Being prepared individuals, we strive to train as much as possible. Training is time-consuming, weather dependent and can be costly. With that said, we, as radio specialists, are in luck! With some creativity we can train wherever, whenever and as often as we like. Enter our listening skills……
We have talked about collecting intel from radio chatter we intercept, but do we understand what’s being said? Hearing and understanding are two different things. Getting a radio and an antenna, setting it up and hearing signals is the easy part. The understanding part is a bit more challenging. Sometimes radio chatter is just that, chatter. Other times it is easy to filter out the “active incident comms”. Sirens in the background, a worried tone in the operator’s voice etc. are easy indicators and will clue you into a working incident. It’s the in between things that are harder to pick out. When the time comes,we must use our skills to keep our family and/or group safe and ahead of the game. These subtle details could mean the difference. A skilled intercept operator can process radio traffic from multiple sources at the same time.
Listening for key words or phrases and bypassing routine traffic. This skill is something you should strive for. The only way to get good at this is practice. In a grid down situation you may find yourself gathering intel to make life or death decisions, get good at this now. Your job as the communication specialist will include monitoring the bad guys. The “bad guys” will be passing information over the radio and if intercepted, you can plan accordingly. Now, let’s get to it. Homework time! This exercise can be done anywhere, anytime.
As you read this post, there are countless numbers of signals being transmitted. Whether it’s day or night, there is always something to listen to. Pick something to monitor, it can be anything. This exercise will work with a fire dispatch frequency, a towing company frequency or even an aircraft frequency. What you pick is irrelevant, as long as you can receive it, it will work. Get your notebook and pencil ready and tune in. Just so we are clear, I am not telling you to “ambulance chase”; this is for training purposes only. What you want to do is just start listening, get a feel for how they operate. Take notice on what type traffic you hear, how many units are on the frequency and any other details you think might be of importance.
Take notes and keep a record of transmissions. Write down times, locations, special phrases or codes used. Remember this is just for practice, don’t share sensitive information that will start unnecessary trouble. These notes you are taking are for your review only. Monitor the same channel for the entire session. This way when you review your findings you will have a baseline to reference. You can monitor for long or short periods of time, as long as you tune in and take notes. You can monitor from your home, car or even on your lunch break. Use your portable in the field with head phones, whenever you can squeeze it in. Here is a short list of somethings you may want to document as you monitor :
- The frequency and mode (AM, FM, P25 etc.)
- Time and Date: When you started and ended your monitoring and when you hear a piece of notable traffic.
- Signal Data: Pl tones, NAC codes, is it a repeater or simplex? Signal strength, tones or data burst.
- Your station set up : Are you at home, mobile or portable? What type of antenna are you using?
- How many units do you think are on frequency? What are there ID’s or call signs?
- What are they talking about?
- Address or land marks mentioned
- Numbers or codes used
There will be other things to note as you go along but they may be situation specific. Try this exercise with different types of signals. You will find different types of comms present different challenges. Intercept work is like fishing, you wait for something that sometimes never happens. Also, when fishing you have different lures and equipment to catch certain fish, well in intercept you also have different gear for catching different signals.
Remember, it does not matter what radio you have as long as you practice. Any old analog scanner can run this exercise. I hope this post helps you to get the most out of your monitoring time. Practice as often as you can and you will see your analysis skills improve. For more hands on, come to class: https://dialtoneblog.wordpress.com/training/