Prepping 101: Radio Silence! – The Mobile Survival HAM Backpack

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This is my mobile radio backpack for the Yaesu 857D. This is a sub-$1000 radio built for mobile in a vehicle that performs like a full sized base station, and is very highly rated.

This is my mobile radio backpack for the Yaesu 857D. It is a sub-$1000 radio built for mobile in a vehicle that performs like a full sized base station, and is very highly rated. Other manufacturers like ICOM have similar products. This was just my choice because the 857D is known to be very voltage tolerant when you run it on a straight battery.

If you think about it, communication with the outside world is going to become really important in the weeks and months after a system collapse or major disaster. You may have food and water for months, but you don’t have it for years. And as I explained in my article on seeds, growing your own food just isn’t that easy. But as several commenters pointed out on the first radio article in this series, there is a strong argument to maintain radio silence. Any experienced radio operator can triangulate your position as soon as you press the send key, and in any survival situation, and you can bet that there will be hostiles out there listening for where they can steal some supplies. Radio silence has to be weighed against the benefits of reaching out to the world outside.

Therefore, I think the smartest advance plan of action is to build a mobile radio system, and not a lame one. You need a solid radio that can really reach out there, across all of the active radio frequencies worldwide. Your only option is a full featured Ham radio, and it needs a mobile power system, a mobile antenna, and ideally an added antenna tuner. Most important, the whole system has to fit into a backpack that you can travel quickly with. Estimated cost? Gulp. Just over or at least in the vicinity of $1,000. As I explained in the first article, there are a few handhelds that you can get in unlocked versions that will at least be able to listen to most active bands, but if you want to be able to transmit, even a good deal on Ebay is going to run you $500 just for the radio.

Why mobile? Because we don’t at this point know who the hostiles will be, and it could very well be the government. The military is building small towns on their bases these days with soccer fields and church steeples. FEMA has created a network of internment camps nationwide, with “Fusion” centers connecting communications between the brown shirt police state agencies for when the collapse occurs. Freedom loving Americans are the enemy now. And if you have stocked up food, water, and arms, you will be viewed as an enemy to all “true” patriots, because you are hoarding what “belongs to the people.” Whether we have a quick collapse or a slow and softer collapse, this type of policy is virtually guaranteed. So on the one hand you really need a good flow of information as to what is going on out there, but on the other hand, you certainly don’t want to be found by whoever ends up being in charge.

One press on your send microphone may call in an airstrike, a team of commandos, or a pickup truck full of good ‘ol boys who weren’t as dumb as everyone thought they were. But if you can transmit even a mile from your bugout location (traveling off the roads of course), communications won’t endanger your team. Then you can observe the area you transmitted from. Maybe nobody is listening. But then again, maybe someone is listening. Regardless, a valuable flow of information from distant lands will increase your changes of coming out of your situation alive, and probably save you some time going it on your own. In the meantime, practice with your radio, either by finding a licensed “Elmer” Ham operator, or by getting licensed yourself. Learn the frequencies used by law enforcement and military. Nobody can tell if you are listening, just transmitting, so learn how to listen now, while life is still easy. Two mobile systems will allow you to send out a long distance scout who can then report back to a remote location closer to but still far enough away from your base camp.

The backpack frame is $159 on Ebay from China, and the same seller also sells the black backpack, though you can probably get one cheaper. This is how the kit comes and you have to put it together.

The backpack frame is $159 on Ebay from China, and the same seller also sells the black backpack, though you can probably get one cheaper. This is how the kit comes and you have to put it together.

This is why I decided to build two complete mobile radio systems for this article. One is based on the Yaesu 857D and the other is the Yaesu FT-817ND. Both are well under $1,000 brand new, and I would not call either of these choices definitive in selecting the right radio. You can’t go wrong with either of them as opposed to others of similar features and bandwidth. There are a ton of great radios out there of basically the same size and function, and price. One of my main factors was that I wanted an unlocked radio, so I bought both of these from the seller in Greece that I mentioned in the last article. He currently isn’t offering the 857D, but the only reasons I chose that radio at the time was that it was a higher wattage radio that was built for mobile (it comes with a mounting bracket for trucks), and the reviews at said that it was very voltage tolerant. I am running the 857D from a battery, so this is very important.

The FT-817ND has its own battery pack and it is very small. To me that is a huge plus because there is not very much to go wrong with it. As long as you can charge the battery, you have a radio. The downside to the radio is that it only broadcasts at a maximum of 20 watts (with a software mod from this guy in Greece), and only 5 watts on several of the more useful Ham bands. The 5 watts is only when it is plugged in, so on battery power you are dealing with a 2.5 watt radio. This isn’t a deal killer. An experienced Ham operator can reach across the world with only a 1/2 watt during certain times of the day. But a 2.5 watt radio isn’t going to be as useful as a 100 watt radio in most circumstances.

I added the LDG Z-100 antenna tuner to it, and it mounted into the frame as promised.

I added the LDG Z-100 antenna tuner to it, and it mounted into the frame as promised.

If you don’t know anything about Ham radio, please read my first article on radios. It breaks out the different types of radios out and explains why Amatuer Radio, ie. Ham, is your best bet for survival communications. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the issue of Ham licensing for this article. You do need a license to operate both of these radios, and because I have not tested for my license yet I am not going to cover using them at all. There will be a followup in the future. This article is about the physical components you need, and where I bought them.

The thing that made me decide to build these systems was a radio backpack frame I stumbled across on Ebay. It makes a car model Ham radio into something like a military backpack radio, called a “manpack.” The frame isn’t cheap, $159, and it fits into a backpack that the same seller sells for $105, which I also bought. There is also a different seller of the larger frame for $150 right now if you jump on it, and you want the bigger size, for which you’ll have to find a backpack that fits it. The way I see it is that you can buy a Vietnam era military radio backpack for under $1,000 these days, and they sometimes work, but I don’t see any reason to rely on old technology when this option is available. In case the above seller runs out (he only has 4 left as of this writing), there is another guy on Ebay selling the smaller frame for $170. This guy also seems to have a lot of the larger frame for $150. Check the sizes before you buy. There is a “big one” that is 490 and a “small one” that is 400. I don’t know what either of those numbers mean, but they aren’t millimeters from what I can tell. Mine measures 5″ x 10.5″ x 15.75″ edge to edge.

