…for Voice Communications
How Do I Tell You I Can’t Understand You?
This graphic (below) is a summary of the basic “RS” codes used to report back to someone on the radio about the reception quality at your location (also known as “RST” codes for Morse Code or Digital signals that transmit an added inaudible control Tone).
It’s not mandatory for everyone to know these RS codes, but… when you’re serving as Network Control, it can be very helpful for each of your (e.g. Firewise) groups’ Primary Operators to know. Ask people to use them to report back unambiguously to you whenever the signal is a little hard for them to understand: this is how your VERN will improve over time, such as figuring out where to add repeaters or mesh nodes for optimal transmissivity/receptivity. If you keep track of the RS codes for the same locations over time, it will help you to build your community’s coverage map. (Note: your coverage map may be a critical dataset when plotting optimal locations for mesh-net nodes.) There are also online resources for determining what signals can reach which places (we’ll eventually add some to our Useful Links page).
Primary or Relay Operators are generally GMRS licensees with official callsigns like “WXYZ123” (or VERN-assigned IDs like “Gremlin One”). These people are like the watch commanders who are able to talk to almost anyone in their neighborhood and relay messages in case of a problems. They have more powerful radios because the FCC’s $70/10-year General Mobile Radio Service license allows everyone in their households access to 5-Watt power-user radios. In the early stages of developing your community’s VERN, the HAM and GMRS operators can be a big help with “Phase One” activities such as Organizing an RF Radio Core. They will regularly serve as Relays for their group’s immediate neighbors who can’t be heard as easily by Network Control on the main RF radio network. Naturally, once the VERN mesh technology becomes available, the GMRS operators will serve as backups who know how to use your community’s RF radios and repeaters to route emergency traffic in the extremely unlikely event that even the mesh is unavailable.
If you would like a one-page sheet to hang on the wall near your radio for use during Radio Check-Ins, please click below for a PDF version which includes the info shown above plus examples and additional details.
Nerdy Notes on Radio Interference
Everyone should at least consider that, after any large electromagnetic event, even the most skilled radio operators in your community will be unable to use RF radios. Indeed, any un–shielded electronic devices left lying around will be permanently “bricked” by an industrial-grade electromagnetic pulse (EMP). Those kinds of high-energy pulses might be anything from a supermassive solar flare (for which there’d thankfully be a few minutes’ warning to prepare) to a sudden human-generated nuclear event almost anywhere in your hemisphere (major reactor failure, ‘broken arrow’ WMD, etc). Many electronic devices, including cars and trucks that rely on computer chips, could be rendered inoperable. Restoring that 1944 Willy’s Jeep could pan out after all!
Factors like widespread radioactive fallout will produce substantial interference for radio transmissions of all types. Also keep in mind that major Telcos (telecommunications service providers) still rely to some degree on microwave transmission towers: towers which would be “negatively affected” unless they had been hardened for military use (which we can’t use). Unless you can build yourself a large Faraday Cage (FC) and religiously stow all your geek gear in it when not in use, all of your gadgetry will probably be permatoast. And… let’s not delve into the toxic waste issues… “what, me worry?”
Bottom line: building a proper FC is a complicated thing you probably don’t need and most likely cannot pull off (the closest example to what you’d want is a portable SCIF… making those is… non-trivial). More to the point, if you are using your FC properly it means none of your communications devices protected inside it will work. A smartphone inside a FC will not “ring” when someone calls — nor will any other type of radio receive a signal. For reasons like these, you’re best off using practical precautions and knowing your way around some basic radios, which might be ‘survivable’ if something really bad happens. Put some backup radios, a couple of cheap cellular phones (we’re being optimistic now) and some simple portable computing gear (smartphones, netbooks, etc) into a few modestly-priced EMP envelopes or possibly a laptop protection sleeve/enclosure (all of which you can find online). Do not assume the power grid will be operational: make sure you have solar charging capability and plenty of extra batteries for everything. Just focus on being reasonably prepared for the most likely eventualities that take your life sideways, and maybe a few unlikely ones as well (if a sunspot takes out your regional phone towers for a few months, consider who you’ll want to talk to and why). It’s not a bad idea to have some sort of burner phone you can use in case you need to evacuate — and don’t forget your spare rechargeable batteries and folding solar USB charger panel. : )