Archive for August, 2014

Why Now Is the Time to Get Your Ham License

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

preppers-emergency-communication

Most preppers get the idea that communication is an important capability to have during an emergency.

Despite this understanding though, few preppers have a solid communication plan in place beyond a few two-way walkie-talkie devices and the false hope that their cellphone will still function.

If that describes you (like it did me a few years ago), this article should hopefully open your eyes and inspire you to change that.

The Dangers of a Communication Blackout are Very Real

We take our ability to instantly communicate with others around the nation and the globe for granted. In reality though, the methods we depend on to communicate — internet and cellphone primarily — are extremely fragile.

One common theme you see in any widespread disaster (or even overcrowded sporting events) is that people are unable to make use of their cell phones for outgoing or incoming calls. We saw this with 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, as well as the Boston terrorist bombings.

This is just a small glimpse into what might happen if there was a more widespread natural disaster or terrorist event – it would wreak havoc on our telecommunications
 infrastructure.

History has proven that when cell towers go down during an emergency, the whole network is at risk of being overloaded (or may fail entirely).

Can you imagine what a major emergency would cause?

What about Landlines?

Landlines aren’t much better. If things got so bad that our basic utilities were to shut down, landlines wouldn’t be far behind even though they run on their own power source.

Walkie-Talkies?

GMRS/FRS radios (ie walkie-talkies), while great for certain scenarios, just don’t have the range if we plan on talking with anyone outside of a couple miles…let alone out of the state or in another country.

Satellite Phones?

Satellite phones, while they can be very effective in an emergency, still have their drawbacks in that they’re very expensive to purchase and operate (~$30/mo for only 10 min of talking time) and they are still dependent on a 3rd party maintaining their satellites as well as keeping your account active (which may not be possible in an extended post-collapse scenario).

Also, they don’t work indoors or where there’s thick canopy (like in the jungle or thick woods). You need clear access to the sky where the satellites either pass over or are situated (depending on if the sat network has roving or stationary satellites).

What’s the Answer Then…?

That leads us to the only reliable emergency communication method that we have available to us when the SHTF. It’s a method that’s not dependent upon the grid and can be used for local, regional, and even global communication.

What is it?…

Amateur Radio

Amateur Radio

Homer_HamRadioAmateur radio, or more commonly referred to as “ham radio”, is used by city, county, and federal emergency communications teams; by private relief organizations throughout the world; and by a large number of dedicated citizens who are active, knowledgeable, and have the skills and ability to respond and assist in emergencies.

And if you haven’t yet, it’s something that you definitely need to learn if you want to have an effective emergency communications plan in pace.

Now don’t misunderstand the word “amateur”. It has nothing to do with it requiring less skill or having less capabilites than a “professional” (if that exists) might use. Amateur in this case only means that it is not broadcast for purposes of making money (like much of FM radio is).

Pros and Cons of Amateur (Ham) Radio

The ultimate benefit of Ham radio is that there really isn’t any restriction to how far you can communicate. It can be used to communicate locally, regionally and worldwide.

In addition, it’s not dependent upon any public or private communications’ infrastructure and can be used on top of a mountain or in a crowded city, powered on the grid, or completely off by using a generator, a battery backup, or a solar setup.

The biggest downside (which can be a plus for us fellow hams) is that you need to be licensed and in addition, there is some ramp up time to get comfortable with communicating and using the equipment (it’s actually a skill that you will develop over a lifetime since there’s so much you can do with Amateur radio).

Why Should I Bother With A License Since It Won’t Matter When The SHTF Anyways?

This is a common question I get, and my answer is always the same: Since amateur radio isn’t something you can simply pick up and use without prior experience, you need to practice NOW before things go south; and you can’t properly practice without getting a license first.

There are a lot of things you need to learn such as antenna theory, skywave and NVIS propagation, which bands to use at what times and how solar activity and other environmental phenomenon can affect your transmissions.

And besides, there are still a lot of other emergencies (local and regional) that don’t involve the end of the world to be here to still warrant having EMCOMM abilities.

The Secret to Getting Your Ham License

I’m happy to tell you that it is much easier to get a Ham license than ever before.

Back in my Father’s Day, he needed to learn Morse code in order to get his ham operator license. I, on the other hand, was able to to not only get the entry-level “Technician” license but the “General” license (to operate on the HF frequencies that allow for regional and global communication) all in one day without needing to know a bit of Morse code.

Note: I’m not saying that Morse code is not a bad thing to learn (in fact it’s something that I am hoping to pick up soon) however the good news is since 2006 it’s not required anymore when getting your ham operator license.

