Prepping and Ham Radio

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The Need for Information During a Disaster
Probably the most important item during a local or national emergency is information. A good emergency plan should include the monitoring of TV, the internet and radio—especially the radio. The serious prepper should consider getting an amateur (ham) radio and license, even if he doesn’t intend to join in any ‘rag chewing sessions’ with fellow hams. Understanding the nature of radio waves and how radio antennas work can make a huge difference in the collection of information. No license is required for listening. None is required for the purchase of a radio. A license is required only when you transmit, and then you are restricted to specific frequencies, the mode of operation and the power of the radio signal.

Spaced between the blocks of radio frequencies reserved for Amateur Radio, there are a huge number of radio stations: BBC, Radio Havana Cuba, Radio Moscow, Radio Netherlands International, and WWCR in Nashville. For that reason, you might be content to just be a listener. Each radio frequency has its own characteristic. Some work best in the day. Some work better at night.

After Hurricane Iniki hit Hawaii in 1992, a ham, in search of other projects, found rural areas that had not received any radio broadcasts and had yet to receive aid. He was able to restore communications for a fire station with a makeshift antenna and a garbage can lid as a ground plane. (If you don’t know what a ground plane, then you need to learns more about antennas.)

Amateur radio operators are assigned to certain designated frequencies ranging from 1900 KHz (1,900,000 cycles) on the 160 meter band up to 1270 MHz (1,270,000,000 cycles) on the 23 centimeter band. However, for now, I will limit myself to the 2 meter VHF band (Very High Frequency) and Short Wave HF (High Frequency band ranging from 80 meters to 10 meters).

VHF Radio

VHF (Very High Frequency) radios required a Technician Amateur Radio License. These are the hand held radio or most radios mounted in vehicles. Hams also call them 2 meter radio because it makes them look smart and it also indicates that the radio wave length happens to be two meters long (80 inches).

They work for short range communications, which means ‘line-of-sight’. To legally use them, you need an Amateur Radio Technician License and a radio costing between $70 to $400. To get greater range, amateur radio clubs will build repeaters and mount the antenna on something tall, such as a water tower, building or even some companie’s cell phone tower (with permission). The repeater receives the signal from the hand held radio and retransmits it on another frequency.

So, here’s how this works. If I want to talk to someone on my hand held radio and he is not line-of-site from me, I will transmit on frequency ‘A’ with 4 watts of power. The repeater, which is on a tower, receives the signal and retransmits it on frequency ‘B’ with 20 watts of power. My friend, who is also line-of-site of the tower, received the transmission on frequency ‘B’. When he replies, he transmits on frequency ‘A’. The repeater does what it does and I listen on frequency ‘B’.

This is called duplex mode. It greatly extends the 2 meter radio’s effective range. It also means that if there is a massive power outage, the repeater might not be working. Some repeaters have batteries but they have a limited life.

When the repeaters are no longer working, you can switch to simplex mode, that is, you listen and transmit on the same frequency, but with a shorter working range. 146.520 MHz is the national simplex frequency. Most hand held 2 meter radios can also serve as a police/medical/firefighter scanners, which can provided a wealth of information.

HF Radio

The next step up is HF (High Frequency) radio, also called short wave, which requires a General Amateur Radio License. This is the radio that allows you to talk all over the world by bouncing radio wave off the upper atmosphere. There is an art to doing this and hams will spend years perfecting this art. Understanding the principles of radio and radio propagation will give you a big head start in learning what’s happening in the world even if you never choose to get a license.

You can get a HF Radio receiver for $50 and a transmitter starting at $200. These radios are usually confined to a location such as your basement, garage or the room you designate as your ‘radio shack’, partly because of the size and partly because a good antenna is quite large. One of mine is 110 feet long and is strung between two trees. The other antenna is called a Yagi and it looks like a giant TV antenna. It is possible to have a HF radio in a vehicle but the antenna is significantly compromised.

