By John Galt
July 30, 2008
Sheriff Mack walked calmly into the Mayor’s office with a hurried manner in his face. Mayor Williams looked at him and asked immediately “What’s wrong Bill?” The Sheriff took his hat off and unzipped his coat while responding “Tom, we’re getting reports that Minneapolis and Chicago just got nuked. No further news as the EAS sounded on the Eau Claire and Stevens Point stations then nothing. Every station on FM and AM were off the air and power is out citywide” The Mayor calmly walked over to his office safe and pulled out the antiquated Civil Defense manual last updated in 1978. Mayor Williams said to the Sheriff “Well, we still have generator power. Break the book open and see what we are supposed to do.” The Sheriff dusted off the thirty-four year old book and just as he unsealed it and opened it up he noticed a crowd of people forming outside the Mayor’s window. “Tom, I had best get out there. Let me know what we are supposed to do next.”
The people of the sleepy Wisconsin town of Neillsville had no idea what was going on. They just knew that their long time Sheriff and two term Mayor would know what to say and do. “Sheriff Mack, what happened? The television warned we were at war and to take cover immediately” a young lady yelled out almost hysterical with fear. The Sheriff calmly said “Then why are you out here exposed to the possible dangers? You need to do what the TV says and we’ll advise you on what to do next when we get more information. Fill up your water jugs and use the plastic sheeting to seal off your windows and doors. We’ll use the squad car to go door to door and let everyone know what is up as soon as we get more information.” Before the next question could be uttered the Sheriff said “Now go home!” in a very stern fashion which caused everyone to disperse.
Then Sheriff Mack walked back into the office somewhat concerned now. “Tom, we need some information and quick. All of our squad car radios are loaded with static and the cell phone system is down. I can not even reach my wife.” Sheriff Mack continued, “I think I’ll send a deputy up to Stevens Point and try to see if they have any information for us. This is getting spooky.” The Mayor nodded while buried in the section of the old Civilian Defense manual about food preservation when he looked up at the Sheriff and said “Bill, we need a satellite or ham radio rig as soon as possible. Do you know if the weather radios downstairs are working?” The Sheriff shrugged and headed towards the door “I’ll check right away and send a deputy to the Point.”
The deputy was sent but the old weather radio was of little use. There was static on all of the frequencies there and the EAS tone was the only thing being received on the Eau Claire frequency. The Sheriff then ran up the stairs and yelled out “Tom, I’m heading out to old man Tompkin’s place. He’s the only ham within twenty miles of town!” The Mayor yelled back “Hurry, time could be short and we need information as soon as you can get some on just what the hell is going on!”
The Sheriff started his car up and cranked up the sirens heading up towards Christie where the old farm was just South of. He pulled into the driveway but notice that Jim Tompkin’s car was gone, and even weirder his front door was open. The Sheriff drew his pistol worried that looters or worse had already hit the area when he walked inside to see a note on the cocktail table in his living room:
GONE TO DULUTH, YOU SHOULD TOO
Now what the hell kind of whacked out message from the old feller was that? The Sheriff walked around the house and noticed that the ham gear was almost all gone except for one Drake rig with a label of DSR-1 tuned to ‘239′ that was blaring Morse Code through the headphones. Sheriff Bill Mack was a skilled man, known for his experience in Gulf War I, his ability to solve any kind of crisis but he never learned the Morse Code and Jim was the only one in town he thought that knew it. Before turning the generator off outside and unplugging everything, Sheriff Mack found an old battery powered cassette recorder and held it up to the headphones to try to record about five minutes of the Morse Code. After nabbing the recording, he grabbed the rig, the headphones and then powered down the generator so it would not run dry and cause more problems for Tompkins when he returned. “That’s strange” the Sheriff thought, “Why Duluth?”
When he got back to City Hall, the rest of his deputies minus the one on the way to Stevens Point had assembled. He asked everyone in the Mayor’s office “Do any of you know Morse Code or anything about amateur radio?” The Mayor cut everyone off and said “Why Bill? What did you find out there on his farm?” The Sheriff showed the Mayor the note about Duluth and said “this radio was on with a loop of Morse Code playing over and over again tuned to what looks like 239 on the dial.” This was just too strange for everyone and nobody knew what the heck was on the cassette loop. The Mayor looked at one of the young deputies and said “Go straight to the library and find me a book on amateur radio and hurry.” The deputy, unaware of all that was going on said “Why don’t we just look this up on the internet?” The Sheriff snapped back “THERE IS NO INTERNET. NO CELL PHONES. NO TELEVISION OR RADIO. NOTHING. WE ARE ON OUR OWN.”
As the deputy hurried out of the office, the Mayor asked everyone assembled a simple question: “What was the weather forecast for today? Does anyone have it handy?”