Since most of the real learning you’ll do with ham-radio operating is through doing it, to get going with the “doing” part, all you need to do is pass the test. And passing the test for licensing only requires you to know what the right answers are.

Luckily, the entire pool of questions for each license type and their answers is available for study. Since the tests are multiple choice, you don’t even need to understand the theory behind the questions, just the right answers (this is more true for Technician than the others).

For example, when I first got my license, I studied for a total of 8 hours and was able to pass both the Technician and General tests in one sitting with over 90% each — just because I memorized the answers for the most part.

If you’d prefer to learn all the theory behind the questions before testing, that’s certainly your prerogative.

Here are a number of resources you can use to study the question pools and answers for each of the license exams:

  • HamStudy.org – This was the resource I used to help me study and pass the Technician and General exams. For the Extra, I had to study a bit more in depth which I used the next resource for…
  • hamRadioLicenseExam.com – This is my friend PI’s site (K1RV). He’s got a great resource that will actually tutor you so you really understand the theory and not just the answers.

Where Can I Take My Ham Radio Exam?

Most license exams are offered out of the many Amateur Radio clubs found throughout the US. Depending on where you live, you should be able to find one nearby at any week of the year.

Here are some resources to find and exam site near you:

  • The ARRL: The ARRL has a nice search functionality that you just need to enter your zip code and it will spit out a number of tests given nearby along with their date and location.
  • HamDepot.comhas a listing of most of the clubs throughout the US. Since most clubs are the ones giving the tests, you can contact a nearby one and find out when the next test is.

Is The Testing Expensive?

Nope.

The test is only around $15 dollars to cover filing with the FCC and other handling fees.

Another great bonus is you can take all of the tests in one sitting if you so wish for the same price. You just need to be sure you pass each in order before going on to the next one.

Final Thoughts and Resources

Hopefully by now you see the benefits in adding Amateur Radio to your preps.

After all, when the grid goes down and cell phones and land lines no longer function, while everyone else is in the dark, all you’ll need is a wire, a battery, and a radio and you’ll be communicating with your loved ones and others around the world. That’s the ultimate benefit of ham radio.

For more info on getting started, here are a couple more links:

  • Ham Radio For DummiesIf Ham Radio is brand new to you you’d have to be a dummy not to read this. It provides a great overview to get you started. You can even just go to the bookstore and sit down with a nice hot drink and get through it that way.
  • Stealth Amateur Radio: Operate From Anywhere A great resource for communication OPSEC. For preppers looking to hide their radio station from nosy neighbors and other prying eyes, this book will teach you how.

Product Review: SunJack Portable Solar Array

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

For preppers, survivalists and others desiring to have other means of electricity when the grid goes down, solar has always been a valid means of off-grid power.

And in recent years, there’s been significant advances and interest in portable solar chargers that are capable of charging cellphones, tablets and other small electronics while in an emergency, on the go, bugging out, or any other reason that would require you to power and charge your devices when the grid is not available.

Well, I recently got my hands on a fantastic little portable solar-panel array that is perfect for small electronics like your Android, iPhone/iPad or anything else able to charge up from a USB port.

It’s called the SunJack and is marketed as “the most powerful solar charger in the world, capable of charging your phone as fast as a wall-outlet with plenty of power to spare.”

Does it live up to it’s claims? Let’s find out in this week’s product review…

SunJack Overview

Overall Size and Makeup

The 14 watt SunJack is a portable solar array made up of four solar panels organized in a black cloth foldable case. Overall it seems to be a very durable and well-made product.

When closed up, the unit measures around 6″ L x 9″ W x 1″ H (slightly smaller than the size of an iPad although a bit thicker):

It measures approximately 24″ long when fully opened:

The battery, charging cable, and USB ports are located in a mesh bag behind the charger.

The solar array has two USB ports which (when in full sun) will each produce an output of 2 amps. This allows you to easily charge a smartphone, an iPad, or other tablet requiring 2 amps to charge its internal battery directly from the sun.

External Battery

It also comes with an external battery (that will connect to one of the USB ports on the array) to hold the energy harnessed by the sun — providing you with a source of power to charge your electronics when the sun is down.

In direct sunlight, it will fully charge the 8000mAh lithium polymer battery in around five hours with this 14 watt SunJack model (the manufacturer also sells a 20-watt version that comes with two batteries).

When the battery is at full capacity (again, after only 5 hours) it has enough power to charge an iPhone around 4-5 times.

