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Replying to Neighborhood Fire Watch/GMRS Products/Need Information

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 06:39 PM

Ideally, you wouldn't want EVERYONE to be trying to communicate at once during an area-wide emergency.  Let the communicators do the communicating, and get the message to another party who can let everyone else know what to do and where to go.  Let's see, what type of service could reliably do that???


BROADCAST RADIO, particularly a LOCAL live-staffed AM radio station.  No one wants to lug around a TV set for emergency information, so forget them.  Most FM stations in California (and the rest of the US for that matter) are automated music stations with no one actually live-on-duty, so forget them also.  Cellular phone service in most cases will be DOA.  Find a local AM station, make a plan that includes them, and tell EVERYONE that in times of emergency, they need to grab a portable AM radio, and tune to whatever frequency to get continuous updates on the emergency.  The local hams and GMRS operators, as well as first responders and government officials can all be in contact with the radio station to give them updates, and they will tell everyone else... many times with live on-the-scene audio actualities.


That local AM radio station has between 1,000 and 50,000 Watts of transmitter power with backup.  You don't.  They have hundreds of miles of relatively high-fidelity audio coverage.  You don't.  Between emergency updates, they can tell the audience where to find help, and keep them calm with a few music selections.  You can't.


If you know how to use a 2-way radio, then great, but most people only need the radio that they are most familiar with.  Broadcast.  Just let them know in advance what station to tune into if there were to be a local emergency.

Posted 08 June 2019 - 12:04 AM

Thanks Richard...  I think I have seen some of this before, but will digest again.  We have gotten the Fire Safe Council involved and they will be coming to a presentation in July at our local ham club.  Ideally, I would like to have the local GMRS folks take the lead.  There may very well be a blend of amateurs and GMRS folks and that is fine.

WRAM373 - Richard

Posted 06 June 2019 - 09:58 PM

Here’s a PowerPoint presentation that outlines the approach you’re suggesting in order to work within the realities of most people not wanting to deal with complicated equipment or licensing: http://radio-relay.o...al-Approved.pdf

Home page of National SOS Radio Network: [url="""]http://radio-relay.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/NSOS-Hamwatch-PPT-TR-003-Final-Approved.pdf'[/url]> http://radio-relay.o...al-Approved.pdf

Video interview of parent organization: https://www.hamradio...y-international

Less Ham Radio-centric organization: https://www.reactintl.org/#

See what may work for your needs & discard the rest!

Good luck!

- Richard WRAM373/KJ4ZTY


Posted 13 May 2019 - 09:45 AM

... Our friends have moved on, they decided they didn't want to rebuild and, with California property tax laws the way they are probably couldn't afford to and remain....

I will limit my comments to this incorrect assertion about California property tax law making it too expensive to remain. I am no fan of California's prop13 tax limits which place the major burden of property taxes on new homes and recent purchases. But, the fact is your friends would not have seen their taxes raised. Don't believe me. Here it is in the words of the organization that came up with proposition 13 in the first place. https://www.hjta.org...rights-dont-be/


Posted 13 May 2019 - 09:36 AM

I have followed this thread since it began and would like to state my take on the issues brought forward. 


First of all, I am saddened by the losses the wildfires brought to this section of Northern California. We have some very near and dear friends that lost everything in Paradise so the news of this particular fire and its aftermath struck a very deep and meaningful chord with my wife and me. Our friends have moved on, they decided they didn't want to rebuild and, with California property tax laws the way they are probably couldn't afford to and remain.


While the idea is sound, the primary issues already brought forward still remain. Like Part 97, Part 95 is a licensed service and that in itself is the biggest barrier. Just as the amateurs wouldn't appreciate flocks of casual users flooding their 2 meter spectrum with both licensed and unlicensed users keying up on almost any available channel and causing problems, the issue of attempting to integrate the FRS users with GMRS repeaters has just as much potential for problems as opening Part 97 airwaves. FRS radios have some very tight restrictions regarding their equipment and channel usage. Their radios are non-programmable so they could not use a repeater with its offsets. Their equipment physically cannot be modified as antennas must be permanently attached and are quite poor in their operation limiting distance to around a kilometer under most conditions.


Yes, GMRS capable radios are easy to procure and are very inexpensive at the lower tiers. But often, these same low-cost radios are also enabled to operate in the 2 meter spectrum which is the other half of the Part 95/97 conundrum. There is nothing stopping a person from pushing enough buttons, or doing a little Internet research, to find out how to enable Part 90 or 97 frequencies. This has the potential to recreate the CB problems of the 1970's where you could pick up a 10 meter CB, tweek a couple coils and suddenly increase the transmit power between 3 and 6 dB. It wasn't long after that crystal boxes became available and phase-locked loops were reprogrammed to add extra channels along with linear amplifiers boosting output power from less than the typical 4 watts to more than 1000.


