Tuesday, March 4, 2014

More on Go-Bags and EmComm

I do a lot of reading, mainlly about emergency communications, disaster preparedness, etc. Having been a deployable member of the Gwinnett County ARES group for about 5 years, I have noticed a few things that give me pause to reflect on my own EmComm preparedness.

Something interesting surfaced while doing an inventory of the majority of the ARES group's volunteers. I find that most of the members do not have a "real" Go-Bag. Looking through the various member's bags I find lots of radio related stuff, connectors, power cords, antennas, coaxial cables, headsets, speaker-mics, etc. Very few, if any, have food items, water, shelter options,etc. Having the necessary radio gear and associated cabling, mics, etc, is fine BUT you NEED to have the other major areas of a 72 hour "survival Go-Bag" covered in order to be really autonomous. This means you need to take a critical look at your radio gear, pare it down to bare essentials, and add items designed to make you independent for a minimum of 72 hours.

As discussed in an earlier post your emphasis must include (in order of importance), water, security, shelter and food items if you are to be truly able to survive in a disaster scenario for the minimum 72 hours. This doesn't mean that you need to scrap your entire Go-Bag and get a huge backpack. It does mean that you have to take a serious look at your present bag with an eye toward autonomy and not just comm gear.

For several years my go-to radio set was the Yaesu FT-817. True it had only a 5 watt output on HF through 70cms, but with the addition of a very small Mirage dual band V/UHF amplifier I now had a station capable of 30+ watts! The antenna that I settled on was a Diamond dual band base station antenna and 35 ft of RG-58 coaxial cable. The DC power source was a trade off. Originally I had a 7.5 A/hr gel-cell but I later changed that to a 20 A/hr battery. It was a lot bigger and much heavier, but it gave me more power budget to play with while deployed. Of course, you could opt for one of the new Lithium-ion batteries with their special charger. This would drastically reduce the size and weight of your power supply. However, many of these exotic batteries are extremely expensive. The choice is yours. I also had an Arrow V/UHF beam that could be placed on a fiber glass collapsible mast set that was carried in it's own bag. That way I could have either an omni directional vertical antenna or a directional beam, depending upon the need. I had also experimented with RG-174 mini-coax....this stuff is great for video lines and short runs on HF, but for serious V/UHF work it has too much loss at the higher frequencies.

As of a couple of years ago, I have dispensed with the FT-817 (no real need for HF EmComm in this area at this time) and went to a Yaesu FT-90 dual band HT with 5 W output. It is much smaller than the 817, and provides me with the necessary RF coverage I need. Power budget is now governed by the size and type of batteries I use with the FT-90. I  no longer need to drag a heavy gel-cell which is a real blessing.

Some ARES folks take a notebook computer or I-pad type tablet. I have a General Dynamics Go-Book (their answer to the ruggedized  Panasonic Tough Book computers) laptop for those times I need to go digital (FL-Digi, etc). I rely on a 300 watt inverter to furnish 120V AC from a 12 V DC source to power the laptop. I find the GD Go-Book, although heavy, to be a great laptop and I am not afraid of taking it into the bush.

As you can see my Go-Bag is not just one bag. It is a collection of several bags, each one dedicated to a specific task for EmComm. My radio gear fits into the top section of a small backpack. The GD Go-Book fits into it's own carrying bag with strap, and my food, water, shelter, security items fit into another portion of the backpack. Finally, the 40 ft collapsible mast with guy ropes, fits into it's own carry bag.

Obviously it is advantageous to make up an inventory of your entire Go-Bag to insure that what ever goes on deployment comes back from deployment. My inventory list is on my computer hard drive (HDD) and I can add/subtract/change it quickly and print out an updated listing of my gear. All my gear is labeled with my call sign for ID purposes. I also have TOPO USA installed on my Go-Book along with a small GPS receiver that I can plug in to get a real idea of the terrain and routes into and out of the affected area. This takes the place of a stack of maps, giving me more room of other items.

Well, that is about it for now. We have pretty well beaten this Go-Bag thing to death. If you have any ideas, send them along in comments and I will include them in an update sometime in the future. While you may agree or disagree with my individual plans and assessments that is fine. Each deployment will be different and circumstances will change, sometimes quite quickly in a disaster scenario. While it is impossible to cover everything, "all bases" if you will, the more flexible you are with your Go-Bag and your preps, the better off you will be to meet your EmComm obligations.

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ

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