Personal Testing Results

When I first received this, the battery was already around 1/2 full so I couldn’t test the 5 hour charge time stated by the manufacturer. But after putting it in the direct sun (it was slightly cloudy that day) it took just under 3 hours to bring it to a full charge. From just this initial test I’d say they’re probably pretty accurate.

How is it able to charge this fast? Here’s what SunJack’s representative had to say…

“We’ve found a way to optimize filling up the battery from sunlight – think of it as being able to get more water out of your faucet faster. The SunJack is able to get more electrons flowing into the battery faster than any solar charger available, which means you get wall-outlet charging speeds in an incredibly portable form-factor.”

Wall-Speed Charging Capabilities

There are other folding solar panel chargers similar to the SunJack on the market that I’ve seen on Amazon, but from reviews I’ve read they don’t have the “wall-speed” charging abilities. In other words, they take a long time to charge up your phone or worse, your tablet compared to charging it from a standard wall outlet — barely making a dent after hours of charging.

How does the SunJack fare? To test this, I timed how long it took to charge two of my devices (an iPad and an iPhone) directly from the fully charged battery.

Here are the results:

Device Starting % Ending % Battery Time Wall Time
iPad 40% 80% ~90 min ~90 min
iPhone 60% 100% ~45 min ~45 min

Basically for both tests of each device I started at 40% for the iPad and 60% charge for the iPhone and charged each of them 40% more — first on the SunJack battery and then in the wall (after discharging the iPad and iPhone to 40% and 60% respectively).

In both cases I did not see any significant difference between charging on the wall or from the SunJack battery.

So again, it lives up to its promises by delivering “wall-speed” charging time.

Durability

One other thing that I really liked was the durability of this device.

Think it’s not tough enough to stand up to the rigors of a survival or bug-out lifestyle? Well, think again. It can withstand large drops
onto its corners on concrete and even work after a car runs it over (over the panels, not the battery):

Longevity

In addition to durability, the SunJack promises longevity.

According to the manufacturer, the monocrystalline solar cells will still produce 80% of their power even after 25 years of use and the the lithium-polymer battery holds roughly 80% of it’s capacity after 1,000 cycles.

Assuming this is true (I couldn’t test this for obvious reasons) this is great news for us preppers who want products that can last not only through abuse (see the durability section above) but through the duration of a long-term collapse situation. And keep in mind, if it’s as long-lasting as they say it is, the SunJack will probably outlast any device you plan to charge with it anyways.

Price

Currently the SunJack 14 watt that I have goes for $150.00 on Amazon. They also have a 20 watt version that goes for $250.

For my uses, the 14 watt is plenty.

Some Nice to Haves

The one feature I would like to have seen in this is that it were weather/waterproof. I’m not necessarily saying it needs to be submersible, but more so that it would hold up in a decent rain.

SunJack’s manufacturer has fortunately come up with a decent (although not ideal) workaround. You can purchase a weatherproof sleeve:

Their weatherproof sleeve is specially designed to maximize sunlight pass-through while protecting against the elements.

Final Thoughts

All in all I really found the SunJack to be a solid product and one that I would definitely recommend as part of your preps and especially in your Bug-Out Bag. In fact, with it’s existing loops and a carabiner (I don’t recommend using their supplied carabiners since they’re worthless), you can easily attach the SunJack to your BOB to charge while on the move:

The SunJack is ideal for preppers who want to have portable power available for small gadgets such as smartphones and tablets. I’ve also been able to successfully charge some Ni-MH batteries with a AA USB charger I have which is what I need to keep a small 2-way HAM radio going that I have.

Warning: The Coming Pandemic and How You can Prepare Yourself

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Back in 1995, Richard Preston wrote a #1 New York Time’s best-seller by the name of The Hot Zone which gave a startling view into the deadly seriousness and history of the Ebola Virus.

It’s a truly horrifying disease: bleeding from the ears, eyes, and anus; black vomit; liquefying organs and brain matter — death for 90% of those infected.

For years, the Ebola Virus has never been a huge issue because of the fast rate at which it kills its victims — allowing it to be contained and burn out relatively quickly within the small remote villages where it has primarily been found…up until now.

What’s Happening

Unlike previous outbreaks, this latest outbreak is spreading beyond its borders.

Before 2014, the Ebola Virus never had topped more than around 400 victims (that was historically the worst outbreak which spread over a years time) and had been localized at most to a few neighboring villages before it had burned out.

