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Episode 213 S6-13

Emergency Communications Scanning 101


Special Guest:

The Endless Night Ch 13

~Phil Lichtenberger~

In an emergency, communication is critical as the characters in The Endless Night adventure find out. Here to discuss how you can begin to stay in contact even in the bleakest of survival situations is Phil Lichtenberger, owner of

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Phil and Chin worked together to support the Cajun Navy during their efforts in NC during Hurricane Florence last year. Using scanner technology, they funneled information out to Cajun Navy. This critical information was a game-changer.

If you want to set up a scanner system, don't just run out and buy a scanner without identifying what you want to listen to in your area. There are many factors that you need to educate yourself on and learn if your local emergency departments are using, including trucking, analog Vs. digital, and ham radios. If your fire and police stations are encrypted, this creates a whole new problem.

Then you need to figure out if you want a handheld, a mobile/car mount, &/or a desktop format radio. You will need an antenna system and will need to research what will work best in your area. The cabling for your antenna is also vital. Your location/terrain will drive your selection in antennas to receive signals.  The higher the antenna, the better & use good quality coax cable.

Many state laws govern the use of scanners in your vehicle, so make sure you check the local laws.

To clarify the process of selecting and setting up a scanner, Phil is sharing a document called "5 Things to know before buying a scanner radio" to help the Changing Earth listeners. He also recommends checking out the Scanner Master. It is a large shop that will help you select your scanner and program it for you! Phil's website has a resource page which lists helpful sites.

Setting a scanner up to listen to specific sources like your local fire department is critical in emergencies. CB & FRS (walkie talkie) good for close local communications between your survival group. GMRS radios have some repeaters to help increase your range.

Some of the groups you may want to become involved with once you are up and running are ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services), RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services), National Radio Traffic Systems, and CERT (Civil Emergency Response Team).  You can search site to see who uses what frequencies in your area, or the area you are traveling to/through.

Uniden makes HomePatrol series radios that use a radio reference to program your radio automatically. Pro-Scan is a software that will help you program your scanner with the radio reference database.

Please don't buy a scanner and then wait till an emergency to use it. Phil can help you set up Banks for your scanner. For example, doing a setup like putting all NYPD frequencies into one bank and NYFD into another bank allows you to choose your selection in a more targeted manner. You can turn that bank on and not have too much going on in your scanner, making it miss radio traffic.  Keep your scan list short and sweet

A lot of scanners alpha-tag now so you can see, on the scanner's screen, what you are listening to when it locks into a signal.  It is like another language you need to learn.  By practicing with your scanner and researching ("googling") things like "10-codes," you will understand what is being broadcast by your group of choice.

Phil has developed a database of the codes for his local area. You may want to look for something similar on a WiKi page for your city or design one yourself.  Understanding these databases will help you understand the language.

An excellent way to get started with scanning is to use online resources. RadioReference bought ScanAmerica and is now called Broadcastify. Broadcastify has a free service and a paid premium service. When using online scanner apps, you can dial down from the country, to the state, to the county/parish and listen to feeds in your area. Scanner Radio Deluxe is an app Phil uses on his tablet and phone. Using these apps is a simple way to start and get a feel for what is in your area. You can listen to planes, trains, traffic helicopters, fire departments, public safety/police, ham, and other sources. You can also use these apps to listen to other areas to see what’s going on. You can track events/storms by changing the channel locations on the app.

One downside is, if the area you are listening in on experiences a loss of power or antennas, then you will lose that feed. You can also use the app Zello to listen to communications in different areas and set up groups for your people to talk to one another. Text and Data transmissions usually are more successful then voice over cellular during times of heavy traffic.  Not guaranteed, but generally better. Using all these different apps give you redundancy in concert with your radio scanner and other radios like CB, Ham, FRMS, and GRMS.

You can record scanners with software like FreeScan.  If your scanner has a data port, you will be able to save/archive with file names to keep things organized. Proscan is a software that you pay for but has some other tools that help categorize saved files. If you are in a storm, you will need power backups like solar and battery banks. Some scanners also have internal record functions.  

To monitor and record various feeds at once, you will need more than one scanner. ScannerSchool podcast Episode #79 is about using multiple scanners. There are commercial services that monitor banks of scanners, record the transmissions, and sell it to the news organizations. You can do an internal "broadcastify network" of your scanners, using Proscan on a computer and relay it out to your family/groups cellphones. You can also set up pagers to alert to transmissions like NOAA Weather tones, so you get their alerts.  You can also transmit out alerts and messages out to your private pager network for your local group. You could do this with pagers and use it kind of like the old fashion phone chain to get messages out. Old School pagers still work and are being used by some groups. Voice paging may also be an excellent way to send your alerts out to your groups. Some scanners can be set to work as a pager if set to tone-out mode.
Close-Call or Signal Stalker are modes on scanners that can help you track down transmissions in your proximity.  It will listen for any local chatter and is helpful if you don't know the frequencies in use.  Be careful not to get stuck on that Close-call mode.  Remember to shut it off when not using that mode. SDR radio (Software Defined Radio) are less expensive, but the actual scanner hardware is easier to use for beginners.  Phil does offer classes in using SDR and setting up your SDR dongle with your computer.
Phil has done an entire show on the pros/cons on the cheap "Chinese radios," so that may be something to listen to before getting too frustrated with the cheap radio.

During Super Storm Sandy Phil didn't lose power so he could still monitor with his scanner and was able to listen to organizations like FEMA and the National Guard during their relief efforts.  He could track where resources where being moved to and where relief supplies were being handed out.  The ability to relay critical information is a perfect example of how scanners can provide valuable information during an emergency.

Check out for more information. Also, once a month, Phil does a segment "Ask Scanner School" on his podcast if you want to send him questions.

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The Endless Night Ch 13

~Phil Lichtenberger~

My name is Phil, and I want to welcome you to Scanner School!

I have been around scanners since before I could walk!

Growing up, my earliest memories include watching the red lights dance on my grandparent's old Bearcat 101 in the kitchen.  The sounds of police and fire tones would make their way into the living room as we played on the floor.

A lot has changed from those days.

We are here to help you understand the Scanner Radio hobby.

I love this hobby, and I love to share my knowledge with you! Scanner School is a collection of tutorials that are quick and easy to digest.   From entry level to advanced scanning techniques, we'll cover it!

We release weekly classes via audio tutorials, also known as Podcasts. You don't need any high tech devices to listen though.  Simply visit our site and there will be a player for each new podcasts.   For those with mobile devices, you can take the tutorials with you and listen via iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play. I suggest signing up for our mailing list so you don't miss any classes.

In addition to Podcasting, we will be bringing you video tutorials, product reviews, scanner classes, and even one-on-one consulting.

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