You will need the connecting wires and a 12 volt battery. I chose this lithium battery because LifePO4 is known to hold voltage longer than lead acid as it discharges.

You will need the connecting wires and a 12 volt battery. I chose this lithium battery because LifePO4 is known to hold voltage longer than lead acid as it discharges.

The metal frame came unassembled, and it is little more than a stainless steel erector set. But it does work. The radio went into the brackets, and I was able to also install an antenna tuner into the same frame. I also bought some mobile sized 12v batteries to the kit. You can use any 12v battery, but I decided to spend the extra $99 on a LifePO4 lithium on Ebay that is made for electric bicycles in addition to a couple of sealed lead acid batteries which are only about $20 each with shipping. LifePO4 holds voltage longer than sealed acid before it dies, so it is ideal for electronics that depend upon stable voltage.
They are also about 1/3rd the weight of a similar size and life sealed lead acid. But beware, they are also 10x the cost.

They are also about 1/3rd the weight of a similar size and life sealed lead acid. But beware, they are also 10x the cost.

The antenna tuners for both kits are from LDG, and both are made for the specific radios. Yaesu also makes antenna tuners, but they are more expensive than the LDG tuners and aren’t as highly rated. Once you dig a little bit into Ham radio science you’ll find that there are zillions of antenna designs out there, and the technology is still evolving. For home installations, the Yagi design is considered the most powerful for both reception and transmission, but they are huge. For mobile, you can choose from a number of inexpensive designs, and some even purport to be as good as the big Yagis. But no matter what your antenna, you really need an antenna tuner to give you the best signal for the equipment. Get the Ham books I linked to in the first article. You will have to learn what terms like SWR mean to some degree, but these antenna tuners will do a lot more for you than books of knowledge about radio waves. The LDG Z-817 is usually under $175, and the LDG Z-100 is usually under $225. The nice thing about the Z-100 is that it runs off of the radio power, whereas the Z-817 requires AA batteries, as you can see in the pictures. With both of these tuners you tune to the desired frequency and push a button. After a series of clicks the station comes in, and your antenna has been optimized for that frequency.
I also got a Yaesu FT-817 to compare the 857D against when I get my license. This is a small radio with great frequency coverage, but it is not very powerful, 2.5 watts while running on battery power.

I also got a Yaesu FT-817 to compare the 857D against when I get my license. This is a small radio with great frequency coverage, but it is not very powerful, 2.5 watts while running on battery power.

For antennas on the kits I bought a few different ones. To start, you’ll need two different types of antennas for each radio, and both radios have two antenna hookups for that reason. The VHF and UHF bands use a small whip antenna (the FT-817 comes with one) and the HF bands use a longer antenna that can either be manually adjusted to different sizes or that has electronic components that adjust the antenna to act like it is different sizes. The original military radios even had two different types of antennas, including a take apart whip. On my larger kit, the one with the metal frame, I got an $79 MFJ-1699S mobile antenna. It uses a “wander lead” for the different HF bands which tap internal windings in the base of the unit matching the partial wave lengths required for picking up and broadcasting HF frequencies. This antenna covers 80 meters, which is 3.675 mhz – 3.725 mhz, all the way to 2 meters, which is 144 mhz – 148 mhz. A small whip antenna on the other side of the frame will cover the higher frequencies, and this radio will be “done.”

On the FT-817 I bought a similar MFJ mobile antenna created just for that radio, but a little smaller. The $89 MFJ-1899T covers 80 meters through 6 meters, which is the 50 mhz – 54 mhz band, because the included whip antennas with the FT-817 cover the rest of the UHF spectrum. The FT-817 is meant to use a separate antenna for HF bands, which is why it has a regular connector on the rear of the radio, so I still have to research what happens with the antenna tuner when you use the whip antenna mount for HF. After I get my license and can experiment with the radios I’m sure it will all become clearer. There are settings on the FT-817 to switch between the whip and rear antenna feeds, so it really is just confusing about the antenna tuner.

MFJ makes a "wander lead" antenna for the FT-817 that covers the frequencies that the included whip antenna does not cover.

MFJ makes a “wander lead” antenna for the FT-817 that covers the frequencies that the included whip antenna does not cover.

For both radios I also bought some interesting alternative products from various sellers on Ebay who seem to be very eager and confident in the products they sell. In the pictures you can see that I included the “QSO King” antenna in my small hydration pack that I set aside for the FT-817 and it’s LDG tuner. He claims that you can string the wire on that kit from tree to tree in just about any fashion you want and it will give you performance similar to a Yagi. The black wire is very discreet and I like that, if it performs as promised. There are also a number of open coil antennas both from MFJ and on Ebay, and I got one that works from 80-6 meters that has a lot of great reviews. You mount it on an tripod, or clip it to a table or something. And the most interesting antenna I got is another MFJ product called the MFJ-1621. It covers 10-40 meters, which are the most useful Ham bands, and it is adjustable from a base unit without a tuner, though I plan to use one. Antennas can drive you nuts because there are just so many of them, so don’t rush to buy one until you read up on the various options out there.

You can see from the pictures that I also added a “foldable solar panel” to the kit. This is only a 100 watt panel so when I tried to power the radio directly from the panel with no battery it didn’t work, even in full Florida sunlight. It probably isn’t advisable to try that at home. But as a part of your mobile radio kit, I highly recommend a portable solar charging system and ideally an extra battery. Once you make a connection there is nothing worse than going dark for loss of power. Long range radio contact is best made at night, so sleeping during the day and traveling/communicating at night will be your best bet anyway. It is always best to top of your battery when you can.

The FT-817 and its antenna tuner easily fit in a small backpack like this hydration pack. This picture also has that QSO King antenna from Ebay mentioned in the article.

The FT-817 and its antenna tuner easily fit in a small backpack like this hydration pack. This picture also has that QSO King antenna from Ebay mentioned in the article.

Are you better to buy $1,000 worth of food or medicine before building this radio kit? It all depends on how much food and medicine you have and how much money you have. But you can’t escape the question, and it is a question that comes up all the time whenever you talk about survival preparedness. A better question would be are you better to build a mobile radio or buy an once of gold, or 50+ ounces of silver, or even yet another AR or 5,000 rounds of ammo? My answer would be the radio, because all of things would be put aside for barter, post collapse, and there is no guarantee that the collapse is going to happen, let alone that there will be people to barter with. Let me ask a better question. If you had to bug out and take only what you need with you, would you take the radio or yet another AR? 50+ ounces of silver? Even an once of gold if you had to choose between the two? I’d take the radio.
The Z-817 uses internal batteries, because it can't be powered from its cable to the FT-817 radio. These tuners don't stay on though. Batteries last a long time since the tuner only runs for a few seconds when you tune a new channel.