The most basic assumption which was made in this proposal was that people would play by the rules, but we saw how well that worked with CB. It doesn't. Why would I spend the licensing fee when my next door neighbor just bought a radio and fired it up without bothering to fill out a form and send in an "unnecessary" payment just to talk to my friends and the police didn't come to his door. Amateurs have been spared a lot of the issues surrounding readily available inexpensive equipment for many years. Now, some of the mystique surrounding ham radio is peeling away with the readily obtainable Technician license and low cost equipment. My feeling is the only thing stopping, no slowing down the repeat of the CB craze is the relative obscurity of the service and advertising the service with its potential benefit in an emergency or disaster situation will only fuel the craze from "to be prepared" to isn't this great fun and so easy to get into.


One needs to remember, it wasn't the hand-held walkie-talkie that drove the CB fiasco, it was the mobile easily installed into your vehicle giving you the greater range and mobility.

Posted 11 May 2019 - 09:13 PM

What I have written above is not simply theoretical. Take a look at BeCERTAINN in Berkeley, CA. This organization which provides pretty much what you describe in your first post, but just within the city of Berkeley, now has over 40 GMRS licensed participants, most of whom got their license for the sole purpose of participating in BeCERTAINN.


Took a look at what you guys and gals are doing there in Berkeley.  Can you drop me a line?  I am good on the Zed.




Posted 11 May 2019 - 06:59 PM

About the only people in California on VHF-L these days under 90.20 are the CHP.

Posted 11 May 2019 - 06:06 PM

Once again, I want to thank all the responses here thus far.  They are thoughtful answers to a difficult questions, which is what equipment to use to set up a Neighborhood Radio/Fire Watch program for the general public.  


Posted 11 May 2019 - 03:52 PM

Have you considered getting a Land Mobile license in VHF low band? The signal would travel much better in your terrain than GMRS. You could test out the range with HAM 6 meter equipment. If it works there are lots of low band equipment for sale on E-bay. Your people would not need a license as needed on GMRS. I would try to run simplex. You could set up a low band repeater but the base antenna needed are kind of pricey. WRCW870.


Posted 11 May 2019 - 03:20 PM

I strongly suggest that GMRS + maybe one of the following, FRS/CB/MURS/Paper-notes/voice, is what you really need.


Great suggestion.  Great summary of your post too.


You reminded me of two items I would like to touch base on again, as well as expand on something else you touched on.


First... for non-licensed options, CB radio should not be over looked.  It is still HF and when configured properly, you can get outstanding simplex communications, even with the low power restrictions.  I have a Galaxy CB with AM and SSB.  I have a properly tuned antenna transmission line and a perfect match on a 1/4 wave ground plain antenna (113.5").  On AM with 1 watt RMS carrier and 2 watt RMS modulated power, on a properly tuned system, I am getting 13-15 miles in rough terrain.  On SSB, with 11 watts peek power, I am able to talk 22-26 miles, depending on the weather conditions, in that same rough terrain.


The second item is, don't be afraid to include a GMRS repeater; even if repeaters in the area have been destroyed in the past.  When I was an emergency volunteer, I had a two dedicated, stand-alone mobile repeaters in my truck.  One VHF and one UHF.  I could either run them from wherever I parked, or I could dead-drop them anywhere with their own batteries and then drive to where I needed to work.  Each unit was in a vented container that kept weather off of it, twin 115 amp sealed lead-acid batteries and a 35' portable antenna tower with an omnidirectional antenna AND directional beam antenna to support local repeater comms and long-range point to point comms.  The portability is a very affordable add-on to any low power repeater. 


On 10 watt low power with 50%-60% duty cycle, they lasted for days before the batteries needed to be recharged.  Even 50 watt mode, they would run on batteries for more than 24 hours before needing to be recharged.





HAM Response -


I used to be an assistant emergency coordinator with ARES and answered directly to our local county government Emergency Coordinator.  I am NIMS and ICS certified.  I think one of the reasons Amateur Radio emergency response seems overly complex for first responder support is because groups and services like ARES are NOT first responders. 


ARES and groups like them are focused on supporting multiple municipality, mass casualty events and we bring in all aspects of technology to support extended operations in extended responses.  The Northeast Blackout of 2003 and Katrina are great examples.  We provided phone, video, internet, radio, formal traffic, responder escorts, etc.  We had to be not only self sufficient, but able to provide a service in areas and conditions that are worse than being in wilderness with no outside resources.


In a situation where OP is discussing... none of that is initially needed and grossly over-complicates the main objective of notification of an inbound crisis that is either occurring or about to occur.  That is why the ENS was created.  A simple alert system on commonly used platforms; radio, TV and smartphones.  Once the event has occurred, that's when the more complex solutions need to be brought in.

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