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Emergency comms: HAM or GMRS?


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Guest AMN

Before getting invested into GMRS or HAM, I am wondering which is better for comms during natural disasters or emergencies?  I've been listening in to GMRS on Sunday nights, and it's not much in the SHTF practice, is HAM better for this?

 

Thanks in advance.

-A

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Before getting invested into GMRS or HAM, I am wondering which is better for comms during natural disasters or emergencies?  I've been listening in to GMRS on Sunday nights, and it's not much in the SHTF practice, is HAM better for this?

 

Thanks in advance.

-A

Why not both? The license fee for GMRS is cheap enough. Also there are reasonably priced hand held radios for GMRS. There are some decently priced Ham radios, in the $100 to $200 range, that are a step above the usual Chinese ones. In either case you want a radio that is at least water proof for out door used in the rain etc.

 

The take away here is there are no direct cross over communications, you won't find a radio certified for GMRS and Ham radio. The usual practice is having radio(s) for both services while switching between them as required. There are some used commercial radios, certified Part 90 and 95, that can be programmed for both GMRS and some sections of the Ham 70cm band.

 

The Ham radio side has a rather extensive installed base of repeaters on VHF and UHF with some able to run on emergency power. Also with Ham, and depending on your license class, you can communicate worldwide on HF and locally up on VHF and UHF. This affords a lot of flexibility in communications.

 

With GMRS you're typically confined to local communications. The number of repeaters you find on GMRS seems rather limited. You do have the ability to communicate with people using FRS radios, which I suspect will be quickly used in a major emergency where local comm's with landlines and cell phones died. You may also find some emergency comm's on good old CB radio too.

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Both services are active during emergences with the larger base being amateur radio because of its existing infrastructure and recognition by emergency service agencies from fire, law and Red Cross. GMRS/FRS can't compete due to a single frequency band, lower allowed power and lack of a national organization setting up recognized guidelines. In some areas where evacuations are more common you will find a lot of people using the FRS bubble-pack radios but with no real coordination or information sharing.

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this is gonna depend on the situation.  But BOTH is the ideal situation.  GMRS lends simplicity to any situation since any family member can be given a radio, so basic direction of radio operation on air and turned loose with it to use.  Ham is not that way, they would need to be licensed.  Ham is going to have more people on it,  but that is a double edged sword depending on the situation.  Don't think just because someone has a ham radio they fall into the prepper category and aren't looking for someone else's stuff because they have none.  And that applies to GMRS as well and why you tell family members to NOT EVER communicate their location to ANYONE on the air in an emergency unless they are in a life and death situation calling for help.  But again, the situation is going to dictate what you need, and how to communicate.

 

Examples

Storm takes down power for more than 12 hours.  Combination of GMRS. ham and a broadcast receiver possibly a CB radio.  Discussions will typically range from where to get ice and find charging stations. 

Situation is minor.  A police scanner is a valuable tool for situational awareness.

 

Major power outage,, one week.

Here's were op-sec (operational security) comes into play.  GMRS is useful to maintain comms with non ham family members and trusted friends.  HAM is for listening now.  The number of unprepared folks out there are now looking for supplies.  Situation is not dire but the unprepared will be freaking out.  All discussions of actual location should cease at this level.  DO NOT discuss over the radio where you are, where you have left or what time you are going to return.  CB radio for listening, but only by people that understand replying to calls for help could create a situation.  A police scanner may or may not be a valuable tool here for situational awareness. 

 

Significant situation, extended power failure, mud slide or other situation that will exist for more than a week, extending to new normal or SHTF situations were government is no longer standing or willing or able to assist.

Encrypted communications ONLY.  Listening to multiple radios for situational awareness is important at this point.  Obviously communications are inner circle ONLY as you have only entrusted encryption keys to very close friends, and multi-key has become valuable as some communications should ONLY be had with direct family members.  CB radio is now useless.  There will be road pirates and roving gangs looking for ANYTHING they feel is valuable at this point.  Women will be task with telling horrible stories over the radio of their dire situations to gain your sympathy and trust to either get your location information or draw you into an ambush.  The lowest common denominator of people will be all that's left on the open airwaves.  Transmitting much of anything on CB will be a very bad idea.  Listening to CB and ham will wear you down as the tails of others situations will put your humanity in question.  And while some stories will be true, just as many will be to get you to break op-sec and give up information on where you are.  Mind you this is where you are one step from a Walking Dead type situation where it's known that things will never return to "normal".  But this level is where government is not coming to 'help'.  Police scanners are useless.  Public safety folks all went home days ago.  Any activity is going to be communications from stolen police vehicles and radios. 