The Z-817 uses internal batteries, because it can’t be powered from its cable to the FT-817 radio. These tuners don’t stay on though. Batteries last a long time since the tuner only runs for a few seconds when you tune a new channel.

The backpack was large enough to include the QSO King, 50' of cable and all of the manuals, in addition to the radio and tuner.

The backpack was large enough to include the QSO King, 50′ of cable and all of the manuals, in addition to the radio and tuner.

I also tried this MFJ antenna contraption with both radios. It works great and is super portable, with no batteries required.

I also tried this MFJ antenna contraption with both radios. It works great and is super portable, with no batteries required.

This may be a good choice for those who don't want to buy an antenna tuner to start because it has adjustments on it.

This may be a good choice for those who don’t want to buy an antenna tuner to start because it has adjustments on it.

I tried to power the 857D directly from a solar panel but it didn't work.

I tried to power the 857D directly from a solar panel but it didn’t work.

This is a Vietnam era radio backpack currently on Ebay for like $800.  If it was $200 maybe it would be a better option on a budget, but a Ham handheld for $300 that can at least listen to all the bands is a better investment.

This is a Vietnam era radio backpack currently on Ebay for like $800. If it was $200 maybe it would be a better option on a budget, but a Ham handheld for $300 that can at least listen to all the bands is a better investment.

{ 79 comments… add one }
  • Terry June 18, 2017, 2:29 pm

    Getting your ham license will help you in understanding the radio bands on how and when they are used and
    how to set up a station and meet others that can help you in this endeavour. Operating a radio will give you the experience you will need to use it.
    Want to see real hams in a mock emergency setting competing with each other??????
    Google ” field day arrl” and find some hams in your area that are participating. They will be glad to have you stop by and join in the fun.
    Hurry, its the last weekend in June.

    I want to say that you can be found by just listening to your radio. By using the local osolater in most modern receives .

  • Virilax Testosterone Booster December 23, 2016, 1:41 am

    Deference to article author, some good information.

  • Jennifer September 7, 2016, 8:15 am

    Does anyone have the instructions on how to put the backpack frame together? I bought one but no instructions. Thanks

  • Joseph August 15, 2016, 11:19 am

    Interesting article, but the little information regarding EMP is given here. If you really want to understand what will happen with your electronics after and EMP – read the book One Second After – by Forschen. This is a recommend read for everyone and endorsed by our congress. Forward is by Newt Gingrich. While this book is fiction – the premise and the effects of EMP is very real.

    I would also suggest mentioning here, how to keep your radio protected from EMP – For instance – when not using or practicing what equipment to keep protected – what solar chargers you may want (you wont be getting commercial power for a long, long time), extra batteries, etc.

    • Paul Helinski August 15, 2016, 12:40 pm

      It is fiction because EMP is fiction. See my article on it here. Parroting foolish nonsense is not going to help you or anyone else survive.

  • Doctor June 5, 2016, 7:19 pm

    All nice ideas and well presented. Get you license (Hams call them “tickets” and practice with your radios. SHTF is no time to find out you don’t know how to change a setting on access a menu three levels down.

    As to triangulation… you need a minimum of two receivers with moderately directional antennas to triangulate. An easy way to avoid this concern is to use a radio propagation method called NVIS (google it). In short, NVIS causes most if not all of the radio energy to go straight up and bounce off the upper layers of the atmosphere then saturate an are several hundred miles across. This makes it very difficult to triangulate the the transmit site because within the area of illumination the signal appears to be coming from every direction. You’d need to be really close in to overcome that effect.

    Bonus – since NVIS propagation only reaches out several hundred miles you are putting the bulk of your radio signal in the area near you – where your friends and trusted like-thinkers are.

    Low levels of power, 10 or fewer watts, transmitted does not mean you can’t get out. It means you won’t be blowing out receiver’s speakers but they’ll still hear you.

    Lastly, learn morse code. You’re low power radio has far greater utility of you operate in this narrowest of bandwidth modes.

    73, keep your head down, stay alert, and remember luck favors the prepared.

    • Les Stewart January 8, 2017, 6:18 pm

      I use NVIS. Not all of the signal is radiated upward. It can still be traingulated by stations close by, these are the ones that you need to worry about anyway. The best thing is to stay silent as much as possible, or as the subs in WW2 transmit very short as possible. The military now uses a burst that sounds like a burp or noise and some spread spectrum is also used. These two are harder to track. With drones watching it is even harder to go undetected.

      Been there don it from both ends of the radio.

  • Michael May 20, 2016, 5:47 am

    Dear sir,we are a big two way radio manufacturer in China.We have many good quality and reasonable price radios.If you are interested,this is our items\’ website: can give you the quality guarantee and quick delivery promise,all our products have passed strict test.We have our own factory,so we can also help you manufacture your radios.Please contact us.

  • Neil baker April 12, 2016, 12:40 pm

    I am look for ham backpack, I live in England Coventry, I want the ham backpack

  • Bill January 29, 2016, 12:48 am

    Just wanted to thank you for very informative articles on ham radio. For a while now I’ve been curious about it, but reading your articles made me realize I ought to have that capability.
    I’m especially grateful for your mention of the ebay seller 2way-radioexpress who sells *unlocked* radios. It was my great good fortune that when I clicked on the link you provided, they were selling unlocked Yaesu 857-D’s, they had one left; which I snapped up. Thanks!
    Been spending the last couple days educating myself on the Yaesu, and on ham radio in general, via the Ham Radio For Dummies you recommended (thx again) and of course, the Internet. After reading various comments regarding the 857-D, I picked up the optional remote control mike for it:
    If you haven’t checked it out already, you might want to.
    Anyway, thanks a lot! Getting that unlocked radio was invaluable. I owe ya!

    • Paul Helinski January 29, 2016, 6:23 am

      It isn’t a remote control mic. It is just a regular pushbutton mic. The guy from Greece is Demetri, and yes, the radios are a good buy and completely open.