When the 1995 earthquake hit Los Angeles and knocked out electrical power in Idaho, Wyoming and Washington, with my shortwave antenna, I was able to pick up a commercial AM radio station that was 200 miles away and I learn much about the quake in California.

A Radio Little History

When radio waves were discovered, it was obvious that there were a limited number of frequencies. Most communications, like from ship to shore, were on LW (Low Frequency). Commercial radio was on MF (Middle Frequency), such as your AM radio (530 KHz (566 meters) to 1600 KHz (187 meters)). The amateurs were given a useless part of the spectrum called short wave. That’s back when they thought 80 meter waves were short and 10 meter waves were even shorter. It was the amateurs that discovered they could bounce waves off the atmosphere and thereby talk around the world. Then the communication people wanted their short wave frequencies back. Since then technology has developed VHF (Very High Frequency), UHF (Ultra High Frequency), SHF (Super High Frequency), EHF (Extremely High Frequency) and finally, VUSEHF (Very Ultra Super Extreme High—no, I’m just making one this up). Organizations such as ARRL have had to fight to keep hold of their small portion of the broadcast spectrum. (If you go even further up the spectrum, you get to radar, microwave, infrared, visible light, ultra violet, x-Rays, and gamma rays.)

Getting Started

To start, go to, click on the ARRL Store and get the ARRL Ham Radio License manual. If you have a good local library, you could borrow one there or borrow one from another ham. This book will teach you many interesting things. It contains the test question pool and their answers for the Technician License. You only have to answer 30 questions, you just don’t know which 30. After that, you can go for the General License with ARRL’s General Class License Manual or take the General Course on line.

You’ll need to find a club. From, select What’s Popular: Clubs. Put in your locations and you’ll get a list of Amateur Radio Clubs. Or you can click on Exams. The clubs are the guys that administer the test, but you don’t need to be a member to participate.

Amateur Radio operators are a gregarious group. They are mostly males, older and they are a disappearing breed. No one is quite sure why there are so few women because any woman who shows an interest in ham radio will get a lot of attention. (I guess it is similar to the question of why women don’t like football.) The club members will answer question, loan equipment and help you solve technical type problems. These were the guy that handled much of the communication during the Hurricane Katrina recovery and they did it at their own expense.

And it is a lot of fun.

73 (Ham talk for ‘Best Regards’)

E R Haroldsen  N7TDX

Additional Note: Ham Radio and CB Radio

Ham radio operators have a soft spot for CB radio operators and that is usually out behind the barn where the digging is easy. Hams like to refer to CB radio as ‘11 meters’. CD operators have their own language which hams will not use. (You don’t call me ‘good buddy’ and I won’t puke.) CB operators have ‘handles’. Hams have call signs. Transmit a question on CB radio and fifty people will answer all at the same time. Ham radio has protocol and discipline that allows people to take their turn and communicate effectively. All Amateur radio operators have a certain obligation to help during an emergency.

During a network exercise or during an emergency, a net controller allows people to speak only after they have permission. The amateur radio call sign has a specific format. Tell a ham that you are L59JY and he will know you are a phony. You can’t even adopt one when you know the format because hams also have a ‘phone book’. Give your call sign and they will know your name, address, which license you have and when you got it.

A CB transmits with 4 watts of power and is legally limited to 50 miles—thought some operators cheat. A typical hand held ham radio transmits with about 4 watts. With mine, I could hit a repeater 60 miles away. A car mounted 2 meter radio transmits with about 20 watts of broadcast power. A typical HF rig will transmit with 100 watts of power but in some cases can legally transmit much as 1500 watts.

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The Prepper Philosophy

Last week I posted a question related to ammunition. I got many answers, most completely unrelated to the question I had actually asked. This motivates me to talk about the philosophy of prepping.

Simply, a good prepper follows the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared —Be prepared for anything — Be prepared for everything.

