Ultimate ACE Startup Guide – Forward Observer Shop

Ultimate ACE Startup Guide

In several classes now, I’ve been asked what I would have in my ultimate ACE.  What a loaded question.  I’m going to use this post to describe what I currently have in my ACE.  I’ll also eventually update this post with what gear I’d like to add if price were not an issue.

Before we get into gear, I just want to pose one caveat:  Gear is good.  Gear and knowledge is better.  Gear, knowledge, and experience is best. 

Knowing how to use these things and getting practice at using them is where we separate fictional ability from practical ability.

(Some of the links I post are from Amazon.  I do get a small affiliate commission from each sale, which will go to better equip my ACE or better my own preparations.  I recommend these items because I use them or I’d like to use them, and not for any other reason.)


If you have the following items, then you will be geared to run a pretty good ACE for community security.  The packing list is below, followed by an explanation of each item.


ACE Gear List


Police Scanner

I use and love the Uniden HomePatrol 2.  No one makes a police scanner that’s more user friendly and out-of-the-box effective — AND it receives P25 digital channels.  You just plug in your zip code, and it pulls in your local frequencies from its on-board database.  If you have to go outside your zip code, just punch in the new one and it will load that area’s frequencies.  Unlike traditional police scanners, its screen tells me the area, department, and sometimes the unit currently transmitting.  Gone are the days of trying to recognize the voice or call-sign of the transmitter.  It also records, in case you want to go back over and listen to a specific transmission again.  When the police are calling out the location of a robbery in progress, or when dispatch is transmitting information about looter, we can be among the first to know.

Because the HomePatrol 2 is on the pricier side ($450-500, but worth every penny!), I just bought a handheld scanner (Uniden Bearcat BC75XLT) to test out.  Also, check out the BC125AT.  (Yes, there are other scanner manufacturers out there, however, I’ve been so impressed with the HomePatrol 2 that Uniden may have a customer for life.)


Software Defined Radio (SDR)

I use the NooElec R820T SDR.  At around twenty bucks, an SDR gives us the ability to identify activity in the radio frequency (RF) spectrum.  By plugging the SDR into a computer and loading some SDR software (I use GQRX), I can start monitoring and searching for radio traffic.  This software shows RF activity, so I can see a spike (indicating a transmission) and then listen into what’s been communicated on that frequency.  Out of the box, the R820T lets me listen into ham bands, as well as VHF/UHF transmissions.  It’s a pretty nifty piece of gear, however, there is a substantial learning curve.


Maps & Overlays

Having information from the scanner or SDR is great, but we need to be able to take location information — a robbery in progress or a mob of people — and put it on a map.  That’s going to allow us to “battle track” our security situation.  As reports and locations come in over the radio, we can easily keep track of who or what is where in relation to our position.

I highly recommend having 24″ x 36″ maps, to include street and topographical — of your surrounding area.  The USGS Store or MyTopo.com sells topographical maps.  Alternatively, you can save screenshots of Google Maps or another mapping tool, and print them off at your local Kinko’s.  For a quick, cheap, and easy solution, I printed off an 11″ x 17″ map and had it laminated for seven bucks.

As for overlays, we have several options.  An overlay is a piece of clear plastic we put over our maps to draw on.  That way, we’re not only not drawing on our map, but we can put multiple overlays on top of each other for a better picture of the situation.

We use Duralar for our map overlays in the SHTF Intelligence course.  Duralar is an acetate alternative, but you could just as easily use acetate sheets.  If you have a Hobby Lobby nearby, I’ve also used clear cellophane wrap (look for this).  It crinkles easily, but it absolutely works in a pinch.

And as long as we have maps and overlays, we need markers in four colors: black, red, green, and blue.  In the schoolhouse, we used Lumocolor non-permanent markers and I still use them today.

(If you have a Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) military map, you’re going to want a coordinate scale in order to determine six, eight, or ten digit grid-coordinates.)

I teach using maps and durlar/acetate because my biggest fear is that we have to provide security without power or the internet… in which case, all our digital collection and analysis is useless.  But I routinely use GoogleEarth Pro to augment my SHTF security planning.

Always Out Front,
Samuel Culper

If you’re concerned about where we’re headed as a country, whether on the near-end of the spectrum or the far end of the spectrum (social, political and economic instability; domestic conflict; or collapse of empire), and want to stay informed on what the headlines don’t cover, then I invite you to try us out. If you’re not happy within the first two weeks, I’ll refund your monthly or annual subscription cost – no questions asked. You can get access to our intelligence reporting and training area here.



Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.


  1. Do you by chance have any other options/recommendations for a decent police scanner?

    Perhaps one that retails for less than $400?

    Some of us are on a budget.

    1. Archer, I can second Culpeppers recommendation. That scanner is the best on the market bar none. In a high stress situation if you were mobile, all you need are zip codes, the radio does the rest automagically. Consider looking at the pawn shops locally or online Craigslist, bookoo and eBay…typically if you buy at a pawn shop they will permit you to buy it, take it to your trusted radio guy and have him check it out and return it If it’s not right.

  2. Although I’m setup for amateur radio bands HF, VHF and UHF – the SDR still seems appealing from a monitoring perspective.

    To do the same with conventional radios/scanners I’d have to be scanning a few different bands, on a few different receivers.

    I presume the software could potentially log times/frequencies where TX was detected.

    I don’t know why I keep typing – I should shut up and spend $20. LOL

  3. Our area is digital. It seems like these are analog. Other than the Home Patrol is there a digital scanner that you would recommend?

  4. These RTL-SDR dongles are now available on Amazon. Metal encased; made and promoted by the author of the well-written, popular hobbyist how-to book by Carl Laufer. He/they make them in batches so they’re not always available. I just ordered mine.

    RTL-SDR Blog R820T2 RTL2832U 1PPM TCXO SMA Software Defined Radio with 2x Telescopic Antennas
    by RTL-SDR Blog

  5. Sam or anyone, I have a very basic question since I’m quite new at this. What does the actual word ACE stand for?
    Thank you in advance

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