An Action Plan for an Extended Communications Failure

Communication Conditions

No event Likely


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ComCon 5: No Event Likely.

This is life as it is normally lived. Now is the time to perfect the system. Take time to test and evaluate equipment and procedures. Get the gear together and be sure it will be operational when needed. But always be ready to jump instantly to ComCon 1-Activate. Some disasters give no warning.

The components of this level are:

So lets take them one by one and study them in detail.

ComCon 5: No Event Likely: Normal use of equipment.

Use the equipment that you are planning to implement during a disaster. This will point up problems in training and equipment shortcomings.

Gloria and I use our radios very frequently. We hike a lot and our protocol is to turn them on as we leave the camper. Most of the time we are pretty close together so it seems silly to keep the radios on. However we sometimes wander apart and loose track of each other, or we are within sight but we would have to yell. The radios, running in the lowest power setting and with very short rubber duck antennas have proven their usefulness. Plus we gain experience in how long the batteries last, what kind of range we can expect, and in general hone our skills at using the equipment.

We also turn on a cross-band repeater. While we hike I make frequent checks, calling Gloria via the repeater although we are only a short distance apart. We use sub-audible tones to control things, a technique we will discuss later.

The point is to use the equipment and challenge yourself to develop skills and gear that will work in your situation. Your conditions are unique and so your solutions must be unique.

ComCon 5: No Event Likely: Continually refine ComPlan as conditions change.

Things change constantly. People change their phone numbers, e-mail addresses and your subscription services (internet, cell service etc.) change. Keep on top of those changes by having a list that you can easily edit and re-print as needed. Keep your information current.

I keep an information sheet in my wallet. It has all the information that I think will be important during a GRID DOWN event. Over time I have become very familiar with its contents. Not in detail, but when I encounter a new piece of information, or notice something has changed, it is easy to make a note on the sheet. When it gets too messy, or too out of date, I make changes and print another copy. One for Gloria and one for me.

ComCon 5: No Event Likely: Research.

New techniques are always being developed. New equipment becomes available. Keep looking for ways to improve your ComPlan. Test new ideas and evaluate potential improvements.

I enjoy messing with the equipment and increasing my skills. So looking for ways to improve my preparations. It might be a new antenna or perhaps someone introduces me to a new technique. But I keep looking. Besides the obvious value, it has added a new dimension to my Ham Radio hobby. Having a definite purpose and firm goals makes it much more interesting.

However equipment is not the only issue. I began a casual study of the power and data grid that serves my area. The result was instrumental in increasing my GRID DOWN data preparations. Turns out that the remote part of the desert where we spend the winter is served by one fiber with no redundant links. It runs about 120 miles through some very remote areas. Without that fiber, Cell Phone, Data and most internet linked services like ATM's and charge cards will not work. It serves a huge area, so the failure could be wide spread. No driving down the road to the next town to use the credit card for fuel or groceries.

Do some research on your area. Look at your power and data grids, their source and distribution system.

ComCon 5: No Event Likely: Training:

The military has found that when stressed, people operate at their MINIMUM level of training. You can't expect yourself or others to be at their best game after a disaster. Training establishes competency. Raise that minimum level to one that is acceptable for your needs.

Experience is the best teacher. It is a worn out cliché, but it is very true. Now is the time to “play with the toys”. Learn your equipment and its (and your) capabilities and limitations. Cross-band operation has always interested me. So I am always testing new ways to use it and to “stress” my technique.

Many years ago we were camping in a very rural part of Maine. Gloria was continually traveling about seeing family and friends. So I created a network of 3 cross-band radios. One in our camper, one on family property which happened to be a very high hill, and one in our truck. Using a very low powered HT's, we could communicate even if Gloria was in someones house deep in a valley 20 miles away. Worked great.

We had to wait a second for the link to come up. After all it was going from my HT to the camper, to the hill, to the truck, to Gloria's HT. Then when I released the PTT, she would transmit and the whole thing would reverse. No problems with bad audio or distortion etc. And because all the radios were operating at low power the batteries lasted a very long time. After several days, I did “cheat” and hooked a charger to the system on the hill. But the camper was solar powered and the one in the truck ran off of an auxiliary battery that was charged with the truck alternator. We used it for several months.

