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The Emergency Preparedness
Tip o'da Week

Emergency Communications

The material presented on this page is intended to start you thinking about what you can do today that might someday save your life. If nothing else, our "Tip o' da Week" might just make your life a bit easier when a disaster strikes. We do not present topics that cost a lot of money (like structure reinforcement.) These are "do it yourself" projects and are relatively inexpensive.


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Emergency Communications
(An Intro to CB, GMRS, and Ham Radio)


About this tip's submitter:

Bill says, "I am currently a Deputy Sheriff while I finish a degree in Telecommunications Systems Management.  I also enjoy the hobbies of Amateur radio, scanner listening and emergency preparedness.  I have read though your pages and found them to be very informative and helpful but I find one thing absent--communications equipment."


In today's culture we have become very accustomed to extensive connectivity.  We can pick up a home phone and call almost anywhere or use a cellular phone to call from almost anywhere. Lets not forget the Internet and its many uses and applications.

In an emergency, one of the first things to go is power but communications are usually next.  In areas prone to earthquakes and hurricanes it is almost guaranteed you will lose communication, possibly for an extended period of time.  Not even cell phones are immune because most cell networks are wired into the regular phone network at some point.

Since resources will be at a minimum and travel disrupted good communications will be essential.  The are several options available to you in this area.  Just like anything else you can prepare with, there are varying degrees of use and cost.

CB

Let's start with the easiest, most plentiful and cost effective method; CB or civilian band radio.

These radios have 5 watts of output power giving you 5 to 10 miles of range and are widely utilized by many people in every day life.  This is a plus considering the ability to call for emergency services or to pass along (relay) messages to family who may be out of range.

These radios can be procured from many locations.  Such as truck stops, national chain stores radio dealers and my favorite place Garage Sales.  You can pay anywhere from $5 to $250 for the three different model types; hand held ,mobiles for cars and home bases.  Most of the units can be powered by 12V DC so they can be run off a vehicle or a back-up battery charged by a generator or some other source.

There are some drawbacks to CB (like all other communication methods).

First, is the range provided; if you are heading to and from work or shopping somewhere you may be out of range of all family members.

Second, is the fact that some units are not well made.  You don't want to depend your communication on the lowest quality radio it may be your lifeline!  More information on CB can be found many places including :

REACT International, Inc.,
403-5210 Auth Road,
Suitland, MD 20746-4330
Tel: 301-316-2900
Fax: 301-316-2903
Web: www.reactintl.org

G.M.R.S.

Next, is G.M.R.S. or General Mobile Radio Service.  It has many advantages over CB as well as some drawbacks.

You can get GMRS hand held radios that are 5 watts and Mobiles up to 50 watts.  The mobiles can also be used from a house with a 12V power supply.  These have increased range because of the 50W but also because of the use of repeaters.

Repeaters rebroadcast your signal from a high atop hills and antenna towers to increase you range to a 100 miles or more.  So you could keep a hand held radio with you where ever you go; shopping, work or just for a walk.  Repeaters are usually run by not-for-profit clubs.  Memberships and usage can run between $5 and $20 a month with no per-minute charges like cell phone.  This gives you the ability to stay in touch over a very large area.

There are 15 UHF channels available for use on GMRS 8 repeaters channels and 7 low power (5W max.).  There is also a designated emergency channel at 462.675MHZ that is monitored by many clubs and other GMRS operators.  This is handy when traveling!

Equipment can be obtained from many sources, such as radio dealer and mail order.  Quality on average is good but there many features out there to choose from.  You will have to see how the fit into your usage.  The draw backs; cost, you need a license to operate GMRS but this is purchased for $80 from the FCC(radio dealers have the forms). The license lasts for 5 years before you must renew it. One advantage of the license is once an 18 year old member of the household has one it covers everyone in the house. There is no minimum age for operating GMRS.

The equipment can be expensive if you don't shop around.  Hand held models run from $180 to $299 and mobiles from $200 to $400.  Used equipment can be found substantially discounted at flea markets and on the web.

Energy, just like everything else.  You will need to power the radios in emergencies.  The hand held models usually have ni-cad battery packs that will need to be recharged or you can purchase battery cases that hold standard AA's in emergencies at a reduced power output (usually 2W).  Mobile can use vehicles or a deep cycle 12V battery.

If you wish to find more detailed information on GMRS ,try a search engine on the net.  The are several informative sites.

Ham Radio

Amateur (ham) Radio is another option and possibly the most flexible.  You communicate over short distances or to different continents.  Equipment varies extensively from 5 Watt hand held to radios as strong as 500 Watts that let you talk to the other side of the world.

Some of Ham radio's advantages include several thousand repeaters across the U.S., Canada and Central America.  These repeaters have varying coverage areas from 30 to 200 miles away from their towers.  Most of these repeaters are run by clubs for the enjoyment of the radio hobby or for specific reasons such as severe weather spotting.

Certain Ham radios have the ability to talk across several thousand miles without the aid of repeaters.  Most of this communication is done on the High Frequency band.  These radios can be extremely useful in coordinating emergency relief or contacting relatives who may be out of state.  There are many Hams that relay messages to non-hams during emergencies.

Ham radios can be obtained from several national catalog dealers or such stores as Radio Shack but the best place to get a bargain is at a Hamfest or swap meet. Ham radio operators bring new and used equipment to sell at reasonable prices.  They can run anywhere from $100 to several thousand depending on how technical you want to get.

There is a drawback to Ham Radio though; you need an amateur radio license.  These are not hard to get.  You will have to pass a written test that proves you have read the rules and are familiar with operating techniques.  With the new licensing structure Morse Code testing is not required and there is no age limit.  These tests are given by repeater clubs though out every state and usually only cost $5 to $8.  If you pass one of these tests you will receive your license in 10-15 days. There is no charge past the test fee.  You just need to renew you license with the FCC ever ten years at the cost of a postage stamp.

If you are interested in learning more about Ham Radio visit the American Radio Relay League at www.arrl.org.

--Bill


This is a past episode of TOW.  Go to Preparedness Tips to see more TOW's.


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