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Emergency comms: HAM or GMRS?


Guest AMN
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13 hours ago, GuySagi said:

Sounds like it worked really well, that's for sure. No doubt an antenna outside the aircraft will help a ton. Keep up the good work youngster. I miss the good old days (which lasted for more than a decade) I was doing it. 

When needed one of our HAM club members has a repeater in his plane, talk about range, having a 20k foot repeater tower. 
Talk to other states..... 

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So here is my real world experience with emergency communication during an emergency, or rather lack of communication.

In 2018 we had a 7.1 quake here in Alaska. It didn't cause massive damage but we did have power outages for 4-12 hours, infrastructure damage closing a few roads and breaking a few water mains. A few buildings collapsed as well. Gas lines went undamaged as far as I know. It happened just as everyone was either getting to or was at work.

I was at home with our 2 year old. My wife was in the "city" which is about 20 min from us. I did not have a second car at the time. It was November so not too cold but still below freezing. I have a small gen set able to power up a few basic circuits and the gas furnace. The cell grid became overloaded and useless almost immediately. Calls did not work and text messages took hours. The internet was slow but still running if you had power to keep your modem/router on. I was unable to check on family and friends. Luckily our old and failing sea port held up otherwise we would be talking about a much different story.

That is when I started looking into a way to set up a radio network that would cover my whole area but was user friendly.  Yeah there are HAM repeaters set up on the mountains around here with elevations of 4500 feet and super wide coverage but most of my family and friends aren't interested in tested licenses.

So I got a Retevis RT97 repeater tuned for GMRS, a SLA battery, a charge controller, a solar panel and a simple N9TAX antenna. I hiked up a mountain and set it around 2000 feet overlooking the entire area I wanted to cover. I now can easily get my family and friends on board. Most have radios at this point. Most have simple HT radios and as long as they are not standing in a deep hole with heavy obstructions around they can reach into the small repeater just fine out to around 25 miles. Those with mobile radios and better antennas can reach into it from basically anywhere in the city regardless of obstructions.

So a single GMRS repeater works well for us due to our geography. I am not trying to communicate with people hours or days away. It may not work for everyone but it works for us. 

I have also thought about the whole extended grid down resulting in supply shortages and safety concerns. In something like that you need to try and isolate yourself, physically but I also programmed in "emergency"/"SHTF" frequencies into the repeater which are just outside of the GMRS band and in the LMR business realm. Things like a 462.525 and 467.750 split. These frequencies are un-used locally. If the world ends, I can switch over to them and at least prevent all the FRS/GMRS crowd from listening in so easy.

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2 hours ago, WRFP399 said:

So here is my real world experience with emergency communication during an emergency, or rather lack of communication.

In 2018 we had a 7.1 quake here in Alaska. It didn't cause massive damage but we did have power outages for 4-12 hours, infrastructure damage closing a few roads and breaking a few water mains. A few buildings collapsed as well. Gas lines went undamaged as far as I know. It happened just as everyone was either getting to or was at work.

...

So a single GMRS repeater works well for us due to our geography. I am not trying to communicate with people hours or days away. It may not work for everyone but it works for us. 
 

I was with the Anchorage Fire Dept when the quake of '64 (second strongest earthquake ever recorded) happened. I was at the intersection of Spenard Rd. and Fireweed watching the land roll in actual waves going south along Spenard Rd. The first thing I did was try to go down Romig Hill but the culvert that carried the creek was crushed and the road blocked by the mounded dirt and pavement. I headed east on Fireweed and made it into Airport Heights and from there onto the roads home in Mt. View. After determining our house was still standing and everyone was safe I went to my assigned station, Station #3 where we started doing search and rescue. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries but lots of closed roads and damaged buildings. As our area was the East side we didn't know about the damage along 4th Ave or the Turnigan subdivision. I will say if it wasn't for the hams and their HF equipment letting people get news and information out of, and into the primary damage zones things could have been a lot worse. The ham operators were a real lifeline collecting reports from areas having no available access and providing critical information about the Tsunami that destroyed Valdez and hit both Seward and Whittier. The hams did yeoman duty in keeping information flowing so emergency responders and relief workers were sent where they were needed. Your little repeater in Eagle River could play an important role should something like that happen again. I would think about it being able to keep people together more than closing it off for just your little group.

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I have it posted here in our repeater listings. I will gladly grant access to other GMRS users here in ANC. My hope is to expand the user base but I don't want it abused either as it's all paid for out of my own pocket.  I think the real HD communication will be done by the HAMS on their VHF repeaters at Flat Top Mountain, Mt. Gordon Lyon, and Grubstake Mountain....granted I don't know what their power systems are like but my understanding is Grubstake is so "remote" its self-contained using Solar and Diesel.