The first step in prepping is to assess what are the potential problems. My list is long. It includes heart attacks, nose bleeds, broken arms, unemployment, floods, and severe weather. I mention these specific ones because they are events I have had to live through. I’ve loaded several co-workers into an ambulance, lived down stream when the Teton Dam broke and I’ve been snowbound while at work on three occasions. None of these were big problems because I was prepared.

A good assessment will be extensive, will consider the probability that a particular event will happen, its magnitude and how much effort and money would be needed to prepare for that problem. It also takes into consideration training and professional skills. I have several radiacs (Geiger counters). I seldom recommend that anyone get them. The difference being that I am an expert on radiation exposure. I can look at the radiation meter and know whether I have a big problem or a little problem.

About fire arms: In my case, I’ve decided they are very low on my list of prepping needs. My evaluation shows that the need is small for my position, location and situation. My sister has done a similar evaluation and has bought multiple weapons and is taking the training to use them. I agree with her evaluation because she is in a much different situation. She is a target. I am not.

I think about M. Davison who said to a group of us, “You think there will be a big event and everything will be gone. Let me tell you what it was like from someone who had to live through one of these. (He had been in Holland during the German occupation.) You go to buy shoes and there are no shoes for sale; so you put newspaper in your shoes to make them last. Then one day you can’t get newspaper. Things disappeared one at a time.”

I think about a friend of mine who was invited to be part of a prepper group. They show him their collection of firearms. It was impressive and included 50 caliber. Then they showed him their food supply. It was small. He said, “Guys, you’ve built Fort Knox but you don’t have anything inside.”

I think about prepper Steven Harris (< HYPERLINK “; > ) who preaches that it is easier to feed your neighbor than to shoot him.

I think about the disaster in Sarajevo where weapons and ammo were essential, but that is not typical. In most survival situations that I’ve read about, they were not. Then again, we’ve never been faced with potential problems of the magnitude that we face now.

The image of a prepper with guns and bullets sitting in his bunker with a stack of MRE’s can only be valid for the first few days. In a total societal collapse, there will be the need for cooperation and the building of alliances and the establishment of business.

So basically, I’m saying all these things must be done in perspective and balance. Each situation will be different and each answer will be different.

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Radioactive Iodine and why you don’t need to be ‘that’ concerned

The information about the use of potassium iodine for radiation protection would be easier to understand with a few facts.

Radioactive iodine, specifically iodine-131 is a product of an operating nuclear reactor or a nuclear bomb. That’s about the only place you will find it. It has an 8 day half-life in which it decays to Xenon 131, a stable isotope. Keep that 8 day half-life in mind. It is a very important fact.

During a nuclear event, radioactive iodine is produced and iodine can easily go airborne. While airborne, the body can easily absorbs it. The body sends that iodine directly to the thyroid where it can concentrate and do much damage.

Now here’s where the potassium iodine (KI) becomes useful. The thyroid holds a maximum quantity of iodine, something like 5 milligrams. If a person takes a dose of 100 milligrams before the radioactive iodine is absorbed from the air, then there is no room for it in the thyroid. (All the parking spaces are filled.) All excess iodine is eliminated from the body through the urine. That’s why KI is called a ‘blocking agent’.

Now, about that 8 day half-life: The clock on the half life begins at the moment of the reactor shutdown or the bomb explosion. From that time on, the amount of iodine-131 drops in half every eight days. Notice that the packs of KI tablets includes only 14 tablets. After 14 days, most of the iodine is gone or been so diluted in the air that it is no longer a problem.

The accident at Three Mile Island did not release iodine-131 to the environment because the staff had added chemicals to the coolant water to catch it, also, silver control rods in the reactor combined with the iodine to form silver iodine. (They didn’t plan it that way—it was just a lucky coincident.) Chernobyl did release iodine. One week after the accident in Idaho we were able to measure it with sensitive instruments. We didn’t worry. The quantity was so small that exposure was insignificant. Besides, we were getting much higher exposures from naturally occurring radon gas, which we also monitored.

