Emergency Communications

This is a discussion on Emergency Communications within the Related Gear & Equipment forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; I am putting together a Family Emergency Preparedness kit. One thing I would like to buy is some sort of communication equipment, a radio of ...

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Thread: Emergency Communications

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    Member Array AMH's Avatar
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    Emergency Communications

    I am putting together a Family Emergency Preparedness kit. One thing I would like to buy is some sort of communication equipment, a radio of some soft. I am pretty ignorant when it comes to this kind of stuff. I have been looking around, but the more I do the more confused I become. There is GMRS / FRS / CB / etc.

    Can someone please steer me in the right direction. What is what? What is best for different situations? Do I need an FCC license?
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    Member Array PaulBk's Avatar
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    I am sure others will be along with details, but to get you started I will kick things off. Different radios will have different requirements for legal use. Basically, the higher the power, the more regulation there will be.

    If you are serious about long range communicating during an extended emergency, then go get your ham license. For short range stuff, FRS/CB will suffice. I keep a couple of small FRS devices and a couple of hand held CB's in my emergency kit. These are small enough to easily stow with all the rest of the gear and would provide limited, short range communication for small teams or a family.

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    VIP Member Array Supertac45's Avatar
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    Depending on the radio, you will probably need a license. Unless you plan on HAM Radio type equipment, most licenses are a simple matter of a few dollars and the paper work. If your talking receivers only, no license is required.
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    Member Array AMH's Avatar
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    My father in-law is licensed for GMRS. According to the FCC website his family members (including in-laws) can operate a radio under his license. So I may be able to get away with not having to spend the $75 on a license.

    Anyways, I am thinking about getting this radio set. What do you think?
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    I have many forms at my disposal, FRS, GMRS, CB and HAM (N7PIG = my call sign). Each have their pros and cons. Go to www.ARRL.com for more details.

    The HAM is the most dificult and time consuming to obtain due to the test you have to take. The study time involved would take the lay person (like me) about one month of sudty time at 20 minutes a day for about 3 or 4 weeks. There are a few HAM web sites that have on line sudy guides (practice tests) that will guide you along the way. It's not hard, just time consuming. The license is good for a long time and is cheap.

    The good part is you can talk across your neighborhood or the world if you needed to. You can buy a decent hand held radio for under $110 or a great one for $400. I have spoken with a guy who is support staff at Palmer Station (Antarctica) from Spokane, Washington on my handleld wakie talkie ($120 model). That's the power of HAM radio. One of my walkie talkie (the size of a pack of smokes) can recieve radio / tv / frs / grms / and a few HAM bands. It's a true disaster radio.

    If you haven't already, look into HAM. It's a fun hobby too.

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    VIP Member Array Cupcake's Avatar
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    If you want reliable comms with the outside world, look into ham radio. If I had to place a bet on who will be talking when SHTF, it'd be on them. KB8NHL
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    Quote Originally Posted by AMH View Post
    My father in-law is licensed for GMRS. According to the FCC website his family members (including in-laws) can operate a radio under his license. So I may be able to get away with not having to spend the $75 on a license.

    Anyways, I am thinking about getting this radio set. What do you think?
    10 miles....I think not,welcome to the world of line of sight (LOS) if your planning on a SHTF radio, go with a quality radio set, which I'm sorry to say you probably won't get at walmart.

    When talking non-trunked radio, it's all about the power out. You'll want the most wattage that doesn't require a liscense.

    Along with power comes max propagation, that little stubby antenna isn't going to go much for you. You should have a better antenna, think mobile (IE vehicle mount, not hand held.)

    I try to leave the radio stuff at work, not into HAM at all, but I'll ask around.

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    VIP Member Array Cupcake's Avatar
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    Yeah, 1/4 wave mobile car antenna sure beats and 1/8wave rubber ducky, but an even better antenna is a di-pole. Basically a wire of a length that is appropraite for your frequency.
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    VIP Member Array mcp1810's Avatar
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    Another thing to consider is Nextel phones. They offer a couple of models that can use their direct connect function "off network". Going off network does greatly limit the range though. I myself have a couple of CB's ( including my first, a Midland 23 channel job!) and now 6 FRS/GMRS radios.
    The GMRS radios do require a license, however getting one is not that big a deal. My wife and I did a little testing, and the results were not surprising. Dont believe the advertised range. Those figures they give are assuming perfect atmospheric conditions and over open water and such. From inside my house talking to my wife walking the dog, my original two mile range radios are worthless after she goes about one block. My six mile radios give us in reality about a mile. My twenty mile radios aren't much better. The big issue for us is not so much distance as the houses etc. in between. When they say line of sight they mean it!
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    The Ham license is the way to go. I have an Advanced license. Entry level will get you all you need and it really isn't hard to pass the test.

    I have a Yaesu VX-7R that isn't much bigger than a pack of smokes it has 3 bands and I can link through repeaters and talk all over the world!