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Guest Bill R.

In my town, any radio that can tune in VHF frequencies can be used to monitor and receive Fire Dept./EMS Dispatch traffic, with no license required.

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  • 2 months later...

For emergency AND long range, I would go for anything all band all mode capable, backpack mounted: like an FT817, FT818, FT857D, etc... Icom 706, or something along these lines. 

Why? Because VHF/UHF without the right infrastructure, or being atop a high mount, etc, its limited to mostly short range comms, or no comms at all.

G.

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There are emergencies, and there are emergencies. "Mom, I missed the last bus" is a sort of emergency, maybe, possible. "Mom, I missed the last bus, and there are wolves around me" is another kind of emergency.
Emergency plan should take in account few things: 1) Who do you want to talk to? 2) What do you want to convey? 3) Maybe you only want to listen?

The post from WRFP399 shows an example of very well thought-through communication plan. That plan states the need (talk to friends and family), assesses the equipment (mostly HTs), assesses limitations (HTs, terrain), and brings a solution (low-power solar-powered repeater in the boondocks) to achieve the goals. He does not write about it, but he sounds like he totally has time-based emergency schedule to save batteries and effort, and reserve frequencies. Basically, Radio-3-3-3 or the Wilderness Protocol implementation, adjusted to his needs. Everybody on this plan should have a quick reference card for the emergency comms, that very clearly and with no much ado shows how to turn radio on, tune to the freq, and what to do if no communications established.

So, when planning to emergency, thinks what are you trying to be prepared for. Is it local disaster (Coyote Creek flooding in San Jose in 2017)? Regional disaster (fire that destroyed town of Paradise in 2018 with 80+ people dead)? Bigger area emergency, like hurricane on East Cost? What exactly?

For local comms with friends and family GMRS would be enough, I think. Of course, everybody on the plan needs to know how to execute the plan when disaster hits.
For keeping in touch with extended family and friends that are not nearby, there is a Winlink, and that requires equipment, knowledge, big battery and Ham General license.
For listening, no license needed, just a good scanner (with P25 in my area).

All tree items above require training. One must keep him/herself up to speed and current on frequencies and protocols, and keep this battery charged and ready.

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  • 1 month later...
Guest Roverbill

RE: Emergency use of GMRS, the State of Wyoming is now advising backcountry travelers to program what they term the “307 Channel” into their GMRS/FRS Radios for use when Search and Rescue has been activated. This is 462.6125 mHz, PL 85.4 or Channel 3, “Privacy Code 7”, hence the “Channel 307” of their official “Be 307 AWARE” campaign. Wyoming website is: hls.wyo.gov/307

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1 hour ago, Guest Roverbill said:

RE: Emergency use of GMRS, the State of Wyoming is now advising backcountry travelers to program what they term the “307 Channel” into their GMRS/FRS Radios for use when Search and Rescue has been activated. This is 462.6125 mHz, PL 85.4 or Channel 3, “Privacy Code 7”, hence the “Channel 307” of their official “Be 307 AWARE” campaign. Wyoming website is: hls.wyo.gov/307

Interesting.

Nice thought that would potentially allow the victims or those with the victims to communicate with the rescuers.  I wish there would be a nationwide standard for this. But doomed to fail.... Channel 3 is not the same on all radios.  Privacy code 7 is not the same on all radios.  Why use a privacy code at all during an emergency? 

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10 minutes ago, generalpain said:

Why use a privacy code at all during an emergency? 

I wondered the same thing.

While a privacy code would trap out the "riff-raff" also using Channel 3 from being heard on the rescuers radios, I would think in an emergency, the rescuers want to hear everything, especially those needing rescue who don't know how to initiate a privacy code.

AND after all it is Wyoming: how much riff-raff is there on Channel 3?!? 🤣

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Well if the frequency is busy the emergency communication center personal has to monitor several radios. It gets stressful trying to tell if the current traffic is directed to the communication center or between other units. If you use a privacy code so only traffic that is directed to the communication center personal gets through takes a load off them. When they hear something they'll know for sure it's for them and not SAR unit members asking each other if anybody wants a break to get coffee and donuts.

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25 minutes ago, Lscott said:

Well if the frequency is busy the emergency communication center personal has to monitor several radios. It gets stressful trying to tell if the current traffic is directed to the communication center or between other units. If you use a privacy code so only traffic that is directed to the communication center personal gets through takes a load off them. When they hear something they'll know for sure it's for them and not SAR unit members asking each other if anybody wants a break to get coffee and donuts.