 

Point is this,, prepare NOW.  And that goes far beyond the type and number of radios you have.  If COVID has proven anything, it's shown that yes, the unthinkable is possible.  Look at the situation with the toilet paper.  Get stuff put away so you can live in relative comfort for an extended period of time.  Get your house in order and prepare for at least some level of situation lasting for a minimum of two weeks.  Cans of soup and vegetables may not sound appetizing,  but once you are hungry, they will taste wonderful.   

No I don't have tons of stuff hoarded away, I can go two weeks without any problems, but not much further. And the time of year will dictate my personal situation, winter vs summer.  But I am out far enough out and have a circle of friends that can butcher one of the local cows, or a deer for protein and I eat vegetables that others refuse like brussel sprouts.  Those will always be on the shelves in an otherwise empty store. 

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Here in NW Indiana District 1, we are in the process of integrating GMRS repeaters and operators into the revived ARES program. Training is being given, and periodic exercises are being conducted. The goal is to have trained and efficient coms in case of emergencies.

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I would expect Ham to be used much more in an official capacity.

Many repeater clubs do a lot of drills and things for emergency comm.

But in an actual emergency the repeater might closed to casual use.

It may be restricted to only those associated with the emergency comm. network.

There are also ARES/RACES groups in most areas that officially work with Govt. services.

They will actually assign you a police/fire radio in an emergency.

 

GMRS might be useful in an emergency but probably for more local and basic type communications.

 

If you are really into this kind of thing Ham is probably going g to be lot more interesting.

 

Vince

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Here in NW Indiana District 1, we are in the process of integrating GMRS repeaters and operators into the revived ARES program. Training is being given, and periodic exercises are being conducted. The goal is to have trained and efficient coms in case of emergencies.

Please understand I speak to this from a perspective of a ham that has had exposure to how to do ARES WRONG and 12 years of being a commercial radio tech with 90 percent of my work being in the public safety arena and being a CERT member.  The 'problem' with ARES is it's turned into a solution looking for a specific problem that has been worked on since 9-11.  30 years ago when every little town and burg had a police force with their own radio system and those systems being all sorts of different technology, on different bands and being supported and maintained at vastly different levels, ARES and the idea of needing to provide EMCOMM to served agencies was a thing.  Now we have these state wide communications systems that everyone is on.  Have overlapping coverage from hundreds of sites throughout the state (I am in OHIO... largest trunked Motorola system in the world) the need for EMCOMM is really not there. Of course, depending on where you are your mileage may vary.  The next thing is ARES is not and never has been considered a first responder.  So they don't fall under the public safety umbrella.  CERT actually does.  This means that CERT can have private commercial repeaters and radio systems / and access to the large trunked radio systems for EMCOMM.  I pushed long ago for CERT to take up use of the now largely abandoned VHF/UHF public safety radio systems that stopped being utilized after everyone went to 800Mhz. The biggest issue with HAM is it's not controlled.  And while it does say in the rule book that emergency traffic on ham takes priority, have a situation and see how many idiots come out of the woodwork on the local repeaters that are still in operation.  My advice, for what it's worth.... research CERT and have a discussion with the local EMA director about CERT.  There is a training component to it, and you learn some valualbe skills.  And you are more that just radio operators at that point.  You are still available to do the things that ARES would be involved in, but you are also trained and recognized to do more than that.

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The 'problem' with ARES is it's turned into a solution looking for a specific problem that has been worked on since 9-11.

I do not disagree with what you have written, however as you briefly mentioned, some areas are not as fortunate to have such a robust system in place.

 

What District 1 ARES is able to provide is HF and VHF/UHF Winlink services to clients with whom a MOU exists. In addition to that all members are encouraged to become competent Weather Spotters. The inclusion of GMRS operators in the local ARES program expands the reach, and also allows even FRS operators to participate, albeit on a much lower level. Such allows for critical  information to flow downstream.