    Ham's train for disaster and our goal is to maintain communications in an emergency.
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    Member Array nlax2011's Avatar
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    Are they just going to be for use around the neighborhood, or when shopping or camping or something when ya'll will be within a mile or so of each other? If so then most any of those packaged "no license" handheld radios you see at Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc.... should work ok. Check out the power output and get one that has the highest output, though it'll sacrifice battery life.

    Those radios operate in what's known as "simplex" with no repeater. When you push the button and talk it's going straight to the other radio with nothing repeating it's signal, so line of sight rules apply to all these VHF/UHF radios.

    If you want something for around town where ya'll may be separated by several miles up to maybe 20 miles or so then you're going to need to a radio system that has repeaters. They are installed on commercial antenna towers or on buildings and when you talk through your handheld the repeater picks up your signal and re-broadcasts out using it's high antenna and higher power to the person on the other end. So know the two parties don't have to be close to each other because they are both relying on this well located repeater to hear and repeat each other's signals.

    I haven't really used any of those FRS/GMRS radios. I want to say that with one of them there is the ability to setup or use someone else's existing repeater. But usually that's probably a company setting one up for its own use, and I don't think they are all that common.

    Amateur (Ham) radio has a very popular set of frequencies in the 2meter (~147mhz VHF) range where there a just tons of repeaters setup and run by local clubs across the country. So once you get a license and a handheld you can use those. Nice thing is you can buy mobile units for the car and use an external antenna for more range and setup a rig at home. But like was mentioned above it's more involved to get licensed.

    I'd say it kind of depends on what you want to be able to do. If it's just to have "walkie-talkie" like capability for communicating in close range then any of those radios will work fine and you usually don't need any sort of license (except for one of those services, but it's a pay once sort of deal). I know CB is open to all and I believe FRS doesn't require a license either.

    If you truly want to get into emergency communications where there is an existing community of volunteers who maintain and run repeaters and various communication services for the local community than you may want to look into amateur radio.

  13. #12
    Member Array AMH's Avatar
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    First off I want to take a moment to thank everyone who replied. Thank You. This forum rocks!!!

    I just got back from Wally-world and picked up the radio set I previously mentioned. My initial concern is being able to communicate with my family within a mile or two, and I believe that this set will meet that small expectation.

    After reading all of your replies and surfing the net I am convinced that ham is the way to go. Money is very tight for my family so this will be a long term goal. Can someone give me some guidance on the best way to go about meeting this goal?

    Thanks again!
    Join the NRA!
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  14. #13
    Member Array nlax2011's Avatar
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    Glad your interested. My father and I are both "hams" and have been for a while. He's very much into the emergency communications side of things as his job is with a county emergency dept, so it fits naturally. I haven't been too active lately 'cause of school but there's something for everyone. There's short range repeaters for talking around town, I've got some digital equipment that lets me transmit GPS tracking coordinates from my car over the radio which I can then view online as well as see where other users of the "APRS" system are, there are other frequencies (HF) that allow you to talk around the world. So when SHTF a radio operator with one of those radios, which can range from a homebuilt radio kit costing next to nothing....to a latest and greatest $5,000 electronic piece of art, can throw up a simple wire antenna and talk with someone on the other side of the planet.

    If you are interested you could go here: http://www.arrl.org/FandES/field/club/clubsearch.phtml
    and search for some active radio clubs in your area. See when there meetings or even better, see when there next public service event is and stop by at an event or meeting to meet some of the folks and ask some questions.

    Here's a list of license "levels": http://www.arrl.org/arrlvec/license-requirements.html

    For your interests a Technician level one will give you access to all frequencies suitable for talking around town. And someone with a local club can let you know about the local testing schedules and classes if they offer them. I'd say to initially get your license will probably be <$40. There are numerous little study books available for purchase, but I'd be willing to bet someone at the club has books laying around they could let you borrow.

    After that it's just a matter of equipment. And again there's a healthy market of used amateur radio gear so they'd be able to let you know if someone there has some equipment they'd be willing to share or could point you to a local hamfest where there's everything from new to used to antique.

  15. #14
    Senior Member Array Shizzlemah's Avatar
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    I think all of the local ham exams around here are $15-18, not too bad at all. Highly recommend the ham liscense.

    A handheld 2-meter radio will work wonders, a car-installed 2-meter will be solid for anything shy of the apocalypse. "HF" ham will get you hundreds to thousands of miles, but wont fit in a pocket.

    (Ham Extra-class operator)

  16. #15
    Member Array AMH's Avatar
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    I just tested the radio set for the first time. I went to the doughnut shop that is about .7 miles away. I took one radio and my wife stayed home with the other one. We used Channel 8 (467.5625 MHz, FRS8). At the doughnut shop the transmission was audible, but with static.

    I have a few more questions for you all:

    1. As I mentioned my father-in-law has a GMRS license, so I can operate under his license. Does he need to be an active part of the communication for me to legally operate under his license?

    2. It is my understanding that I can get more range when transmitting on GMRS as opposed to FRS. Is this true?

    3. How can I go about finding out how many watts my radio set has?

    Thank you all!!
    Join the NRA!
    The Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting. It is about keeping the government in check. This requires that the citizenry is well armed and at all times has immediate access to arms.

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