In a regional emergency such as an earthquake, our communications systems—cell phones, land lines, and Internet— likely will fail. If it’s a big earthquake, communications and power could be out for 10 days or more. As we survey our homes and neighborhood for casualties and damage, how can we communicate with members of our neighborhood disaster response team?
FRS (Family Radio Service) radios
FRS radios are small, portable hand-held devices that function similar to walkie-talkies and work well for short range communication. Although they have limited range, as an addition to dispatching runners, skateboarders, and bicyclists with handwritten notes, hand-held two-way radios may help and are an important part of your family’s disaster preparedness kit. Anyone who uses a mobile phone can, with a little training and practice (and fresh batteries), become a good FRS radio communicator (FRS does not require a permit to use).
GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) radios
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is a short-distance two-way radio service that many who want to step up from the basic walkie-talkie have chosen. They have a significant distance boost from FRS. A handheld GMRS radio, with limited interference from nearby buildings can easily transmit five miles.
The real advantage of GMRS is the fact that they can also use repeaters. Repeaters are dedicated stations that do exactly that — repeat your signal. Using a repeater, a GMRS radio could get a signal over hills and as far as 20 additional miles from the site of the repeater
To legally use GMRS, you must acquire an FCC permit. At only $70 to cover an entire household for 10 years, it’s not expensive and there is no test, just registration. Instructions and online application are available on the FCC website.
HAM radio is, for the purpose of disaster planning, the gold standard of citizen-use radio. Depending on your equipment and setup, you can talk to the other side of the globe with a HAM radio.
In order to use HAM radio you must take a test and be licensed. Licensing is done in stages; first as a technician, which allows you access to some bands, and then as a general licensee, which opens up most of the rest of the HAM bands.
Our local amateur radio club is the W6HA Hughes Amateur Radio Club (ARRL affiliated). W6HA is open to all amateur radio operators and anyone interested in amateur radio.
Confused about what do you need?
Knowing what your target is BEFORE you buy your radio will help on buying what’s right for you. The only way to know what your situation is will be to identify your purpose. You can get with someone in your area who knows radio, and test it out at your location.
If you would like to test with someone in your area who has radios, email us!