      • Bill February 1, 2016, 7:08 am

        I get the distinction you’re making. OTOH, Amazon does refer to it as a “Remote Control Mic”, as you’ll see if you click on the link; I assume because the mic can be used to control many of the radio’s features (instead of fiddling with the tiny buttons on the radio). In any case, according to reviewers, appears to be a handy addition/upgrade.

        “A rose by any other name…”

        And boy, what a lot of info to be absorbed when you start getting into ham radio! Definitely a good workout for the old gray matter….

        I’d love to see some articles on homemade antennas— and antennas in general— down the road.

        Again: thx for the great info. Keep up the good work!

  • Dave Goldsmith December 30, 2015, 4:14 pm

    Dec 30, 2015 You article is right on the money, I have been a Ham Radio Operator since 2011. I am still trying to get My General Class Radio Operators License. Please stay in touch with Me. 73’s for Now Dave

  • Joe June 29, 2015, 5:03 pm

    I read your article from top to bottom. Thank you for all of the swell ideas and product links.
    As a ham of 40+ years, I must say I was surprised to see your preference for ham radio gear as a bugout communication option and all of the detail you presented. You are correct that when TSHTF, the amateur radio bands will again, as they have for decades, prove their worth. But this will be true only for those that know what they are doing…licensed or not.

    Today’s youth and to some extent their young parents, have no clue how to communicate without the aid of a network of cellular towers or through the hacker prone internet. So having amateur radio equipment and the skill to set it up and use it properly will be a huge asset for those demanding reliable communication in a time of public emergency and crisis.

    I will step-out and speak my opinion on the current level of competence of new hams. It’s just plan pathetic. Amateur radio exams have been watered-down and dumbed-down so low that anyone with half a brain can memorize enough “correct” answers and pass without having a clue as to how to derive or calculate their answer. It shows-up all of the time on the bands, and it’s pitiful. But enough of that. New licensees that really want to learn will learn and progress. Us old guys are happy to help, but we won’t spoon feed you. You are going to have to pay your dues, study, and experiment. Learn the ropes before the collapse occurs or you will be toast when it comes to communication. A bunch of non-licensed numb nuts on the ham bands is not what we need during an emergency. The lack of discipline and courtesy could ruin the capability of the bands to provide the communications for which whey are famous. So get in the books and get it right before you turn it on.

    But, hat’s off to you for working toward your ticket. I have found that over the years, those such as yourself that have a motivation tend to move up the learning curve faster than those that simply possess a temporary infatuation and would have been better off stuck on 26-27 mhz blowing in their mics and using echo boxes…I digress. People today want something for nothing, don’t want to work for anything, and want it all handed to them without any effort on their part. It’s the society we live in, it’s empowered by our government, and that’s why 99.9% of the population will not be ready for the collapse, much less have a communications solution.

    I think your choice of rig and portable antenna tuner is fine, and I like your frame. Your choice of portable antennas, based on your new but limited knowledge of antenna design, will be a disappointment for you once you get licensed and really try them out. They will be so inefficient and so lossy that I doubt anyone will hear you. Your transmit efficiency will be in the cellar and you will be wasting valuable battery life trying to get someone to hear you in what might be poor communications conditions at best. Tuners do not tune antennas, the antenna does not change. If it’s a crappy antenna before you put a tuner in line, it will be a crappy antenna after you put a tuner in line. All the tuner does is change the feedline impedance between the tuner and the rig to something close to 50 ohms so the transmitter’s final stages are happy. That’s it, that’s all a tuner does. Heck, you can use a set of bed springs as an antenna if you want with a “tuner”, but that does not mean that they will work worth a damn. Tuners are no substitute for a properly designed portable tri-band dipole antenna. Period. (I am talking portable, packable, and light weight here…there are hundreds of antenna designs that would be as good or better in a base station environment, but I am sticking to the bugout travel-light model with my comments).

    I won’t criticize your choices without suggesting a simple, packable, portable solution. Once you learn how to make antennas, and it’s fun to make antennas, make yourself up a multi-band dipole that will be easy to roll-up and will work multiple bands without the aid of a tuner. Cheap and easy. Lose the tuner, lose the weight, and lose the power consumption. Make your triband dipole from small gauge enamel coated wire, something around 18 to 22 gauge, and feed it with some quality Belden RG-58 coax. (NOT RG8x..this stuff has impedance inconsistencies and cannot be trusted). Use silver plated PL259 connectors with Teflon dielectric and the appropriate RG58 adapter to further reduce loss on the rig end. This will make a very light, yet very effective and fairly efficient multiband antenna once you figure out how to make it multi-band. You certainly don’t need to piss away any of that 2.5 watts of flea power because you will need as much of it as possible to arrive at the feedpoint of that antenna that you be hoisting up in the trees with your 100′ support cord made of parachute line. Opps, I’ve told you too much already. Check out the ARRL Antenna Handbook for starters and search for multiband dipoles with a single coaxial feedline on the internet. And remember, the antenna is the most important part of any station, whether it’s WWV, Voice of America, or any other transmitter. Quite simply, the antenna makes you or breaks you. You can have $10,000 worth of portable gear, but with a crappy inefficient detuned antenna, your communications efforts will result in failure.

    Personally, as an old timer ham, I believe a good solution for most of the population would be to carry a small (but very high quality) multi-band receiver capable of commercial AM and FM stations as well as 14 to 30 Mhz SSB. Receivers draw very little current and as you know that means a much longer operation cycle between charges or battery replacements. Based on my lowband experience over the years, the bands you can usually depend upon to propagate well within the US are the 20, 40, and 75 meter bands. Also on these three bands you will find the largest population of on-the-air hams just about any time you spin the VFO. The 20 and 40 meter band would be a good choice during daylight hours and 40 and 75 meters would listen well at night. 75 works ok during the day, but for 100+ watt base stations only, with full sized antennas mounted high, as the atmospheric absorption is very high at 3.9 Mhz during daylight hours. These are the bands where today, you will find the majority of the emergency networks that are called-up and activated during times of natural disasters, emergency tests, daily traffic handing nets, maritime mobile nets, aviation nets, etc. They are the real heavy hitters in the lowband spectrum of amateur radio, especially 75 meters each evening with phone and CW nets, so get geared-up for them and forget the other bands for the kind of communication you are seeking. Sure maybe some of the 2 meter repeaters may be functional, but once the commercial mains go down, it’s just matter of time before the generators run out of fuel, the batteries expire, and the ham machines go silent. So we always comes back to low band to save the day. And trust me, it will do the trick in just about any environment. Might be a good idea for you to study and learn CW. That will be my mode of communication. That way I know I am talking to a real ham. No stupid government worker will know CW. The military stopped using it a few years ago. So it’s a good mode to learn to help with covert or semi secure communications between two proficient operators.

