Sunday, December 5, 2010

Survival Communications - The Dead Zone

Modern technology has made it possible to communicate with others at anytime and from anywhere. Being able to communicate with others on an instant basis is now a part of the everyday lifestyle of many people. The use of cell phone technology has made this ease of communication possible but it does have its limits and its problems that can affect everyone. These problems and limits can affect both those living in either an urban or a rural setting.

Most problems that occur with cell phone communications in an urban setting are usually short term. The major problem in an urban setting is the dreaded “network busy” that shows up on your cell phone. As more and more people depend on cell phone communications, the “network busy” problem seems to be occurring on a more frequent basis as that dependence grows. Communication problems can be even more frustrating in a rural setting.

Many people experience “dropped calls” from time to time whenever they enter a “dead zone” or an area where they are out of range of a cell phone tower. For most urban dwellers, this is only a minor inconvenience. If you happen to live in a rural area that is a “dead zone”, then you have a different type of problem that affects your lifestyle on a daily basis.

The first problem you have is that you are still dependent on a “land line” for your basic communication needs. Even a simple mechanical break-down on a freeway can leave you without the ability to communicate. Cell phones just don’t work in a “dead zone” and unless you are able to walk or drive a number of miles to get out of that “dead zone” you are going to have problems.

If you are unlucky enough to live in a “dead zone”, you can take a simple step to eliminate some of the problems you may experience. While your most basic communication problem can be solved with a “land line”, most people in rural settings spend a great deal of their time outdoors whenever possible and may simply not be in a position to respond.

The simple solution to this problem is to always make sure that someone knows where you are going, what you are doing and how long you intend to be gone or when you will be back. Always check in with someone or have them call to check on you. Should you have an accident or suffer a serious health problem you may be out of luck otherwise. If they don’t know where you are, what you’re doing and when you plan to be back, you are sorely tempting fate when it comes to your survival.

The best form of communication is that done in advance of a problem before that communication becomes critical to your survival.

Staying above the water line!



chinasyndrome said...

RW,good info!


riverwalker said...

To: chinasyndrome

It's probably a good idea to remember that that technology has its problems and you should prepare for those situations as well.

Thanks c/s.


idahobob said...

Ha! Don't have no stinkin' cell phones, won't have no stinkin' cell phones.

Amateur radios, either hand held or permanent installation.

Whenever we travel, we let ALL of our family were we are a goin' to be.



riverwalker said...

To: idahobob

Sounds like you've got it under control. Keeping people informed of your plans is important.

Thanks bob.


Anonymous said...

Well, I had a reply, but I cannot get it to less than 8605 characters.

I guess I need to work on my communication skills.

Zeroman in TX

riverwalker said...

To; Zeroman in TX

Sure hope you don't do a lot of

Thanks Zeroman.


Anonymous said...

OK, well I decided I could not keep quiet, so I am going to break this into three replies...hope you don't mind.

Communication is pretty high on my priority list. Especially during a survival situation, whether created by man, or by nature.

With technology today, there are those who have never had to rely on anything other than their trusted cell phone for communication. This leaves most Twentysomethings and younger "out in the cold" for backup communication should infrastructure go down, or degrade.

Communication has always been a focus. In Scouting we learned semifore signalling, Morse Code, Sign Language, and Ham Radio. I would be lying if I told you I remembered it all, but it instilled in me a deep rooted desire to always have a way to get in touch with those I love and care for.

Cell Phones – Everyone depends on them. But what if the infrastructure goes down, or is degraded? During hurricane Rita the cell service in Houston was overloaded, and it was impossible to get a call through. Guess what? Did you know that Text Messaging uses less bandwidth, and has a higher priority in most cell systems. If you can't get through with a call, you will probably get through with a text. Cell providers prioritize calls and texts from their clients higher than calls and texts from cell users from other providers. That means if you are on your provider's tower, your call goes to the front of the line while another cell provider's call gets a lower priority. Of course, you dont' know what tower you are routing through, but it does explain how sometimes calls are slow to connect, or your call gets dropped.

Home Security and cell phones - Did you know that cell phones will dial 911 even though they have been “turned off” by the provider, as in you have upgraded your phone, and your old one is sitting in a drawer? Be aware that as cell systems get upgraded, some older phones will not work. You can check with your provider to verify your older phone compatibility. I have several older cell phones on their chargers in rooms around the house for emergencies. Can't get to the other room because of a fire, or an intruder blocking your way? Well, you can get to a phone. There are other security measures which need to be addressed so you are able to defend yourself should it be required, or exit your home should you need to. But that is another subject for another post.

Land Lines - Land Lines are not what they used to be. The old Land Lines are a stand alone hardwired system that very rarely ever went down. Most people have gone the way of the future – Voice Over Internet Protocol. Magic Jack, Vonage, ATT Uverse, Comcast to name a few. A few months ago we switched to a VOIP phone service at the house, so the true Land Line is now dead. No power, No internet...No internet, No phone. I miss those days of the 24v rotary dial phones.

Home Security Systems – Most are connected to the home phone sevrice, but this is problematic with the whole, No Power, No Internet...No Internet, No Phone issue. Our home security system is a cell phone system with a battery backup. If the cell towers go out, then your security system goes down. Hopefully the security system will never be required, but with the higher number of home invasions and burglaries these days, the chances of it being used for its intended purpose are constantly increasing.


Anonymous said...