I was retired when the Fukushima accident occurred so I can only guess that the guys measured that iodine but I’m sure it wasn’t something to be concerned about. Now, three years later, you can be sure all the iodine-131 is gone.

There was one time when I did find a significant iodine-131 source. I happened to walk into the office of an operating nuclear reactor with my radiation meter under my arm. It started to make a lot of noise. One of the staff leaned over my direction and asked if anything was wrong. The rad level shot up and the other people in the room started to laugh. As it turned out this guy measured 85 millirem (850 microsievert) due to a medical injection of iodine-131 which he had received to treat a medical problem. That’s when I joined the laughter.

E R Haroldsen, retired Health Physicist (radiation control)

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Food Storage Planning

If you don’t have room for food storage in your house, use your garage.

Heh, heh, heh, heh. What a stupid suggestion.

Church recommendations have included advice on growing gardens, having orchards, and raising livestock. When I lived in Idaho, our extended family had all of these things. I’m not part of that any more. I’ve tried growing stuff around my house and failed miserably. Technically, I could move to Idaho. There is room for me on the family farm. I don’t have employment that holds me in Pennsylvania, but I’m not going to go. My work is here.

There are people who do not have money or space for an extensive food storage program, but that’s okay. The Lord who understands all things will bless those who do all that they can do to keep his commandments.

Remember how the Lord fed the five thousand. This has happened for real in our generation.

I was living in Idaho Falls in 1976, when the Teton dam broke and poured billions of gallons of water into the Snake River Valley. In Rexburg at Ricks College (now BYU Idaho), people stood on the hill and watched houses float by. Ricks College was not in session but the school opened the cafeteria and fed everybody that showed up. There wasn’t enough food but they did it anyway:

They had a donations of juice, bread, lunchmeat and milk stacked on the dock. Workers proceeded to dispense these items, as well as fresh fruit to thousands, yet the stacks of food did not diminish. That happened for days. One dock worker said he was going to count the milk, bread and juice and check it against what they were giving out. He was advised against it for fear that the Lord might suddenly withhold his blessing.  (Page 174-5, That Day In June, Reflections of the Teton Dam Disaster, Edited by Janet Thomas and others, Ricks College Press, 1977).

In April 1976, Vaughn Featherstone spoke in general conference about getting a food supply. He told several ways to do it. He also answered some other significant questions:

Do we share our food?

No, we don’t have to share—we get to share! Let us not be concerned about silly thoughts of whether we would share or not. Of course we would share! What would Jesus do? I could not possibly eat food and see my neighbors starving. And if you starve to death after sharing, “greater love hath no man than this …” (John 15:13.) (Featherstone, Ensign, May 1976)

Do we have to have weapons to protect our food?

Now what about those who would plunder and break in and take that which we have stored for our families’ needs? Don’t give this one more idle thought. There is a God in heaven whom we have obeyed. Do you suppose he would abandon those who have kept his commandments? He said, “If ye are prepared, ye need not fear.” (D&C 38:30.) (Featherstone, Ensign, May 1976)

What about laws against food storage.

From what I’ve read, the ban against food storage exist mostly in tropical climates where a large amount of food is a source of infestation.

So in the end, you evaluate your own situation. You start with a 3 day supply, then a month supply, then 3 months, etc.

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How To Start Your Home Food Storage

There are three approaches to getting a food supply. The correct plan for your family is probably a combination of the three.

 1-         Buy about 450 pounds of wheat, oats, beans and rice per person. This will give you enough calories to keep you alive and that is about all. These can be stored almost forever provide you protect it from heat and insects. If you still have it in 40 years, you can throw it out and think of it as the insurance policy that you didn’t collect on.

 2-         Buy freeze dried food, MRE’s and such from companies specializing in food storage. This is expensive and I’ve done very little of it.