That question stunned everyone and the Mayor’s secretary said “I have a paper out here but may I ask why?” The Mayor replied “Per this book, we need to know the wind direction and weather forecast so we can determine if the fallout is coming here.” That made sense to everyone, especially since the trouble started some six hours ago and with darkness falling, if people needed to get indoors and head for shelters, the time was running out before sunset. It was mid-November and snow would not shock anyone now so that added threat to today’s events really got the attention of the gathered group.
The deputy’s siren was heard as well as the screeching tires of his car slamming to a stop in front of City Hall. He ran up the stairs and threw the 2006 ARRL Amateur Radio Handbook down on the desk and said “Sheriff, can I run home real quick and check on my wife? She’s got to be freaking out by now!” The Sheriff replied “sure Mike. Hurry back, we need everyone now.” The Mayor was looking through it for anything on Morse Code when another deputy ran in yelling “I’ve got it! The Morse Code is in my Boy Scout Handbook that the local troop uses!” They looked at the code and then the Mayor uttered “now what?” The Sheriff asked the deputy if he knew the code and he looked back at the Sheriff sheepishly and said “Sorry sir, we never got into the radio merit badges so we never worked on it.”
The Mayor looked at his watch which displayed 4:37 p.m. then peered out the window and as the snow started to fall he spoke softly “Well, I guess while you guys go downstairs and set up the ham radio, I’ll start transcribing the recording and see what we can get from it. I hope it is not some clown playing around with another ham rig.” The sun was starting to go down but little did the Mayor, Sheriff or anyone else in this small little Wisconsin town realize that it would be one of the last sunsets they would ever experience. The nuclear event was now some seven plus hours ago. And unfortunately for them, they would not get the tape transcribed for at least two more hours. The message was clear and concise and explained why the allegedly “crazy old man” left the note that he did about heading north to Duluth….
Hours later, the Mayor had finished the transcription. It read:
EA, EAU CLAIRE, 239 KILOHERTZ, 1800 UTC FALLOUT ADVISORY FOR CENTRAL WISCONSIN…..ETA TO EAU CLAIRE 2000 UTC, ESTIMATE OF 1200 RADS PER HOUR…ETA TO STEVENS POINT 2130 UTC ESTIMATE OF 1200 RADS PER HOUR…..ETA TO MADISON 2230 UTC, ESTIMATE OF 1050 RADS PER HOUR…
There you have it. The oldest method of communicating was the only one still up and working. The government still functioned, somehow, broadcasting information vital for people’s survival but only those with the skill, although antiquated, knew what it meant. Information is what this prepetorial is all about and the question it raises:
Are you able to receive and comprehend information from almost any source?
When things break down in a civilization, be it due to a terrorist attack, all out war or worse a major natural disaster, the government and amateur radio operators will do all they can to transmit information back and forth to decipher the nightmare that is upon us. The station in question above is real, does broadcast as far as I still know and transmits information that most people would go “huh” about. It is a long wave radio beacon for navigation purposes and transmits on long wave only (frequencies below 500 kilohertz). As one proceeds down the radio band below medium wave or the A.M. broadcast band, you hear some broadcasters primarily from Europe, Africa and Asia on occasion and a lot of utility and navigation stations. At 60 khz you can hear a time standard station, WWVB, which is the sister to WWV and WWVH that broadcast the tones and time 24/7 or at least until such an emergency in the fictional story above occurs.
Why is this information important? Consider this; anything that survives any EMP event will be used to transmit information in whatever mode is possible. If it is a beacon station it will be in Morse Code and could save your life. Many amateur radio operators or “hams” will switch to QRP or “low power” modes and use Morse Code to transmit information. Why QRP? To preserve battery strength and broadcast the signal as far as possible to reach and warn the largest audience they can and get as much news, region by region, out to the world.
Beyond that, a second language, maybe not fluency but knowledge or understanding of, will be crucial. While nations who may or may not be involved in the conflict will broadcast propaganda of every sort, you have to consider the prospect of getting your news via shortwave radio from nations like Ecuador, Chile or even Morocco being broadcast in Spanish or French. There is little doubt that some nations would survive such a crisis and continue to broadcast in English, but do you know how to tune it in? What antennas you need? How to operate a basic radio and what kind to buy? While I am not going to go through a “how to” on shortwave radio, there are many excellent forums and clubs which can point the way.
The message I want to get across is do not marry your survival, your family’s future or your community’s to a satellite news service, cable television, cell phones or standard broadcasters. You will need the ability to receive all sources of information regardless of the source so educated decisions can be made and the noise separated from the fluff broadcast by many in all directions. Restricting ones ability to discern a course of action can be lethal. Be it as simple as not knowing Morse Code to get a critical advisory from the government or ham operators or learning that the world is reverting into a “Mad Max” society. Those with that ability will usually survive and prosper.
Those that do not, well, enjoy your future. It will be short, bleak and probably quite painful.