Reply number 2....

Citizen Band Radios - My brother and I dabbled in CB radios. An old Johnson Whiteface tube and crystal controlled six channel radio gave us hours of entertainment and our parents hours of annoyance. With the introduction of chip controlled radios the quality of the radios pulled me back into "the fold". I was "East bound and down" with the rest of the CB junkies. Then the solar activity increased, Mobile Phones started surfacing, and the CB craze died. I kept my best rig and stuck it in the closet. Then I met the love of my life, eventually had our first child, and bought our first house.

That first year in our house was when hurricane Alicia took dead aim on Houston. I dug the old CB out of the closet along with a Yeasu FRG-7 shortwave receiver, known as the FROG. I loaded the pickup with camping gear, the BBQ pit, siutcases, etc, and installed the CB and mobile antenna. I setup a makeshift single wire HAM antenna in the back yard, and we hunkered down.We listened to HAM Radio Operators all night long. They would report wind speed, temperature, and most importantly, barometric pressure. I was able to plot the direction of Alicia, and I even knew where it was going before the TV stations would report on its location.

My old rig would not power up the last time I got it out, so I broke down and bought two new ones. A Galaxy 959 and a Texas Ranger TRE- 966FFC. I have updated my mobile antennas, and still have several old base station antennas should the need arise.

Shortwave Radios – Shortwave receivers are great for figuring out what is going on in the world. Most days you can pick up broadcasts from all over the world. I still have the FROG and a newer, smaller Grundig Multiband. The most important item is the antenna. The better the antenna, the better the signal. I have always been partial to the single wire antenna. Just one long single wire that runs from the radio to its termination. The length of the antenna affects its reception as radio waves are of different lengths. Example – 10 meter Ham frequencies. The distance between the peaks of the radio wave is 10 meters, and so on. There are calculations to shorten an antenna to work at a shorter length. Take 140 meter – could you imagine an antenna 140 meters long? Where would you run it? It has to be shorter.

You can actually use your computer as a Shortwave Receiver. There are many websites available. Just punch up the website, pick a frequency, and away you go.


Anonymous said...

Last one, I promise....

Ham Radios – Ham radios come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges. You have to have a license from the FCC to legally run one of these. There are several levels of licensing requiring a decent amount of study and testing. Depending on the frequency and output power you can talk around the world on these radios. I personally don't have one of these, but in a SHTF scenario they would would be highly desirable – legal, or not. These rigs can range from hundreds to the thousands.

FRS & GMRS Radios – FRS stands for Family Radio Service. GMRS stands for Ground Mobile Radio Service. They both use frequencies in the 462-468 MHz range. There are many 2-way radios now which are both FRS and GMRS. These are the small personal radios you can pick up for $30 to $100. They utilize regular AA or AAA batteries, or rechargables. Great for short distance communication. I have several pairs of these.

Police and Emergency Band Scanners – lots of choices here. Again, like the Shortwave, you are only receiving, but the information you can obtain can be important. City, County, and State Emergency Services, as well as Volunteer Fire Departments, all have their own channels and repeaters. It can be pretty daunting trying to figure out what you need to program into your scanner so you can listen in your area. The more expensive scanners usually come with software and connect to your computer for programming. I found several of the local TV station's broadcasting frequencies on my scanner.

Broadcast Television – It used to be that all you needed was a TV and a set of Rabbit Ears. Not any more. It is estimated that almost 90% of all households have cable, satellite, or some other form of video input. Very few people still use over the air video reception. The advent of Digital TV has severly hampered ones ability to receive over the air TV signals. There are Digital antennas available, but the number of local channels and signal strength determines your reception. The old Sony Watchmans no longer work in Houston as all of the over the air signals are now digital. That sucks for when the power goes out now. Portable Digital TVs are available, and require an external antenna for best reception.

I recently bought a UBS based WinTV-HVR Hybrid TV Stick by Hauppauge. Basically it is a usb stick and software which allows you to receive and play Digital TV on your PC, Laptop, or Notebook computer. It also allows you to download your stored programs from your DVR to your computer. Then you can transfer to DVDs for storage. Input is either via cable or an over the air antenna. Therefore, in the case of power failure, you can still receive TV signals as long as you have battery power for you laptop.
It was either spend $100 for a Portable Digital TV, or $79 for the TV Stick. That choice was simple.

Well, I know I have left some things out, but I think that is enough for now.


Anonymous said...

OOPS, one last item....

Satellite Phones - They work virtually anywhere as long as you have a view of the sky. The downside is the cost. These are fairly expensive, but there seem to be more providers for the service each year.

Anyway, thanks for such an interesting blog. I enjoy the topics and the "fresh" ideas.


Tom Wolff said...

Yep, I'll echo what the others have said: Amateur/Ham radios. Best bet.

A Tech license is easy to earn and a
little HT that works out of your vehicle can be as cheap as $120 with a mag mount antenna.

Jus' sayin'...

Tom, - 73

riverwalker said...

To: Zeroman

Great info! Thanks for taking the time to post the additional information. I'm sure everyone will appreciate your efforts.

Might even need to have you do a guest post on this topic...I'm not real knowledgeable in this field and usually have to rely on family and friends for such great advice.

Thanks Zeroman!


riverwalker said...

To: Tom

Thanks for including a cost estimate on a setup. That's good to know...especially for people on a tight budget.

Thanks Tom.


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