Wired Communication

(Inspired by this post at SurvivalBlog)

As preppers, we’re all aware of the need to communicate when things suddenly go sideways. The need is one of the reasons I finally got into ham radio (something that has blossomed into a hobby).

We seem to have this predisposition to look at communications only in terms of wireless communication. While communication via radio frequencies (RF) is a great thing, and you can use it to talk down the street with an FRS radio or around the world with a ham transceiver, there are some downsides to consider. The biggest one is that it allows someone with less than friendly intentions locate your position pretty easily. In ham radio, we call it fox hunting. Enthusiasts hold contests to see who can find a hidden transmitter the fastest. You wouldn’t want to find yourself playing cat-and-mouse with one of these people, because you will lose.

You can take steps to minimize your RF footprint.

  • Do your transmitting well way from your location. That works, but it’s time consuming and you’ll get tired of schlepping your gear out 3-4 miles every time you need to send a message.
  • Use directional antennas, which focus most, but not all, of the RF energy in a given direction.
  • Match the power used to the distance-you don’t need a 4 watt CB to talk to your next door neighbor, for example.
  • You can (and should as a matter of course) use codes to minimize your time on-air. The less time you’re on-air, the less time they have to hear and zero in on you.

An additional problem with all of these is that you’re still radiating energy that can be picked up at a distance. Not a good thing if it’s all went sideways and shows little or no sign of correction. Bad Guys know how to use scanners. You’re going to want to keep a very low profile, RF and otherwise

Wired communication answers that problem. While it is possible to detect, the gear to do so is not widely found. A series Intertubz searches I’ve just done doesn’t even pull any of the necessary gear up, even though I know it exists. It is possible to “tap” wired communications and intercept them, but that will probably not be a large concern in our newly sideways world.

OK, so you want to be ready to put up some wired comms if and when needed. What are the options?

The first thing that comes to my mind is the standard military field telephone. Armies have used them since at least WWI, and it’s a thoroughly debugged technology. If you stick to units made by NATO countries, they all inter-operate. I can use my German Feldfernsprecher FF OB/ZBs with someone who has a US TA-312. There are a variety of ways to wire up a system, including various switchboards which can be bought via eBay or occasionally at military surplus stores. If you do an Intertubz search for “field telephone” you’re going to get an avalanche of information. There are a lot of good videos on YouTube as well.

Feldfernsprecher FF OB/ZB

Things you’ll want to have if you go this route is a lot of 2 conductor wire (anything will work, but the military surplus stuff is still widely available on reels and cheap), a lot of D batteries or a way to provide the units with 3 volt DC power and every manual for every field telephone you can find. You may want to print those out and store them in a binder. Also get all the US Army FMs on the subject of field telephones you can find. Ditto printing/binder.

Field telephones can be used for everything from simple Point A to Point B communications to a relatively sophisticated system serving a neighborhood, subdivision or even larger area. With some thought and experimentation, you could probably make use of existing telephone wiring infrastructure (with some “modifications”) to limit the reach of your signals).

Another option is the commercially available wired intercom systems from a number of Intertubz vendors. These range from simple A-to-B setups on Amazon to multi-room and multi-building systems from dedicated suppliers. There are some drawbacks.

  • They aren’t built as solidly as the military gear. If they’re only going to be in buildings, this might not be a big concern.
  • You’ll have to work out a reliable power supply. These things don’t take batteries.
  • The inexpensive units have limited range. I looked at one that specified a range of 200 meters.
  • Price. Field telephones are cheap compared to the larger systems.

There is also the idea of re-purposing existing telephones and lines. With so many people cord cutting, you neighbors may not have old-fashioned POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) in their homes, but they probably have connections to the existing telephone network, if only the demarc on their home. But a cheap old “500” set stuffed into a closet in each home plus some shared equipment like a small PBX (Private Branch eXchange) and some unauthorized wiring changes to the existing infrastructure (think cutting your neighborhood off from the rest of the telephone network) and you’re in business. Here’s one way of doing it (leave out the VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) gateway); obviously you can find others.

There are also small VOIP only systems, but they’re more complicated and take more power. I wouldn’t suggest those. In a bad situation, simplicity is your friend.

If you decide to go this way, don’t forget that tons of old but inexpensive and usable phone equipment is available on eBay. I would also suggest working out your plans with your neighbors before things get tough. Of course, you should be doing that anyway.

Who knows-you might just find yourself in a position to turn this into a Vocation for the New America.

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