 3-         Buy what you eat and eat what you buy. This provides the most palatable solution. It is more complicated and impossible to do perfectly.

 When I go to the grocery store, I’m always looking for specials. The other day, Walmart was selling Hormel chili for a very low price. I bot two cases.

 When finding a bargain, I check the ‘sell by’ date, realizing that this date doesn’t mean the food will self-destruct on that day. It means some nutrition is lost. Then I do some math.

 Let’s say a can of tuna fish has an expiration date of December 2015. That’s about two years away. Let’s also say that our family eats about two cans per week. I’d be safe buying 200 cans of tuna.  That would be a bit much. For one thing, the store doesn’t have 200 cans of tuna and I don’t have space for them. I can see that 50 cans would be a good step forward and it would last me half a year.

 There are a few problems with this last method. If in two months, I might decide I don’t like tuna. What, then, am I going to do with those remaining 35 cans? Also, in a survival situation, I probably won’t limit myself to two cans per week.

 Beware—when a store sells food at extra low price, they are probably trying to clear out space for the next year. If I buy grain or beans in May, it is stock from the previous year.  That doesn’t mean I won’t buy it.

 Obviously, you won’t want to concentrate on one particular food. You want things to give you a more balanced diet plus. You’ll also want to consider soap, detergent, toothpaste, matches, batteries, garbage bags, duck tape and other nonfood items.

 On my computer I have a spread sheet listing key foods, a column for the count, a column for the number of calories in the can/box/bag. (Multiply the number of servings times the calories per serving). The spread sheets totals the number of calories and divides it by 4,000. (I assume 2,000 calories per person per day). The answer is roughly the number of days of survival.

 In the end, it is not so much what you do as that you do it. A poor choice is better than nothing, plus, you can always barter and trade your two cans of tuna for a can of Hormel chili.

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What’s He Up To?

  Some years ago, I was reading my scriptures when I got to wondering, “What is God up to?” I know the scriptures say that his work and glory is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Okay, but what is he “up to”? What does he do for fun? What makes him smile?

  At that moment, my grandson, Riley was playing with Grandma. We have a kitchen, connected to the dining room, which is connected to the living room, which is connected to the hall and then to the kitchen. It serves as a race track and Grandma and Riley were using it. He’d chase her and catch her, then she’d chase him and catch him. Sometimes one would double back and surprise the other, all mixed in with hysterical and loud laughter

  And suddenly, I knew exactly what God was “up to”. Basically, he’s a Dad and he likes doing thing with his kids. He smiles as they have fun and when they learn something. He doesn’t get to discover anything—he already knows everything but he likes to see us go through discovery, to grow and to progress. He likes to see us succeed and do well.

  That’s what makes him smile.

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Going Up or Going Down

Some years ago, when I ran the training program for some radiation control technicians, I ran simulated emergencies. For instance, a worker would pour simulated radioactive water into his boot, and the technicians had to correct the situation without contaminating the entire work area. We had vacuum cleaners break open, bottle shatter and bags explode, all with radiological consequences.

We ran these drills every week for a year and we kept score of people’s actions and the number of errors made. After several months, I noticed that the better people got better at responding to these contrived emergencies, the more errors they made. By the score card, we were getting worse. When we started, we might finding ten errors but as we progressed, we were finding 30 or 40 even 50 errors.

Puzzling. Upon closer review I saw we really were getting better.

For instance, if someone dropped the patient (a rubber dummy) down a flight of stairs, no drill observer would notice that he had been wearing the wrong gloves. Hence, one big error prevented people from noticing the many little errors. After months of drills, the technicians were handling the big problems correctly, which left the drill observers more time to note little errors, such as whether a person was called by his last name or if the proper numbers were on the report. We were picky, picky, picky.

Life is like that. While we strive to do better, at times we seem to be getting worse. Perhaps we now notice the little errors because we have advanced to where the little errors are the biggest things we need to worry about.

Maybe we really are getting better.

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