    Joe (I choose to withhold my Extra class callsign due to my mistrust of the government, I’m sure you understand!)

    • Robert January 25, 2016, 1:43 pm

      As a ham myself, I’ll keep it short and just ditto what Joe said. Some sage advice there!

    • Les Stewart January 8, 2017, 11:24 pm

      Joe, you are right on with your comments. Wish i was good as you are in writing your comments.

      I have been a ham for 40 years this year, went through the cold war, the hot war and other things can not talk about.

      One thing i might add is EMP and nuclear explosion. Almost nothing electronic that we have now will not work after this.
      The ruskies have a nuclear bomb that can be exploded in the air and will not destroy much, but the radiation will destroy transistors making electronic gear useless.. The only way to keep this from happening is to store radios in a lead lined box.

      The Air Force use to have a bunch of old Collins gear that was all tube type. Radiation does not effect them, that is why the ruskies used tube gear for so long.

      The next problem is the EMP will fry most electrical equipment..

      If the above happens, we will back in the 1800’s before electricty. The only legal tender will be gold, silver and bullets.

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  • Tom January 14, 2015, 2:53 pm

    To The Author:
    Testing sessions are generally given during Dade Radio Club meetings.
    (Second Monday of each month).
    Please contact the DRC Exam Team to schedule your test.

    • Administrator January 14, 2015, 3:00 pm

      thanks will pass it along. (name edited out for courtesy)

  • Sam January 12, 2015, 11:58 pm

    I think this article is helpful. However, there are some serious points that must be clarified. First of all it is advise to become the ham radio operator and use the ham radio bands. It is a good idea in terms of ham radio popularization, but not for the practical radio communications in the disaster situation. To be a good radio operator on the ham radio bands one must spend years of training. Otherwise, it is hard to navigate through all the bands and modes, work with antennas and radios. Secondly, no one single wire antenna cannot be compared with Yagi. It is something like compare the Space Shuttle with bicycle. Actually, Yagi antennas not a good advise for beginners. Simple long wire antenna is much better choice. Especially, when the antenna tuner used. As longer the wire as better for the most of the practical cases. Take the wire as long as you can put on your trees or something else above the ground. As longer the wire and as higher it located as better. No Yagies, no complicated antennas!
    Next, may the most important point – why use the ham radio when CB is easily available? It is absolutely legal and the 27 MHz band is very good for short and long distance communications. There are many good and low cost antennas available.This band does not require significant radio operation experience and easy to learn. For any non-ham radio guys it is the best choice. And it is much easier to operate and less expensive. This is what I learned for my more than 50 years as the ham radio operator and the RF engineer.

    • Alan January 13, 2015, 6:40 pm

      The question comes down to “How far do you want/need to transmit/receive?” For short distances, you are absolutely right. But if you need to reach out 60-100 miles, or further, CB and even the 2m band won’t do the trick. Physics trumps “want to” every day. That is why I got my General Class license and bought a Yaesu FT-857D, which covers 2m and HF.

    • Tom January 14, 2015, 2:34 pm

      “why use the ham radio when CB is easily available?”
      First: You get what you pay for….. CB easy, Cheap, but have you ever heard a signal (ANY MODE) on 27MHz when e-Layer is propagating (reflecting your signal)? what you’ll hear is a garbled mess of signals, sounds like 15 Birds whistling, 5 Parrots “Hello”-ing, 20 people gibber-gabbing, all under 5 feet of water and at the same time. so if you’re going to hear anything through it I’d bet $1,000 it will not be your friend 50+ miles away in a desperate situation.

      Second: different frequencies have different characteristics, 27MHz is a afternoon band and can be very noisy beyond the noise mentioned in the first comment. HAM’s utilize various frequencies to convey information without fighting Mother Nature’s GeoMagnetic Field. another good reason to understand ham testing questions, appose to memorization.

      Third Free thought: HAM frequencies are filled with more organized, and respectful communications. and a few great Operators… HIHI

  • Ward January 12, 2015, 3:03 pm

    Have been a ham since 1976 [WB5TNS] and have done considerable work in the areas you are discussing. You might want to research an antenna design called a G5RV. It is an inverted ‘V’ wire dipole with 300ohm or 75ohm feedline stub; (there are several variations of it, including ready-made versions). However it is very easy and inexpensive to construct. You can use it with a tuner for optimum performance, but it works without a tuner on the HF spectrum. It is all wire construction except for 3 insulators, so it rolls up to a very compact package. Have used it many times for Field Day exercises (radio contact contest under emergency conditions / battery power only) with a 5 watt radio and worked stations all over north and central America. Our emergency rig is a Yaesu 757 GSX. With one snip of a resistor, it transmits from 0-30MHZ continuous in SSB & AM at 100 watts on high, or 10 watts on low power.

  • Graham January 12, 2015, 2:23 pm

    It is possible to purchase a handheld unit (Baofeng) that has a lot of great reviews (including those from “expert”? HAMsters) for under $100 (including ext antenna), why spend such a lot on this kit? Not to mention the weight?

    In a “SHTF” or “WORL” event please consider many repeaters will likely be down, in which case you would be depending on range from the unit itself to/from wherever the other end is… Is that what makes this a better option?

    Also the BAOFENG has FRS and GMRS which are license free channels, the unit is over the power limit for those BUT…

    With this option you could have 2 or more for communication between family or comrades…

    • Sean January 12, 2015, 4:21 pm

      Totally different use cases. True, VHF or UHF HTs are generally only useful for repeaters, or among a group within a few miles with similar handhelds.

      You need to decide which is your priority:

      talking to folks within 5 miles = HTs
      talking to folks within 50 miles = mobile/base station VHF with good elevation and high gain antenna
      taking to folks MORE than 200 miles away = HF bands with properly tuned antenna system, and knowledge of RF propagation

    • Joseph August 15, 2016, 11:09 am

      The Baofeng is not a good radio. They do not have the advertised output wattage, the microphone is very poor (you better get used to kissing the microphone – for many they are hard to program. However – if used to simply receive they can remain on and listening for a very long time – they can also receive outside the 2meter / 70 cm ham bands. But please don’t depend on these radios for solid communications – I often can’t hit local repeaters via line-of-sight.