Another interest of mine at the time was Search and Rescue and I was involved for many years. Our group often volunteered to do safety for a large international canoe race along a very remote river in northwestern Maine. It was a communications challenge because the river ran in a deep, twisting canyon. By placing cross-band radios set in remote control mode, the net control could activate any or all of the repeaters which were positioned to see both the net control repeater and the individual group it served deep in the canyon. It worked very well and over the years the technique has been refined so that now, linking and controlling remote repeaters is common. Details of this set-up will be provided in the training section.

So now is the time to learn the capabilities of your equipment and to train yourself and your group.

ComCon 5: No Event Likely: Equipment Acquisition:

So you discovered some new item. As you add new things or techniques, remember that the ComPlan may change accordingly. Be sure to update the plan and make sure all involved are aware of any changes.

Some of the techniques we will demonstrate need radios with specific attributes. The ability to transmit on UHF while receiving on VHF. DTMF autodial, CTCSS and DCS split operation and advance scanning techniques. If you intend to use the cross-band systems you will learn at QuartzFest 2014, then perhaps you will need to upgrade some of your equipment to be in compliance. Plan ahead and upgrade as needed.

ComCon 5: No Event Likely: Routine Maintenance of Equipment:

Check batteries. I keep a database of the last charge and recharge on a schedule. At the moment I have 18 batteries that cycle through my equipment. I created a simple database on my smart phone which keeps track of them and warns me when the ones in storage need to be re-charged or tested. Sure it is a hassle remembering to update the list and to do the recharging/testing when needed, but consider the alternative. When I need them, they will be ready. I cycle them through the operating equipment and therefore I am relatively sure they will perform as intended when I need them. Batteries are a core item. Without them, things don't work. Simple as that. Keep 'em charged and in good condition.

Inspect equipment for damage. Repair or replace.

This is another advantage of using your equipment. Problems will be discovered and you will have the opportunity to repair or replace. Sometimes you will decide to upgrade equipment because of a discovered weakness. Cables, buttons and batteries are all problem points. And I mean REALLY INSPECT your gear. Small cracks in insulation are hard to see. Loose screws always fall out over mud puddles. When you are too tired to do anything else, grab a piece of gear and examine it.

You want to be familiar with your gear so that when something begins to fail, you notice it in time to do something about it. Catastrophic failures must be avoided. INSPECT, INSPECT, INSPECT!

ComCon 5: No Event Likely: Audit kits.

Kits are groups of equipment that are focused on a specific purpose. I try to make them as simple as possible and bring several together when needed, rather than make one kit do everything. I have kits inside of kits like Russian puzzle dolls. Now is the time to find out what works for you. Perhaps you like the “one kit for all needs” approach. Whatever the format, it is important to decide what is needed and what is not.

That is why training is so important. It helps you understand the tasks and what may be needed to accomplish them. We will get into the “how” of kits in the Storage section. For now, as you practice keep track of what you use. Then find something to put that stuff in. In time, the physical aspects of the kit, size, construction, robustness etc. will define itself. It is all part of training and now you have the time to do it. So do it.

As you create a kit, be sure nothing goes missing. If something is missing, make a note (IOU) and put a copy in a prominent place in the kit. I mark the outside of the kit when something has been removed or otherwise needs attention. See the section about Storage for some ideas.

ComCon 5: No Event Likely: Find Your DEMARK Jack.

The DEMARK jack is the dividing point between what the telephone company is responsible for and what you are responsible for. It is usually on the outside of your house. There is a test point inside. In some cases you oen the box and remove a plug and insert a POTS (Plain Old Telephone Set), in others you open a second door and a socket is exposed. Read the directions as there are many types and they are all a bit different.

Plug in a POTS (Plain Old Telephone Set) and make a call. Know how to do this. If your house is flooded, or damaged, you may still have phone service at the Demark jack. Don't forget to plug it back in or none of your phones will work. Usually there is some place where the POTS can be plugged in.

If you have a problem with your phone, the TelCo will frequently tell you to plug a POTS in the Demark. If it works, then the problem is on your side. If not, then it is a TelCo problem. If you can't find it, or you can't see how to use it, contact the TelCo for help. They will be glad to inform you about how to locate it and how to use it. Your being able to correctly diagnose where a problem is, on your side, or on their side, saves them a lot of hassle.

After you learn about your DEMARK jack, check with the Telephone Company and see if you can forward your calls from that jack. If your house is destroyed, you can still make calls or forward your number to another number.

NEXT: ComCon4: Event Probable.

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