The first thought of some is that a license to operate a ham radio is worthless when the SHTF. Do what you have to do during a crisis is the thought of some regardless of rules and regulations. There of course, is some validity to this, but the point is that you are not in the middle of a crisis yet.
To practice and get familiar with a ham radio you need to get on the airwaves, and you absolutely need to know what you are doing to be able to communicate effectively using an Amateur Radio. An operator gains experience through use. To legally transmit however, you need a call sign, which is only assigned to you by the FCC after you have passed a written test and have paid all the fees.
The test is given by teams of accredited volunteers in coordination with the FCC. The FCC does not give the test.
You can of course buy a ham radio power it up and start keying the microphone. However, ham radio networks are not social chat sites. Others with a license would insist you sign in with your call sign and follow all protocols. You also have to sign off using your call sign, and give your call sign at certain intervals during transmission.
There are groups and individuals that make a point of tracking illegal signals down. It is a violation of the law and the fines are substantial if you are caught transmitting without a license.
A license is good for 10 years and is available to anyone except a member/representative of a foreign government. You do not need a ham radio operator’s license to purchase, own or to monitor ham radio transmissions for information. Knowing Morse code is not a requirement.
If you do not know the basics of radio transmissions along with wattage requirements then you could interfere with certain other communication devices in the area. If not licensed, and you use high wattage to communicate locally, for example, you will be interfering with others, and those legitimately operating will contact the proper authorities.
Taking the time to study and get your license means you know the basics of radio transmissions so you only use the wattage required to make contact. Stepping on or riding over other operators’ transmissions/communications is a violation, and this often times happens because operators do not know the proper wattage to use.
Even during a crisis proper operating protocol would be demanded by other operators. It would be the assumption by some that if you try to transmit without a valid call sign then your information may be invalidated, not accepted in other words. This could be a problem if you were actually trying to get information out there.
The local authorities would not call upon you to help get information passed along unless you have a call sign. In essence, your radio would only be a monitoring device during a crisis if you do not have a license.
Ham operators are often called upon to transmit valuable information during a crisis, because operators can operate their radios under virtually any conditions. Typically, you would have a backup power system that allows the radios to operate under blackout conditions.
Ham radios are ideal communication systems for families during a crisis. Base stations and hand held devices are readily available on the market. Like anything else there are price differences depending on your needs and how you plan to operate during a crisis.
There Are Three Levels of Licensing
1.) Technician Level
This is the entry level license and it is the place to start. The written exam is 35 questions. This license gives access to all Amateur Radio frequencies above 30 megahertz. You would have the ability to communicate locally and typically within North America. It also allows for some limited privileges on the HF (short wave) bands.
2.) General License
This license gives you certain privileges on all Amateur Radio bands and worldwide access. The test is again written and is 35 questions.
3.) Amateur Extra License
With this license you can operate on all bands and all modes. The test is more difficult and you must have passed the other tests before you can qualify for this license. The test is 50 questions.
Having a ham radio operator’s license allows you to join in the community of other hams and thus can learn from those more experienced. You need the experience so you are ready to communicate during a crisis, because ham radios can still communicate if there is no electric power, satellites, or cellular service. This of course requires a system to power your radio, but it can be something as simple as a car battery.
Once licensed your name and call sign is public information and anyone can look it up. This may concern some, but keep in mind if you have a license to drive a car, file taxes, or do any business with any governmental organization; your name is on a list.
Yes your signal can be traced to a general location and with certain equipment your signal can be traced back to the transmitting device specifically.
The government does not need to seize your radio they can just jam the signals if they wanted to. Some believe the government will track down ham operators during a crisis. There is plenty of reason to suspect the government and it is conceivable that under some situations that “a government” would want to restrict communications during a crisis, in particular if the populace has risen up against the authorities. This is not likely to happen, but it is a concern.
Anything you say can be monitored by anyone with a ham radio, police scanner and certain other devices. You have to practice Operational Security (OPSEC), so you do not disclose personal information or any information over open, unsecured airwaves that could lead someone to your home.