      • Paul Helinski August 15, 2016, 12:41 pm

        From a prepping perspective the HF radios are all a complete waste of resources. That most survival blogs pitch them is just because they get kickbacks from Amazon for linking to them.

  • Michael January 12, 2015, 1:41 pm

    Great article. However, for those of us without the requisite post-graduate electrical degree, how about a suggestion for a decent, reliable, multi-power options (house current, batteries, car battery, and solar), handheld HAM receiver (brand, model, approximate price tag?). Could also use a suggestion for a decent handheld walkie talkie device for local, short range communication between family members. So far our focus has been priorities such as water, food, medical supplies, fuel, and security items, but now I need to add decent communications tools to my inventory. Thanks to all for any suggestions you may have.

    • Sean January 12, 2015, 4:17 pm
      • Administrator January 12, 2015, 4:25 pm

        This is actually a pretty good article, but it makes a fatal error that it doesn’t cover HF. Without HF you are severely limited in range, because the repeaters will be down after a week of emergency power.

    • Michael B January 12, 2015, 10:47 pm

      I have been getting great info from the website. There are also a couple of training manual and hand held radio deals on there in the ads that are really a good place to start learning at a low price tag. Under $100. Good luck!

      • Administrator January 12, 2015, 11:21 pm

        If you bother to read the first article you will discover links to Wouxon and Boefeng radios that are as little as $30.

        • Glenn August 11, 2015, 9:52 am

          True my friend, these radio’s are about $35 plus postage but they are just a couple of watts and with out repeaters not much range. Also : From experience I can share that the EMP even from a lightening strike near by can take out components in todays radios. The small surface mount parts on today’s radios won’t withstand the EMP generated by an EMP bomb. I am a prepper myself and let me say that means being prepared. Arm yourself with the information provided by getting a ham ticket. Then continue to learn. It’s fun. You will be of value to your community and family. Trust me you don’t have to be an engineering scientists to become ham. The ARRL is your best source.

  • Sean January 12, 2015, 12:27 pm

    I recently earned my general license and am researching HF rigs now.
    The gear geek in me enjoyed this article, but the prepper in me sees this as unhelpful in a disaster.

    1) many HF bands will NOT work for local QSOs (see:
    1a) that means HF isn’t helpful unless you’re talking to stations hundreds of miles away
    1b) “Bubba” across town won’t likely “hear” you in the first place, so may as well setup HF at home

    2) understand WHY and WHEN HF would be useful in a disaster
    2a) if there’s a regional disaster, you could “get out” beyond the AO to tell friends/relatives you are safe
    2b) it could be a way to get long distance news back to your community

    A scenario where this project would make sense would be a near global SHTF, but ill-prepared for a hurricane, earthquake or civil unrest.

  • Joshlt January 12, 2015, 12:06 pm

    The elecraft kx3 uses less power, smaller and more features.

  • TEN/6 January 12, 2015, 11:53 am

    Having humped a PRC-77 and the PRC 25 radios (like the one pictured aboce) plus a KY-38 encryption device, I can tell you that even at $200 it just ain’t worth it. The radios are gawdawful heavy and use unique batteries. While I am sure you can cobble together a battery, the radio above will be much much lighter. When I was 19 I could hump that radio, KY, my gear, extra batteries and a rifle all day but 60lbs later and some grey hair and I know that the trade off between mil grade gear vs bug out/commo bag you can carry vs batteries vs enormous size and weight makes this a no brainer.
    Thank you for the article!

  • Kivaari January 12, 2015, 11:39 am

    Great article. I just finished a book by “A. American” called “Going Home” also taking place in Florida. It covers the uses and tactics of Ham radio while on the run from the DHS/Dictatorship. The author covers the ease with which the government can radio direction find (RDF) locate your transmission location. The author recommend moving no less than 5 miles preferably 10 miles for brief transmissions. My late brother was into this field, but has been gone for 20 years. I could use his genius now, especially his electronics engineering skills.
    I wont be able to justify the expense, since food and medicine are critical at this time. Medicines for me, means I have maybe a month to live after the system collapse. But the food will feed my wife and the kids.

    • Michael January 12, 2015, 10:40 pm

      Kivaari. I am reading “Surviving Home” now and was inspired to get my ham license from reading “Going Home.”(book 1)
      I am also for-warned from reading these tales that listening is GOOD, Transmitting, not so much!
      So as stated earlier on in this article, anyone can listen in! Just don’t transmit unless you spend the time to get a license and practice, practice, practice before you find yourself REALLY needing your radio to help yourself and others!

  • Lawrence E Henson January 12, 2015, 10:31 am

    OK article however FACTS NEED to be passed out to Patriots and Pro US Constitutionalist! Amateur (Ham Radio) License acquisition IS EASY go to Practice Tests; Tech., General, Extra Class – ALL are multiple choice questions, and NO Morse Code! 2.5 watts will work fine with portable HF tuned wire antennas – better than most those “tuners” will EVER provide. Several great mag mount antennas for VHF and UHF (the BEST bands for Local Emergencies) they are small and readily available. There is far more to this than any article note like this can provide. Larry AE6JI FCC VEC, Extra Class 704-745-2067
    NOTE: Modify the radio BEFORE you really need it! = 500 times the channels.
    While no license is really required – in a FACTUAL Emergency – PRACTICE makes perfect – and you NEED Practice to be good at anything! Windmills, generators, gell cells and photocells have very limited value – however – in a TRUE Emergency – You MUST HAVE a heavier cord with a QUALITY Cigarette Type Plug for Power! Then ANY car or portable jump starter box will provide power. Also you will need to have a QUALITY TRUE (real) Female Cigarette plug, (WalMart) with large clamp on leads to be able to attach directly to ANY battery also. A small Volt Ohm Meter should also be in your “kit” Analog are best as they do NOT require batteries for reading Bolts or Amps. DVM’s (Digital Volt Meters) require a separate 9 volt battery an do provide a more accurate reading.
    KISS = Keep It Simple Stupid or use the 7 P’s = Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance or SNAFU or FUBAR will follow your “plan”. Throw in a couple of snack bars, 12 volt lights, and other supplies, like Handy Talkies on FRS and/or other VHF and UHF or Who are You going to help -Locally???