 

GMRS operators are tasked with organizing their own local nets, such that FRS members can forward any traffic to their GMRS net control. Most GMRS operators in our area of operations are also ham licensed, and it is they who will forward any upstream traffic on to the ARES net control.

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  • 2 months later...

Question related to emergency comms in an air to ground setting. I know in CAP (Civil Air Patrol) the NC Wing has the option to communicate A-G on FRS simplex channels 1-22 for the sole purpose of comms with the subject of a search/emergency. Has anyone done any A-G comms on FRS/GMRS frequencies? I would think simplex channels 1-7 would the most appropriate given they won't interfere with repeaters over a 3 state area depending on altitude and allow at least 2watts output for FRS radios or more with GMRS.

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I haven't done air to ground with GMRS/FRS, but I'm sure it would work great for the intended purpose you describe.  Not really helpful to your question, but I was in CAP in the NC wing as a cadet years back.  We did lots of SAR related activities and the ability to communicate with random joe schmoes on the ground, especially lost ones out hiking or whatever from the air is great.

I still maintain GMRS's biggest advantage over HAM is the fact that it's so easily accessable to so many random people.  That can at times be a negative as well, but I think the good far outweighs the potential bad.

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22 minutes ago, SkylinesSuck said:

I haven't done air to ground with GMRS/FRS, but I'm sure it would work great for the intended purpose you describe.  Not really helpful to your question, but I was in CAP in the NC wing as a cadet years back.  We did lots of SAR related activities and the ability to communicate with random joe schmoes on the ground, especially lost ones out hiking or whatever from the air is great.

I still maintain GMRS's biggest advantage over HAM is the fact that it's so easily accessable to so many random people.  That can at times be a negative as well, but I think the good far outweighs the potential bad.

I wholeheartedly agree that ready availability to pretty much anyone is a big plus. Unfortunately not all wings have the upgraded radio with FRS/GMRS frequencies. That said I used my Bluetooth on my David Clark and another Wouxun with Bluetooth adapter to talk through the local repeater the other day and got pretty good reception reports. Once I get the 905 I plan to try actual airborne operations next month to see how it works since our actual aircraft radio is the older version without FRS/GMRS.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Ok. I ended up getting the 805G rather than the 905G and all in all it does what I need. The backward compatability with my currently owned Wouxun accessories/battery packs was just too convenient to pass up. Most likely my airborne experiment will happen 15 June in the morning. Trying to avoid summertime turbulence and pop up storms is the goal but 15 June itself is pretty locked in. My plan initially is to make a general call on channel 20 with tone 141.3 just to test comms feasibility through repeaters and then go simplex on channel 20 for a time. My goal is to not be on 20 for too long and move to simplex on channel 7 if all goes well. Obviously flying the aircraft and Comms with ATC take precedence. Just fyi for planning center mass of the AO is Lubbock Texas.

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4 hours ago, TRAINS said:

Ok. I ended up getting the 805G rather than the 905G and all in all it does what I need. The backward compatability with my currently owned Wouxun accessories/battery packs was just too convenient to pass up. Most likely my airborne experiment will happen 15 June in the morning. Trying to avoid summertime turbulence and pop up storms is the goal but 15 June itself is pretty locked in. My plan initially is to make a general call on channel 20 with tone 141.3 just to test comms feasibility through repeaters and then go simplex on channel 20 for a time. My goal is to not be on 20 for too long and move to simplex on channel 7 if all goes well. Obviously flying the aircraft and Comms with ATC take precedence. Just fyi for planning center mass of the AO is Lubbock Texas.

See attached for picking your channel, in short stay with the GMRS channel as our radios do cut power down on FRS channels as tested with my SWR meter.

FRS:GMRS Channels on our KG-805G and 905G.pdf

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2 hours ago, MacJack said:

See attached for picking your channel, in short stay with the GMRS channel as our radios do cut power down on FRS channels as tested with my SWR meter.

FRS:GMRS Channels on our KG-805G and 905G.pdf 72.01 kB · 2 downloads

Copy that. I'm planning on staying away from channelsstaying. 8-14 for that reason. It will be interesting on how well a hand held works. Its a high wing aircraft so hopefully that will work as its own ground plane sts.

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3 hours ago, TRAINS said:

Copy that. I'm planning on staying away from channelsstaying. 8-14 for that reason. It will be interesting on how well a hand held works. Its a high wing aircraft so hopefully that will work as its own ground plane sts.

