Communications Monitoring, COMINT, and the COVID-19 Emergency

So many of you are home and have broken out those police scanners and shortwave receivers in a decision to listen for information on the current COVID-19 emergency.

You should concentrate on the VHF/UHF scanner frequencies, because that’s where all the emergency workers with their boots on the ground will be operating. Sites such as Intercept Radio (http://www.interceptradio.com/) and Radio Reference (https://www.radioreference.com/) are your best bet for information.

There have been lists of shortwave (HF) frequencies circulating certain prepper sites and blogs. The lists are 10+ years old, and may have incorrect data, especially for Federal government agencies. Federal government radio license data, as opposed to State/County/Local agency (and non-government) license data, is deemed unclassified but sensitive, and exempt from the FOIA laws. That determination was made in the 1980s, so much of what you see online is that old, and just copied from data that Grove Communications managed to get before it became restricted.

Something to think about is when you have a whole host of communications system capabilities like HF, VHF/UHF, landline, satellite phone, Internet, why would you use (HF) radio for communications when you can, at present, pick up a phone and make a call? The answers are:

  1. Radio is used for group communications (base/HQ->mobile/field units) that are not practical to do via telephone.
  2. HF is a backup for when your other systems are down, or when the communications range exceeds that of your VHF/UHF system.
  3. When you are doing daily/weekly/monthly radio system tests to make sure everything still works.

There are hobbyist web sites that I have mentioned previously where listeners have been doing an excellent job collecting data, https://www.hfunderground.com/ and http://www.udxf.nl/ are two that I like. And with that, I’m going to give you a warning: these are international sites for worldwide SWL hobbyists who specialize in a particular aspect of the hobby: non-broadcast (aka utility or “ute”) communications on the HF bands. Many, perhaps even most of them, don’t give a shit about American prepper stuff. So, if you follow Dean Ing’s (and mine for that matter) advice about treating this like a hobby, you’ll be just fine. If you act like certain members of a few prepper-oriented FB groups I monitor, you’re probably going to get your ass kicked off the site, and lose a potentially good source of information.

Now, with that said, you might not find what you’re looking for if other hobbyists haven’t found it, or aren’t particularly interested in the same service/agency as you. That leaves you to do your own research. In this instance, the FCC is a useful resource.

Regardless of whether the frequency is HF, VHF, or UHF, a state department of homeland security/emergency management agency will still need a license to legally operate on a particular frequency. There might be an exception for a primarily Federal interoperability system, but I don’t know and those who really do aren’t going to say anything publicly because they like their job. Yes Virginia, when I worked in the LMR biz my fellow employees and I were flat out told that disclosing radio system information, even if it was just commenting on publicly available information would be grounds for termination, and we were more or less encouraged to spread disinformation.

Anyway… I went over to the FCC General Menu Reports Site/Market/Frequency Menu to see what I could find. I searched for Private Land Mobile – Public Safety Pool, Conventional (PW) licenses from 2-30 MHz. in the Northeast US, specifically Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. When I found a particular license, I further examined the details to see if it was for the state’s department of homeland security/emergency management. Here is what I found:

Freq. (MHz.)States
2.3274NYCTMARIMENHVTNJPA
2.4124

MARI

VTNJ
2.4154

MA
MENH


2.4204
CTMARI

VT

2.4724







PA
2.5884






NJ
2.8134NY







3.2024NY







5.1364NYCTMARIMENHVT
PA
5.1934
CTMARIMENHVT

5.1964






NJPA
7.4784NYCTMARI

VT

7.8064
CTMARIMENHVTNJPA
7.9334







PA

So we have some data here, and know it is factual in that this frequencies are currently licensed to the states listed. We also see that some frequencies have multiple states licensed to them, while others only have one or two. It would be safe to assume (although one might still be incorrect) that the former might be used for interstate communications and the later for intra-state. Listening to them would help prove or disprove what right not is onlt a theory.

This data is only for the Northeast US, but you can put together your own information by visiting https://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/General_Menu_Reports/engineering_search.cfm?accessible=NO&wild_select=on.

For those of you who might want to look for stuff that’s not licensed by the FCC, a sector search will be useful. Allocation data is available from https://transition.fcc.gov/oet/spectrum/table/fcctable.pdf, and by examining that table, we find the following ranges of interest. (Frequency ranges are in KHz.):

2000-2065, 2107-2170, 2194-2495, 2505-2750, 3155-3230, 3230-3400
4000-4063, 4438-4650, 4750-4995, 5005-5450, 5730-5900, 6765-7000
7400-8195, 9040-9400, 9900-9995, 10150-11175, 11400-11600, 12100-12230
13410-13570, 13870-1400, 14350-14990, 15800-16360, 17410-17480
18030-18068, 18168-18780, 19020-19680, 19800-19990, 20010-21000
21850-21924, 22855-23200, 23350-24890, 25330-25550, 26480-26950
27540-28000, 29890-29910

Under normal circumstances, HF frequencies below 7 MHz. best work at night, those above 15 MHz. work best during the day, and 7-15 MHz. is good 24 hours a day. This is not a hard and fast rule, but instead a good guideline to go by.

Like I said previously, any activity having to do with this COVID-19 thing is probably going to be on VHF/UHF, but moniotoring that traffic is simply a matter of programming your scanner and letting it run. There is less hard data available for HF systems, so those of you looking for a challenge or who are out of the affected area and want to see if you can hear something have the frequencies below 30 MHz. to try. Those of you in the Northeast have a list of frequencies to try, and the rest of you have some information on where to start looking.

Should you feel the need to share your findings, please send me an email to ticom.new.england@gmail.com. Your contributions are much appreciated!

ticom
Author: ticom

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