    • Lawrence E Henson January 12, 2015, 11:35 am

      1. Please change “bolts” to Volts
      Do NOT use Li Ion Batteries for this or any “bug out” pack – ALL are VERY DANGEROUS and will ignite and/or explode if shorted or charged incorrectly!!! Additionally those wires WILL be cut though by this type of metal frame!
      And Add: Any questions? Call me any day 9 am to 9 pm EST ONLY, Larry +45 years Electronics Engineering

  • Patrick Diez Butty January 12, 2015, 9:51 am

    I personally used military radios. Both in the 6 mts FM band and in HF. For HF I have a Thomson TRC 300 with 20 Watts of power and a MBLE PRC-600 with 20/100 Watts. Although this radios are difficult to used, they will last more, are weather proof and almost EMP (electromagnetic pulse) resistance. The key is the antenna. With 20 W you can reach all the USA using the correct antenna. I done 8,000 km with the TRC. The military solar panel delivers 19 Vlts so you can power the reception of any radio. I also have a hand crank and a power charger that works with 12/24/120/220 vlts.

    • John May 27, 2015, 11:16 pm

      Were can I purchase these military radio’s that you discribed. I don’t think their for sale on military surplus stores. Are they?
      Anyway please advise, I don’t have the time or the expertice to build my own ham in the box.

  • El Mac January 12, 2015, 9:39 am

    FEMA camps….really now. Paranoid much?

    • Mark T January 12, 2015, 11:42 am

      I had to chuckle, Preppers have good ideas but for all the wrong reasons. You notice they always throw in the natural disaster, but then all they can talk about is the Apocalypse or the zombie threat. Do it for the right reasons, a natural disasters, and you will be prepared. Otherwise take your money to Vegas, you will get a better return on your money at greater odds.

  • gvm January 12, 2015, 9:31 am

    The ARRL (American Radio Relay League) website has all the information you need to get your HAM license. The Technician level consists of a 35 question test and gets you on the air anywhere above 50MHz. This will include your 6 meter band and can be long range comms. Most people use 2 Meter (VHF) and 70 Centimeter (UHF) communications because it is channelized and so easy to do especially with the bunches of repeaters out there for everyone to use. If you want to operate longer distances on HF you will need at least a General license. This test is a little harder than Technician but definitely worth doing in my opinion. This is a 50 question test and a little more technical but certainly doable for anyone interested, just put some study time in. You can download the question pools from the ARRL website just search for “question pool” on their site. I downloaded them, printed them out and highlighted the correct answers to study with. The questions that will be on your test are exactly the same as you will read in the question pool only the answers will be in a different order. They are not trying to trick you here only make sure you can and will behave while transmitting on these frequencies. The Extra class is not really worth the hassle as it only get you a small slice of freqs that belong only to extra calss operators, everything else is exactly the same. No morse code requirements any more so no reason not to take the test. Find a test site, pay your fee $14 last I checked and take as many tests as you can pass. If you take and pass Technician, take the General it doesn’t cost anything extra to take the next level. You might just pass, I did. If you do, take the Extra just for fun but that test is more difficult to be sure. Good luck and go get your licenses. General class definitely worth it, Extra class to say you have it. I do.

    • shane January 12, 2015, 10:32 am

      If you’ll, immediately upon getting the pool questions, black out all the wrong answers and then only study those pool questions by looking at and seeing only the the right answers, then when you take the test for-real the wrong answers will look exceedingly foreign to you and make the familiar looking right answers really jump out. I about aced all three tests doing so over two weeks time. The only questions it does not work as well on are the “all of above” and “none of the above” answers, but they are very few. You’ve got to fight the urge to take any practice tests at all beforehand to see how well you are doing. The above study strategy begins to unravel quick as you take any practice tests beforehand cause you’ll then be seeing and getting familiar with seeing all the wrong answers then, too. And, yes, study together for and take the Tech and General test at the same time, then study up for Extra afterwards.

      BTW, once you get your call sign, resist temptation to start posting it in your sig line anywhere on line. With it, anybody can look up your real name and specific address.

      • Tom January 14, 2015, 2:09 pm

        Though memorization will get you through the test, YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE QUESTIONS MEAN!!! there are many LID’s (Unknowledgeable Ham operator) on the HAM frequencies because of the NEW relaxed requirements, which make it very difficult to help people who don’t under stand the information you give them, when you’re just trying to help them correct an issue, that could cost a radio on the cheap side, or a life on the valuable side (RF BURNS!). Be eager to learn and ask as many questions as you need to understand why things work or don’t work the way they do.

  • Paul T January 12, 2015, 8:17 am

    I’ve been looking for an article such as yours. Thanks but I have two comments. First ham radio operation is much more confusing than I ever imagined. I do have a license but I still need the help of others from a radio club. Seek out a ham radio club in your area and b
    Get help and a license.
    The second comment is the need to store an emergency radio in a “Faraday cage.” Look it up. Most any electronic device will probably be fried if an EMP went off. Try using an old microwave oven but remember to remove the power cord so it doesn’t act as an antenna.

    • Administrator January 12, 2015, 8:29 am

      If the radio is detached from the antenna you don’t need a faraday cage. There is no antenna to build voltage. EMP waves that are capable of damage are very long wavelength.

      • Chris Baker January 12, 2015, 11:55 am

        Sorry but that turns out not to be the case. Even the circuit boards and leads to the discrete components can receive enough energy to fry them. Depends on how strong the EMP is. A nuke a hundred miles over the middle of the USA would fry almost everything that wasn’t shielded. Your cars will be dead too because the electronics in them will be fried, unless you have an old points and condenser ignition or a purely physically injected diesel vehicle. Those are no longer being sold, instead all the injections on the diesels are electronically controlled. One big flash in the sky and you better have good walking shoes or a really nice sturdy bicycle.

        • Administrator January 12, 2015, 11:57 am

          You should read the EMP article here. None of that is true or shows any evidence of being true. But feel free to just keep parroting what you see on TV.