OK then try both FRS and GMRS channels as you HT will auto check you output power.

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56 minutes ago, GuySagi said:

If you need someone near Fayetteville to try to reach you on the 15th let me know. I was part of the Mountain Rescue Association in another life, and certainly am willing to try and help is needed. 

Sure thing. Fayetteville TX? Climb out is typically a busy time so waiting until cruise is the best option. Fortunately weather seems to be holding. Hard IFR it just wouldn't work and I'm nowhere near that good at multitasking even with a crew onboard. Not to mention how and if it could interfere with instruments when the system hasn't yet been tested under these conditions. Given all the recent talk of UFOs 🛸 I'll try to be sure to let everyone know if we see anything "unusual"..😉

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We were able to try the 805G a couple days ago locally and hitting the local repeater at 40 miles from 1k-2k AGL...also got a pretty good simplex contact from about the same distance. It appears not too surprisingly the 805G had a  drop off in signal directly to the aircraft 6 o'clock. Obviously a permanent underside antenna would be best or better yet a more capable a/g radio. We're still planning on trying tomorrow from a considerably higher altitude.

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On 6/11/2021 at 1:39 PM, TRAINS said:

Sure thing. Fayetteville TX? Climb out is typically a busy time so waiting until cruise is the best option. Fortunately weather seems to be holding. Hard IFR it just wouldn't work and I'm nowhere near that good at multitasking even with a crew onboard. Not to mention how and if it could interfere with instruments when the system hasn't yet been tested under these conditions. Given all the recent talk of UFOs 🛸 I'll try to be sure to let everyone know if we see anything "unusual"..😉

I'm in Fayetteville, NC....I apologize that I didn't include that. If you're in TX and we connected there would be a UFO involved, worm hole, black hole, quantum entanglement....

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1 hour ago, GuySagi said:

I'm in Fayetteville, NC....I apologize that I didn't include that. If you're in TX and we connected there would be a UFO involved, worm hole, black hole, quantum entanglement....

Ahhh yes. Hot summer ruck marches a that garden spot Ft Bragg. 🤯

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Depends on the emergency. 

I have both HAM/GMRS 

I put up a GMRS repeater, got about 10 mile circle at the moment. 
Needs a taller mast. But to the west or ridges 40 to 50 miles is possible. 

Its for SHTF scenario for family comms. 
Now HAM side is great for storm tracking, and more national, or local say tornados. 
Our local club sends out storm chasers monitoring the twisters etc. 

One came very close to a buddies house, I was able to get information on his place from a spotter. Even local Sheriff uses HAM Repeaters in emergency situations. 
GMRS just doesn't have the following/infrastructure in most areas that HAM has. 
 

Then you get into the limitations of UHF, like Foliage, especially pine trees. They will stop your signal DEAD. 
Where VHF works much better. If I could do it legally, I'd much rather have a MURS Repeater, that VHF nature gets out better over the ridges, and through the foliage, just like 2 meter, or even if there was a GMRS 6 meter band. That would be sweet. 

 

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I have both... Ham Ticket and GMRS... I like GMRS for more local community connection and help those in GMRS locally.  As for Ham, nice group and full of rules and procedures.  So do both not knowing your area and Hams...   I should say, we have a great Ham Club and repeater and wekliy Tech meeting and bio monthly lunches.  So me 74 yo and my 12 yo grand daughter have our Ham ticket and enjoy this Ham group as they are very social but GMRS is more family connected and not that outreaching.  This is IMHO for western NC...

MackJack   

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14 hours ago, GuySagi said:

Well, I still don't know if you're in TX or NC, so I'll leave my base station monitoring Ch. 7 this morning. Hope you have a wonderful flight and lots of contacts. 

We actually took off from Oklahoma and was at altitude (12000) over Texas. Had a few contacts simplex 40 -50 miles away. I think some were skeptical we were airborne. I set  it on scan when I wasn't too busy with other duties. Frequencies didn't appear too crowded but it was a weekday and it sounded like most on frequency were doing work related comms and not really concerned with chatting which I get. Keying up I was definitely getting repeater hits on all repeater channels for most of the flight. My feeling for SAR operations 1-5k agl would likely be the most affective. Lack of an external antenna was probably the biggest limiting factor.

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