Emergency Communications: Listening to ham radio for situational awareness

ham radio field station

Maybe taking the ham test has been on your list of things to do, but you haven’t gotten around to it. The good thing is, you don’t need an FCC license to listen in on ham radio bands. And, the ability to listen to multiple frequencies is vital to increasing your situational awareness, especially during a disaster or a crisis.

SDR (Software Defined Radio)
The simplest and easiest way to listen in is to use SDR sites on the web. SDR stands for software defined radio. SDRs are a great way to start listening and learning about radio without investing in an HF transceiver or getting a ham radio license.

WebSDR is a great way to get started using just a computer. A good one to try for your first time is the Northern Utah WebSDR in Corinne, Utah. Here are the steps:

  1. Choose the band you would like. Here are some popular ones:
    • Daytime – 20 meters: WebSDR Green, Magenta, or Teal, depending on your location
    • Late afternoon or Twilight – 40 meters:  WebSDR Yellow, Blue or Magenta, depending on your location
    • Evening – 75 meters (good for regional comms): WebSDR Yello or Blue
  2. If you don’t hear anything, make sure to select the audio start button.
  3. Note the vertical lines in the waterfall and use one of two methods to tune into a signal.
Web SDR


You can also set up your own SDR system with some inexpensive software and hardware. Here are two articles that we previously published that walk you through the process (available to American Contingency subscribers only):

  1. Software Defined Radio for Non-Hams: Part 1 – Hardware
  2. Software Defied Radio for Non-Hams: Part 2 – Software

If you realize that you need to work on your communication skills, but are not sure where to start, check out Getting Started with Communications and join the AmCon Ham Radio Network. AHRN is made up of many skilled hams who are more than happy to help you along the way and answer any questions you may have.

AmCon Ham Radio Network Survival Radio
To listen in on local communications, you can obtain a multiband handheld radio and turn on the scan feature. This will give you access to the FRS/GMRS, MURS, VHF and UHF bands. We recommend the AHRN Survival Radio, offered by @Max_KS4QF. It comes pre-programmed with the AmCon frequencies that are listed in the Signal Operating Instructions (SOI). And, once you get your amateur operator’s license, you will be ready with a radio that you can transmit on! 

If you are wanting to be able to communicate when telephone and wifi lines go down, Ham radio is something to be investigated for yourself. The benefits spread wide and in this community being ready and prepared includes all forms of situational awareness.

Join American Contingency now to get access to these articles and our online communications courses.

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