You sure, @lscott, you are an electrical engineer and not an attorney!?! 

You sure enjoy being argumentative! Not that there is anything wrong with that! 🤣

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Guest Roverbill

RE: Emergency use of GMRS, the State of Wyoming is now advising backcountry travelers to program what they term the “307 Channel” into their GMRS/FRS Radios for use when Search and Rescue has been activated. This is 462.6125 mHz, PL 85.4 or Channel 3, “Privacy Code 7”, hence the “Channel 307” of their official “Be 307 AWARE” campaign. Wyoming website is: hls.wyo.gov/307

 

I wish that the creators of the “307 Channel” had instead selected a frequency in the GMRS Band that permitted up to 50 watts transmitter power (i.e. ‘Channels’ 15-22).  For example: “Channel 2121”, would be FRS/GMRS #21 (462.7mHz), CTCSS #21 (131.8Hz).

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6 hours ago, MichaelLAX said:

You sure, @lscott, you are an electrical engineer and not an attorney!?! 

You sure enjoy being argumentative! Not that there is anything wrong with that! 🤣

No, don’t have a law degree. 
 

The question about is there any reason why a privacy code might be used during an emergency so I offered up a possible reason. At least it gets people thinking. 

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15 hours ago, Guest Roverbill said:

RE: Emergency use of GMRS, the State of Wyoming is now advising backcountry travelers to program what they term the “307 Channel” into their GMRS/FRS Radios for use when Search and Rescue has been activated. This is 462.6125 mHz, PL 85.4 or Channel 3, “Privacy Code 7”, hence the “Channel 307” of their official “Be 307 AWARE” campaign. Wyoming website is: hls.wyo.gov/307

 

I wish that the creators of the “307 Channel” had instead selected a frequency in the GMRS Band that permitted up to 50 watts transmitter power (i.e. ‘Channels’ 15-22).  For example: “Channel 2121”, would be FRS/GMRS #21 (462.7mHz), CTCSS #21 (131.8Hz).

My guess is they picked 3 for the reason no one needs a license for bubble pack radios. If it was 50 watts now SAR users would need a license on top of the person in trouble. 

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Guest Roverbill
4 hours ago, kb2ztx said:

My guess is they picked 3 for the reason no one needs a license for bubble pack radios. If it was 50 watts now SAR users would need a license on top of the person in trouble. 

Not necessarily. Any user of a current model FRS Radio can now transmit at full power (two watts) on Channels 15-22 without need for a license, while a licensed GMRS user can transmit at up to 50 watts on the same frequencies. In a “Call for Help” situation what matters most is that Search and Rescue (SAR) can HEAR the call. For that purpose SAR Responders only need a FRS Radio that can receive on Channels 15-22, with no GMRS License needed.

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42 minutes ago, Guest Roverbill said:

For that purpose SAR Responders only need a FRS Radio that can receive on Channels 15-22, with no GMRS License needed.

If I understand your point correctly, you are assuming that a FRS Radio has the same receiving sensitivity as a 50 watt GMRS radio and that is not the case.

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1) I think "307" was picked only because it is also the phone area code for Wyoming (easy to remember)

2) Using a PL filter allows us to monitor a distress channel (freq + PL) without having to listen to everything else on that frequency.  Short of outlawing the use of one of our very limited frequencies for any use other that distress, using a PL filter is a good way to encourage more people to monitor for distress calls.

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21 minutes ago, MichaelLAX said:

Really?! There is that much "everything else on that frequency" in Wyoming?

It with 2 national parks and a national forest all packed together in one corner of the state, it wouldn't exactly surrprise me there.

At a more general level, I wonder if the bubble pack manufacturers are finally settling on a standard set of codes for pl tones; maybe I just have a limited view, but outside the everything pushed on Amazon, it seems like Midland has a pretty strong presence in the retail/bubble pack space, so I wouldn't be totally surprised to see the other manufacturers fall in line with Midland's layout.

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21 hours ago, Guest Roverbill said:

Wyoming website is: hls.wyo.gov/307

 

14 minutes ago, wayoverthere said:

At a more general level, I wonder if the bubble pack manufacturers are finally settling on a standard set of codes for pl tones; maybe I just have a limited view, but outside the everything pushed on Amazon, it seems like Midland has a pretty strong presence in the retail/bubble pack space, so I wouldn't be totally surprised to see the other manufacturers fall in line with Midland's layout.

The Wyoming website for 307 is more specific:

Quote
  • Buy an FRS/GMRS capable radio or walkie talkie and program the 307 channel into the radio. Program to UHF 462.6125 Privacy Code 85.4 or Channel 3 and Privacy code 07 (307).

 

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