      • Maurice Gundrum January 13, 2015, 4:34 pm

        Interesting comment. I heard that the car’s electronics would also fry and not work in an EMP scenario.
        Is there an antenna to the car’s computer that would cause it not to work? (Not talking about the car radio)
        If so, could you unplug the antenna and make it safe when parking the car for an extended period so there would be no damage to the car’s electronics?
        Peace, Mo

        • Administrator January 13, 2015, 4:43 pm

          Actual tests have shown that the car dies but can be restarted. If you read our EMP article it goes over some of the actual empirical results from historic tests before nukes were outlawed above ground.

          • Olaf Berg January 13, 2015, 9:13 pm

            Not sure if you have referenced this, but it is an excellent link on EMP.

          • Les Stewart January 8, 2017, 11:32 pm

            I hate to say it but when the bomb goes off we will be walking or trying to find a horse to ride.

    • Corina May 11, 2015, 9:10 am

      My daughter goes to school a little over 200 miles away… I am wanting to purchase a hamm radio that would allow me to communicate with her, should we lose communication. What do you suggest?

  • Marcelus Wallace January 12, 2015, 5:56 am

    Thanks for all the info, but I am completely HAM radio ignorant….anyway you could send some more links so I can read up? Thanks again! Also could this set up be installed in a pelican case for storage in a bug out vehicle?

    • Chris Baker January 12, 2015, 11:50 am

      Buy the book “Ham Radio for Dummies”. Read it. Check the internet for local clubs. Attend meetings and see if they can’t help you find a class and take it. I took the class about 7 months ago and learned enough to pass my tech and general class license. Only one step left. I plan to do that next year. I need to study up some more for that one. Oh and look up the ARRL web site for more information. They have club listings too.


    • Sean January 12, 2015, 1:41 pm

      As someone who got licensed in the past year, I have a few pieces of advice:

      1) there are tons of free study guides, including smart phone apps. 2 weeks of practice can pass the technician exam easily
      2) ignore 3/4 of the comments on this article. Some seriously ill-informed and misguided advice has been posted here.

      Master local comms first. If you didn’t own any guns, .300winMag or .338 Lapua wouldn’t be your first cartridge. You’d probably start with handguns, or intermediate rifles and work outward. Likewise with comms. Listen to your local emergency services, ARES/RACES groups, amateur operators and learn what is NORMAL and how far you can expect to communicate when you do get on the air.

  • Marcelus Wallace January 12, 2015, 5:54 am

    Thanks for all the info, but I am completely HAM radio ignorant….anyway you could send some more links so I can read up? Thanks again!

  • Duane Cook January 12, 2015, 4:26 am

    Interested in selling a complete setup or two?

    • John May 27, 2015, 11:08 pm

      Don’t have time to build a system. What do you have to sell. Interested in Mobile ham radio UHF-VHF- mostly USA coverage.

  • USpatriot77 January 12, 2015, 3:40 am

    I am an assistant coordinator with a County Oathkeepers group. This portable system seems to be what we have be looking for. We are gearing up for local emergencies, SAR, and just in case our families and group have to “bug out”. How does this system work off generator power? Are there any special pieces of equipment needed to run them off a generator? Thanks for your input and help!

    • eldiabloloco January 12, 2015, 11:59 am

      You would need a “12v power supply” to use the generator, or a 120v battery charging system along with the batteries. A good 12v supply that is inexpensive is the Samlex 1223, but any supply rated for 20a continuous output would work.

      A fun fact to know is that most radios usually require something closer to 13.5v for full transmit output, and most radio supplies actually provide about 13.8v. When the battery drops below 11.5v transmit may be degraded, both output power and audio quality.

  • Manny January 11, 2015, 11:31 am

    Thank you for the very informative article. I like the plans for the portable rig and the solar charging.
    One question, if you are just going to monitor only, then wouldn’t a mobile/handheld scanner be a better option?

    • Administrator January 11, 2015, 11:41 am

      If all you want to do is monitor, yes, and the article says that, though it is a recent edit and you may have seen an older version. How frustrating would it be to not be able to transmit when you hear the name of a loved one on a survivor list being announced 1,000 miles away? Compared to buying yet another AR? Spend the money on a transceiver.

      • Brian Manns January 12, 2015, 7:58 am

        Be sure to tell your readers you MUST have a Federal Communications Comission Amateur Radio License to use these radios. With out it you are breaking a Federal law.

        • Brian Totten January 12, 2015, 9:34 am

          To expand on Brian Manns comment. Anyone can buy a ham radio. It is not illegal to own or operate one in a listening mode. It is illegal to transmit w/o a license. I agree on the Administrator post. Spend the money on a transceiver! Having the transmit option usually will entice a person to become licensed!

          Brian Totten – AB5KT

        • Libra8 January 12, 2015, 11:43 am

          When the SHTF do you really think laws will matter? I don’t.

          • Sean January 12, 2015, 1:35 pm

            Of course not, but studying for the license exam is a forcing function to get a clue about how RF works.

            Suppose someone has an FT897 or other HF rig and wants to TX to a station 2 states away on 20 meters. Do they know how to make an antenna? What if there’s no antenna tuner, do they know how to rig up a dipole from scrap extension cords?

            Amateur radio is not a mass produced commodity like shopping at Walmart. It’s maybe 40% gear and 60% operator.

          • James January 12, 2015, 6:06 pm

            You need to get a license. You would use 40M in daytime and 80M at night, usually to cover two states.

          • Larry J October 15, 2015, 12:18 pm

            Without a call sign, don’t expect any ham to talk to you.

          • Mike November 27, 2015, 1:15 pm

            Guess what … if you you don’t identify with a legit call sign … no one will talk to you.

      • bill kuhlmann January 13, 2015, 3:29 pm

        back in the 50s we had a Gonset Communicator 3 ham radio installed in a 51 ford. with it we worked china, india, England from Los Angeles. is there anyone who might know if these are still around.

    • Oscar Nugent January 12, 2015, 3:20 pm

      I encourage all who are interested in communications getting their Ham license. It is a fun hobby and can be very helpful in most emergencies. However, without knowing what you are doing will result in many people spending a lot of money for nothing and for the wrong reasons. On can get a license in about a month. However, it may take a long times to learn properly. Without knowing the basic physics of RF and how things work and why, you might as well use a carrot for an antenna! It will do you about that much good.
      You have way oversimplified ham radio communications. I don’t think your readers a being well served.
      As ham for 40 + years, this is my opinion.

    • Ken Field January 25, 2015, 12:59 pm

      2 of the 10AH batteries fit nicely inside the frame. That should extend operation somewhat.

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