Now, since March of 2014 (in just 5 months), there have been over 1000 reported cases (with over half of those infected already dead) in the ongoing outbreak across Guinea, northern Liberia, and now eastern Sierra Leone. The number of patients is constantly evolving due to the on-going investigation.

So far, it seems to be contained to those areas of Africa, but with the recent scare in the UK (which hopefully is not a cover up) with the ease of world travel, there is definite possibility of it spreading outside of Africa into Europe and beyond.

Is the Current Ebola Scare Really That Serious?

Although I’m heavily into prepping, unlike some outsiders may think, I’m far from a pessimist. And if you’ve been a reader for a while now, you’ve probably noticed I don’t tend to jump on the fear-mongering bandwagon that many others do — but at the same time, it’s important to have a healthy sense of caution.

Now, when you look at it in perspective to other global health issues (for example, malaria kills around 2000 PER DAY and typhoid fever claims 550 people EVERY DAY globally) it doesn’t appear to be that serious with only around 1000 cases with this latest outbreak.

However, unlike the illnesses listed above, there is no known treatment for Ebola in humans.

Doctors can offer supportive therapy, such as hydration, oxygen and treatment of complicating infections, but mortality rates are still very high.

(As a side note, there has been some promise with an experimental drug by the name of ZMapp which recently helped two US aid workers but it is not in mass production or approved by the FDA yet.)

On the positive side though, Ebola is not spread through airborne transmission (or more accurately “droplet transmission”) — in other words, there’s no evidence you can get it through sneezing like the flu. The way Ebola is spread is through direct contact with an Ebola patient’s blood or other bodily fluids like urine, saliva, and sweat — with the highest concentration of the virus being in blood, vomit and diarrhea.

My own opinion is that as long as this strain of Ebola doesn’t mutate so as to be spread through airborne or droplet transmission, I don’t feel we have too much to worry about here in the West.

But what if it does mutate where it can spread via airborne transmission? Will this be the next widespread pandemic similar to the Black Plague or worse? And how can you prepare your family or group for that event?

Well, read on…

How to Protect You and Your Loved Ones From a Pandemic

A friend of mine, Kevin Reeve (owner of the tactical training school OnPoint Tactical), uses a term called “Social Distancing” to illustrate the need to self-quarantine during viral outbreaks or pandemics.

Similar to what they do in the island of Samoa as well as Japan, when there is an viral outbreak outside of the island, they will completely isolate themselves (no one is allowed on to or to leave the island) until that outbreak has burned itself out.

In a similar manner, you must think of your home or retreat as an island where nothing from the outside is allowed to enter and no one is allowed to leave.

How long?

Since most any viral pandemic will burn out in 90 days, this should be the base time for which you and your family or group should prepare.

Let’s take a look at each of the Six Pillars of Survival and how it relates to this 90-day social distancing.

Personal Health and Security:

Personal Health

When it comes to being isolated for 90 days straight, it is important — especially if you were dependent upon medication or other medical needs — that you have sufficient supply for that three-month period.

Again, there cannot be any contact made with the outside — so medical supplies and other needs MUST BE accounted for beforehand.

Sanitation will also be a very important part of this 90-day isolation.

Since it is likely that utilities will stop at sometime, unless you are on a septic system and have enough water stored up for flushing you will need to have other places where you can dispose of human waste.

One of the best options is to use a simple 5-gallon bucket lined with a heavy duty contractor bag.

Simply lay a couple 2x4s across the bucket’s rim for a makeshift seat (or even take off an existing toilet seat and place it on top of the 5 gallon bucket) and do your business into the bag-lined bucket — a very effective makeshift toilet:

After each elimination it’s a good idea to pour in some sand or sand/lime mix to ensure that the smell is kept to a minimum.

Once the bag becomes somewhat full (or the smell becomes unbearable) simply tie off the bag, remove it from the bucket and leave it outside of the door in front of your home or shelter to be disposed by the “Outside Man” (which I explain below) or left outside until the 90 days is over.

Security

Security is another very important aspect during a pandemic.

Especially during a deadly contagion, any direct contact with other humans outside of your family or group should be considered as a deadly threat.

As such, you need to take appropriate measures to prevent this type of contact happening.

As I go into detail in Prepper Academy, for proper home or retreat security you need to set up a layered defense around your home.

layers

Among the most important of these layers is your perimeter. This is an imaginary or physical border (like a fence, wall, or natural boundary) that surrounds your home or property.

How far out this perimeter extends beyond the outside surface (or skin layer) of your home depends on your property, other’s property lines and whether you live in the boonies or a city.

