmit power to mininum power as needed and transmissions short). if you do have radios , learn to use them… Ham radios are a bit more complex than FRS & GMRS. many CB finals get blown because of bad antennas. even if you dont know morse code, there are ways to decode the code with computer programs or code readers. (mfj makes one you can also learm code on MFJ-461). also, having a duress code is important in case your group is compromised.

    • bill

      I was taught morse code in the military back in the 50’s, and I still know it. Would be very slow now in copying , but its still in the brain. Usto be a lot of surplus military radio equipment around, but no one is interested what with cellphones etc. One day radio equipment will become very needed again. Just protect it from EMP

  • merryinfidel

    You need a license to operate ANY ham radio. No exceptions. There are free internet study guides with actual test questions on several different web sites (E-Ham.net is one). The actual test is 35 questions and costs 15 dollars. The tests are given locally all over the country and the license is good for 10 years. There are currently 3 levels; Technician, General and Extra. Morse code is no longer required to get licensed at any level. It’s well worth the investment and is a great hobby!

  • Priori_Tyes

    Only problem I see with Graffiti is it is covered up all the time in very urban areas. One day it is one thing, then someone comes along and re tags it with something else… carving into telephone poles and stuff though might work in that case.

  • Craig Carnahan

    Joe,

    During multiple disaster scenarios (Katrina, Sandy, wildfires, etc.), where I’m sure many folks affected thought of those events as a SHTF event, there were no mass unlicensed folks using the various ham radio repeaters, as hams would simply not allow it – unless the emergency traffic was actually life threatening, and even then, not for any extended period of time.

    Simply deciding to use an amateur radio repeater to extend the communications range of your prepper group (or family members) because YOU think it’s an emergency won’t cut it. No, the FCC van won’t roll up in front of your house, but the licensed hams in your area will take steps to ensure your group won’t be able to use the repeaters in your area, and they can do that remotely as well.

    Just like you shouldn’t purchase a gun or car and never learn to use them until you “need” it, planning to jump on ham radio frequencies without a license (and the practice that comes with it) is a bad idea for 99.99% of the prepper community, as your transmissions into the repeater can easily be blocked (and there goes your SHTF comm plan).

    Far better to plan (and practice) your comm requirements in advance, besides getting the beginning Tech license is so easy now 5 year old kids are doing it.