The most important rule to remember with that perimeter during a deadly contagion is that NO ONE is allowed to breach the perimeter without some type of defensive/offensive action being taken. What that action is should be decided upon by your family or group before you get into that type of situation.

The Outside Man

outside-manMy friend Kevin recommends having a designated “Outside Man” who acts as a mediator between the inside group and the outside world.

This Outside Man lives in a separate shelter and has no direct contact (physical contact) with the inside group and is tasked with guarding the perimeter as well performing any external logistics like waste disposal or communication with outsiders.

To use the example of waste disposal, to ensure that no contact is made with the inside group, there will be a designated spot (essentially a virtual sally port) where the the group or family can leave a trash bag outside of the home and only after they are fully closed up again in the home, will the Outside Man retrieve and dispose of it.

The same holds true for meals (if the OM doesn’t have their own supply), drink or anything else the OM requires from inside. But again, THIS IS UNIDIRECTIONAL — in other words, supplies and other things only come from the inside and go out and nothing comes into the home (with one notable exception listed in the next section).

 Shelter

This now brings us to the next portion of this 90-day pandemic plan, which is how to set up your home or shelter.

I already explained the importance of a perimeter. I also explained the function of the Outside Man and his/her role.

In addition, you might want to consider having a separate shelter setup outside of the home to be used as a quarantine area (which could be as simple as a tent).

The purpose of the quarantine area is to be used in the case when a family member or friend of the group desires to come into the group to wait out the pandemic.

Basically, they would stay in this quarantine shelter for the period or duration of the incubation time of that contagion to ensure that no symptoms are shown. Once the incubation time for that contagion has passed and the person has not shown any of the symptoms their clothes are to be burned and after a complete scrub down they are allowed to enter the main shelter to be with the group.

Water

Water will be one of the most important things to have during this 90- day period and will be something that many people will have trouble securing since you’ll require, at minimum, 90 gallons of water per person (in other words, 1 gallon per person per day for the entire duration).

It’s likely that utilities will still be functioning during the initial period of a pandemic, but as it becomes more widespread they will shut off because people will not be able to man them. It’s during that short window that you’ll want to fill up your bathtubs and any other containers available beyond what you’ve already stored.

There are many storage options that you can use (many of which I explained in detail again in my Prepper Academy course) but by doing a simple Google search you’ll find many different water storage methods that you can use.

Heat, Light and Energy

Having sufficient fuel (whether that’s wood, propane, gasoline or any other fuel type) for heating, cooking, lighting and other needs will be another important aspect during this 90-day isolation period.

You may also want to include sufficient batteries and or various solar setups that will power things like an iPad, laptop, ham radios and other electronics. These will come in real handy during that time (as I explain in the Tools section below).

Food

A 90-day supply of food is obviously crucial since you will not be able to secure food from external sources like grocery stores or hunting.

You’ll want to store up many easy-to-prepare meals such as macaroni and cheese (using powdered milk), canned goods, ready-made foods and so on.

It’s not a bad idea to also include some laxatives since activity will be limited in such a small confined area where digestion for some might be a problem.

This brings us to another point:

Although popular among preppers and survivalists, MREs are probably not the best idea to have during this 90-day time period. These concentrated foods lacking in sufficient fiber are intended for short missions by our military personnel.

These are not ideal foods to be stored and used for a long term period such as three months given that they’ll likely become “Meals Refusing to Exit” instead of “Meals Ready to Eat”. Again, if that’s all you have it’s not a bad idea to store up a good supply of laxatives.

Tools

Our final category is Tools. Tools include all those things that aren’t exactly required for survival but greatly aid you in a survival event.

One example in this case is communication equipment. This includes radio equipment (such as ham radios or emergency radios) to be able to communicate with or get updates from the outside world. It’s also an important tool if you are employing the use of an Outside Man.

Another important “tool” is entertainment.

Most will become very stir crazy being in such tight confines for that long without being able to go outside, therefore it is of primary importance that you have plenty of books and different types of entertainment to keep you occupied and stimulated during that time period.

Other Recommendations

For those who are interested in more of a step-by-step approach I highly recommend you check out Prepper Academy.

It goes into a lot more detail than what I cover in this short article which I do not have the time or space to do. Prepper Academy is built upon four modules that each sequentially build upon each other (as shown in the following graphic):

And by just completing the first two modules, your family will be more than enough prepared for a 90-day isolation period required in a national or global-wide pandemic.

In addition, here are some other resources that might be of interest to you: