"emergency communications"???


February 12, 2003, 12:06 AM
We are reviewing our emergency supplies including water, food, ammo, first-aid, etc.

We are thinking of getting those new 2-way radios in case landlines and cellular phones go down.:what:

My question: I see ads on the Internet for FRS and GMRS radios -- what are the differences, pros and cons between the two types?

Which would be best for emergency use?

Thanks for your opinions!

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February 12, 2003, 12:08 AM
Don't forget the foil helmet
http://www.kelleydeal.net/kelley_foil_head.jpg :rolleyes:
Some people are too paranoid.

February 12, 2003, 12:09 AM

I posted this thread a month ago but it's still Greek to me! :D

February 12, 2003, 12:10 AM
The main difference is in the range. FRS radios have a maximum of about 2 miles range. GMRS usually add about three miles for a maximum of five miles range. Some advertise up to 7 miles range, but of these, all the ones I've seen note that this range is only over water.

As for emergency communication, these aren't going to replace a cell phone. The range is much more limited.

I have the Motorola 6330 FRS radios and use them when hunting with a partner. They work quite well within their advertised range. This particular model also receive WeatherBand broadcasts.

February 12, 2003, 12:12 AM
Dude, it's a legitimate question. I don't wear tinfoil, and am thinking about getting a small Ham radio type system for the automobile, as well as the house.

I own a couple of FRS Motorolas, but they are of course limited in their distance and have their potential uses.

A small Grundig wind-up or a similar type radio in Solar would be indeed handy, if SHTF. Yes, it would.

Being able to communicate out to the world. Would you want to? If so, you would want the best possible? I would. I'm extremely interested in this subject.

So, let's hear some legitimate answers folks. ;)


February 12, 2003, 12:16 AM
This is a legit, and in my opinion, an important question.

We have been told that cellular phones may be the first to go any type of emergency -- either natural or man-made!

It is always useful to have a backup system so the family can communicate within short ranges.

We don't know much about these new 2-way radios, but rest assured, this is not a "tin foil helmet" type of issue!:banghead:

Just my 2 cents...

February 12, 2003, 12:16 AM
you need some directions when you make those hats! ya can't just fold up some foil and expect it to work.......geez


February 12, 2003, 12:20 AM
I got a set of FRS radios a few Christmas' ago. My family & I use them quite often...camping, hiking, ball games, the mall, amusement parks and most anywhere else we might be separated for extended periods of time.
The downside is the limited range, the upside is the ability to communicate easily w/in short distances.

February 12, 2003, 12:20 AM

Yes, I'm looking forward to some semi-pro/serious responses here. I've been toying with the idea of a CB radio, but a neighbor out at my brother's house says, "No, get a ham, blah, blah, blah."

A whole new area of research for me. I'd like to hear some experience-based responses.


Lord Grey Boots
February 12, 2003, 01:00 AM
I have a CB radio, 2 FRS radios, and several cell phones scattered about.

The cell towers are usually have generator backup. The problem is that the cellular networks get overloaded. Wireless systems are usually fairly robust in the case of things like hurricanes and other big storms.

February 12, 2003, 08:29 AM
We routinely use FRS radios to communicate between the bench and the 600 yard pit.

It _is_ now gun related.

February 12, 2003, 08:40 AM
I think that Guyon gave you a pretty good, if short answer.

The world of radio communications is pretty involved but should be able to be understood by most people. I have several sets of FRS radios and they seem to work well within their limitations. I am thinking about getting a pair of the GMRS radios for the extra range, but so far have not done so.

These radios will NOT replace your cell phone completely. But for short-range work they will do the job.

You need to define what YOUR (perceived) need is in order to make a better informed choice.

February 12, 2003, 08:47 AM
Ham license would give you many more options in radio communications. Especially in SHTF situations. Hams are ingenious in the ways they can communicate in bad situations. The tests are not all that difficult. Equipment is getting less expensive by the day too. If thats not you "bag" then go for the GMRS or CB. better than FRS any day.

Can I use any kind of aluminium or does it have to be foil only? :D

--Chaz KT4CV
Proud ham since 1993

February 12, 2003, 11:27 AM
Emergency comms are way under-appreciated. As others have said, in a general emergency, cell-phones are going to be unreliable, due to the load on the cellular network. Note: this ain't a tinfoil-hat prediction. It does happen, virtually every time. Landlines are better, but natural or man-made disasters still make them a hit or miss proposition, which is NOT what you want to depend on for your safety.

Amateur radio is very effective but has distinct limitations. Don't just expect that you and your parents in another state can each plug a radio into the wall, extend the telescoping antenna, and maintain communications. It doesn't work that way. In order to get a feel for the usefulness, get a modest "general coverage receiver". Radio Shack has 'em. You should get a good book that shows frequencies and times for English-language broadcasts. A good one is "Passport to World Band Radio". This will allow you to listen to amateur radio and other "world radio" stations like BBC, Voice of America, Deutche Welle, Radio Moscow, etc. These are also described as "shortwave" radios. While they may receive other frequencies, they are best for the HF (high frequency) bands. Think of these as tools to listen to national and international news. For local news plan to pick up a scanner, which a radio (usually in the VHF and UHF) bands. These are useful for listening to police/fire/rescue comms, but are becoming less so, as those services are beginning to encrypt their signals. One great use for a scanner is to listen to the local hams on the 2meter (VHF) band. Most of the time, this amateur chatter is inconsequential, but during emergencies, it's way cool, as you'll be hearing from folks on the ground as stuff happens.

If you REALLY want to get an education about amateur radio, find out if the local amateur will be participating in "Field Day". This is an event in June, where amateurs go out and set up field-expedient radio stations and practice communicating under austere conditions. You can see a radio station get set up from scratch, including antennae, power supplies, tuning, etc. Great stuff.

Be forwarned. Hams are about as bad as shooters when it comes to overwhelming interested newcomers with information.

February 12, 2003, 11:32 AM
It's important to have a back-up to the cell phone. Remember on 9/11 -- you could not make a cell phone call to the Northeast U.S. because all the circuits were jammed. Everyone was trying to call everyone else, and the emergency personnel were asking that everyone stay off the cell phones so the lines would be clear for emergency use.

So here is a basic explanation of the different radio services -- I hope it is a little bit helpful:

The only difference between ham, FRS, CB, and GMRS services is that each has restrictions on the particular frequencies and transmitting power you can use, and GMRS and ham require licenses. With the possible exception of GMRS, the services use pulic airwaves, so communications are not private.

Cell phones, too, are basically radios communicating through repeaters (the cell towers) on specific radio frequencies, with a link to the telephone system.

FRS gives you up to a 2 mile range, and no license is required. The radios are like small walkie-talkies. They are inexpensive, fun, and easy to use. We use them on Boy Scout hikes, family outings, etc.

CB was once a ham band, but over time it was converted to a no-license public access band. It's mostly used from automobiles, and has a range of about 2 miles, I believe. It's not well regulated, and there is a lot of bad behavior and foul language on the band, so it's not a great choice for family communications.

GMRS gives you up to a 5-mile range, because it has more transmitting power and is on a different radio frequency, but you need an FCC license. I don't think there is a test, just a fee of about $75 (although they don't tell you that in the store). I don't know if the fee is per person, per radio, per organization, or what. The FCC web site, http://www.fcc.gov , should have that information.

Ham (amateur radio) has four levels of licensing (Technician, Technician-Plus, General, and Amateur Extra), each giving you progressively more options. The easiest and lowest level is Technician. It is very cheap to take the test, less than GMRS fee including the cost of study materials. The test is not that hard, and recently there was a news article about a 6-year old girl passing the General exam.

The portable hand-held ham radios have a range about the same as GMRS, but the range can be extended by using repeaters. Many have additional useful features. Higher-power radios are readily available for automobile or desktop use that can dramatically extend the range.

The benefit of ham radio, if you're serious about having emergency communication capability, is that the process of getting your license also teaches you basics about comminucations and electronics that can help you communicate during adverse conditions. You also have a world-wide group of people with similar training, and lots of free resources, to provide help you when you have a technical problem.

Repeaters are but one sub-activity within the range of ham options. Basically, they are relay radios that let you get extra distance from your portable radio. In some places they are linked together to give a very large range of communication.

High frequency (HF) radio communications are permitted if you have a license higher than the basic Technician license. High frequency communications can have a greater range. Under the right conditions, you can contact someone half-way around the world on high frequency bands.

If you want to know more about ham, check out the Amateur Radio Relay League at www.arrl.org (http://www.arrl.org) . Call the ARRL, and they can help you learn how to get started.

(ham call sign)

February 12, 2003, 12:13 PM
thanks for the info...

February 12, 2003, 04:15 PM
gtd, and hutch,

Thanks for the information! Here's one more question: using a portable ham transceiver, is there a way to access the telephone network...in essence make a phone call using a ham radio? What's involved? Range and access charges?

I seem to recall a friend with a portable ham radio being able to do this years ago, before cell phones became popular.

February 12, 2003, 05:05 PM
Yes, it is possible to make a phone call through a repeater. It is called a "phone patch".

Since the repeaters are owned and managed by individuals or local radio clubs, you are restricted by the rules of the particular repeater, and usually to local calls. The repeater might be "open", meaning any licensed ham can use it, or "closed" meaning it or the phone patch is restricted to the use of the local club members who support the repeater financially. There are many repeaters, so you can usually find one if you need one. You do not have to pay anything to make a phone patch call.

Amateur radio is for personal, non-commercial and emergency communications. That means you can't use your ham radio to discuss business, including business phone calls through the repeater phone patch.

The phone patch is useful for brief calls when a telephone is not available to you. For example, suppose you are camping, driving, hunting, etc., in a remote location where there is no cell phone service, but where there is a repeater with a phone patch. You could call home (if local) through the repeater.

February 12, 2003, 07:00 PM
I have a small FRS in my desk. My fiance keeps one in the glove compartment of her car (I take the train to work, she drives).

In the event of some colossal disaster, either terrorist or natural (I work in downtown San Francisco, earthquakes happen) the plan is that I would hike out of the city center to a meeting spot. If that spot is inaccessible, we have a backup location.

She will go home and score my M4gery, then come to the rendevous spot. Hopefully I can then communicate by radio as we get closer.

In 1999 an accident by some PG&E workers plunged San Francisco into total blackout for almost 8 hours on a workday. My cell phone worked, but I had to keep hitting redial because the network was overloaded. Took me 20 minutes to make a phone call.

Having a backup communications plan is not paranoid, it is smart.


February 13, 2003, 10:30 AM
gtd, nice explaination ! If david could define his needs better you could make more specifec recommendations. But as a ham you would have all the options . AC2RC

February 13, 2003, 12:18 PM
Proud ham since 1979.
Extra Class back when you still had to know 20 wpm CW.

In my opinion, the FRS radios would be a good option for you. I have used them fairly extensively in various terrain while hunting; mostly mountains. They seem to work as advertised. They give you good solid communications for several miles. The problem with this option is that in a SHTF senario, there will probably be hundreds if not thousands of people in a city trying to communicate on these frequencies; almost everyone owns these radios.
CB radio is pretty much useless around here for anything but very short range communication. It does give you a little more range than FRS, but you are also using much better antennas. In any radio application it is the antenna that makes the difference. Antennas are to radio what shot placement is to shooting. With a great antenna and a couple watts of power (and the right frequency) you can communicate around the world. A lot of power is not a substitute for a good antenna.
A VHF or UHF ham radio set-up will give you communication for possibly up to 100 miles with a very good antenna and sufficient power. This distance figure is over flat terrain. I regularly did this here in the desert with a fairly modest station. Of course if you are a licenced ham you can also use repeaters. Using linked repeater systemss you can communicate for thousands of miles assuming the repeaters are in operation. I have used a handheld VHF/UHF transceiver and a handheld antenna to communicate via sattilite all over North America.
This is definitely not a tin foil hat situation. SHTF senarios occur every day somewhere in the world. When the World Trade Center towers went down, cell phones were out. In a natural disaster like a tornado or hurricane, I wouldn't be surprised if cell phones and most repeaters would be out including those used for police/fire radios. Cell phones are a very short range device. You have to be pretty close to the cell tower for your phone to work. At ground zero (as I understand it) the closest cell site was knocked out from the explosion/fire/collapse. From what I heard, a portable cell site on a trailer was brought in to ground zero.

February 13, 2003, 12:45 PM
My old shooting partner been hounding me to take the Ham radio course and tests.

He has many times in the wilds of Canada used a solar battery set up, antenna "slung over a tree limb" ...and communicated all over...he basically learned through using his computer. He was involved in relay of messages during 9/11, and numerous times here local with ice storms, tornados...

Gonna look into this myself...

February 13, 2003, 01:59 PM
The entry level Technician exam is not hard at all - with a little studying. After reading through the book (by Gordon West/W5YI group) twice I was able to pass the sample exams posted on eHam.net. I've decided to go for the General ticket, so I'm also now working on Morse Code and the General study guide.

Just like in the gun world when you start talking about radios there about as many equipment options. :)

February 13, 2003, 11:18 PM
I've been thinking about Ham radio all day, and have priced several HF models in handheld and perhaps for the car.

I'm going to pick up a book tomorrow from the Library and start the studying.

Now, the next question. You like I-Com Equipment, or should I go Kenwood?

What's a reasonable range. I've been thinkin that $300 would might do it?

Learned opinions???

Handheld capable of doing the job. That's where I'm leaning.

February 14, 2003, 11:10 AM
I have a set of Cobra FRS radios. 2 features I really like on the Cobras:

1. "Sub-channels" (IIRC) let you filter out most of the other junk on your channel. (Most all radios have this anymore I think, I wouldn't buy one that didn't.

2. "Privacy option". If both transmitter and receiver set their units to privacy, it scambles the signal so that it is unintelligible on other types of FRS. (Although anyone with the same type Cobra radio on that channel could get listen in if they were set to privacy.) I feel a little better knowing that EVERYTHING I say isn't easily heard by everyone else.

Otherwise, I have "meeting places" picked out already BUT what happens if you can't get to that exact spot due to riot (insert your local problem here), etc. Most likely the range of my Cobra's would get me close enough to make contact and locate the other party.



February 14, 2003, 01:31 PM
Correct me if I am wrong but I believe these "sub channels" are sub-audible tones or what Mororola used to call PL tones (private line). If I am correct, you are not on a different "channel" you are just setting your radio to only open it's squelch when it senses the sub audible tone you set. If someone doesn't have his receiver squelched, he can still hear everything that is going on, on that channel. Don't get me wrong, this is a nice option, it limits the amount of chatter you have to listen to and in most cases limits the chatter to only the other people you desire to communicate with. However, anyone can listen to you, and anyone could "break in" on you if they had their radio set to the correct PL tone.
The scrambling is a nice feature I would like to have that.

February 14, 2003, 02:10 PM
444 you are correct. :)

For another explanation of these codes, you can go to this link on Frugal's: CTCSS (Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System) (http://www.frugalsquirrels.com/cgi-bin/ubb/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=13;t=000509)

February 14, 2003, 02:20 PM
I think that the posts on this thread demonstrate just how hit and miss emergency communications really are. There are too many types of communications that are incompatible with others, there are range and user coordination limitations inherent with each type, and you still need a power supply that outlasts the emergency. During active shooter response training, we were told to forget the radio ("it won't work") and rely on hand/voice signals with your 1-4 person "contact" or "rescue" team. I'm not saying don't buy emergency communications, but just assume that Murphy is going to be involved with their use.

February 14, 2003, 02:42 PM
HAM is the way to go. Only way to get to use some real radios. And learning Morse Code would be a good idea as well.

I keep meaning to get HAM licensed but haven't gotten around to it yet.

February 14, 2003, 03:13 PM
444, you are correct about the subchannels. But it keeps a LOT of chatter off your receiver. Otherwise you are constantly getting other peoples conversations when in a crowded area. It helps a LOT.

As for privacy... everyone can hear you on that channel. You just can't hear them (they won't break squelch on your unit). That is a good thing!

The only privacy I am aware of in these units is the Cobra'a "privacy feature". Although like I said, anyone with a Cobra unit with the privacy switched on and on your channel will be able to listen to you. However, that should reduce the number of people who would be able to listen.


February 14, 2003, 04:05 PM
Great info, guys.

Just retrieved a couple of up-to-date books from the library. The studying for the Technician test starts this evening.

Any opinions on the I-Com and Kenwood rigs? Looks like Ham Radio Outlet is the big retailer, and we have a store in town. I assume I'll have to have the FCC license before I can buy equipment??


February 14, 2003, 04:24 PM

From what I've read the "big 3" manufacturers are Yaesu, Kenwood and ICOM. All of them have their own following - just like in the gun world. I compare it to the top .50 BMG manufacturers like Barrett, ArmaLite & Serbu (obviously there are others, but for the sake of discussion...), all of them make a great product and you'd probably be happy with any of them. I think the Yaesu, Kenwood and ICOM are in a similar vien (sp?).

Kenwood website (http://www.kenwood.net)

ICOM America (http://www.icomamerica.com/)
- I've heard the ICOM 706 mkIIg would be a very nice starter rig (FWIW)

Yaesu website (http://www.yaesu.com/)

AFAIK, you do not need a license before buying equipment.

February 14, 2003, 04:31 PM
Most stores will still sell you equipment regardless of license status.
MPTHOLE is right, it all comes down to personal choice as far as the brand is concerned. Just do some research, find the rig that suits your needs/budget, and buy it! The big 3 are good companies that back their products and will be around for a while.

The test is quite simple so dont sweat it. Welcome to the hobby!

Ham Call: KT4CV

--Edited to fix spelling :o

February 14, 2003, 06:20 PM
The ham radio exams are a snap to pass. It wasn't always this way, but it is now. I became so bitter about this that I quit the hobby. I sold all my gear and have no further interest in it. The only thing you need to study is the question pool. For those not familiar, the exact questions and the exact answers are given to you. You can find them on-line or in a book. The only challange at all is that you study the whole question pool and they only ask so many questions. In other words you have all the questions and answers, you just don't know which ones are going to be asked. The test questions have to be worded exactly as they are in the question pool.
A buddy of mine wanted to get his tech so he could use a VHF handheld while hang gliding. He bought the book on Friday on the way home from work. By noon Saturday he was a licensed ham.
As far as gear, any of the manufacturers that you mention produce great gear. You can't go wrong with any of it. When I was active in the hobby, there was virtually no gear that was junk. Some stuff had more bells and whistles, but it was all very good. I personally would not buy gear locally because I don't want to pay the sales tax. But, it would probably be a good idea for someone that is new to the hobby to buy it locally so you have someone to show you how everything works and someone you can ask questions of.
As I understand it, it is now possible to buy a single radio that does practically everything. Again, I haven't kept up with the hobby but I believe you can buy a single transceiver that goes from the 160 meter band (maybe even the AM broadcast band) all the way through VHF and possibly UHF. With a little modification you can make the radio transmit on all these frequencies also providing you have a suitable antenna. This means that you could talk to other hams, CB radios, basically any radio out there. Now this isn't legal, but in a SHTF senario, it might come in handy.
Anyone can buy ham radio gear, you don't need any credentials. Radio Shack used to sell VHF and UHF ham gear. I saw VHF and UHF ham gear for sale at Fry's electronics the other day.

February 14, 2003, 07:38 PM
Ham since 7th grade. I used to do volunteer emergency comms for my school as I was the only Tech Plus class around. A history teacher and my principal (female) were also hams.

Most important thing to me is tossing a radio or three to my community members in an emergency. Ham radios may be too complicated, I can use it to communicate with the ouside, are the GMRS things two-way or can one communicate with the rest of the world?

I also urge anyone who has posted their callsigns to remove them, one can easily obtain your home address and whatnot with it. I'm sure personal privacy has been long compromised but it won't hurt to patch that one up. Just a suggestion.

February 14, 2003, 09:02 PM
Hey, now we're talking.

Those are the answers I am looking for. Great info and thanks.

Just got off the phone with a buddy who was in the Coast Guard and they use I-Com equipment. Seen nice equipment in my range (to $500 for a handheld).

Went to the library and got the above-recommended book, plus another guide.

I'm studying. Looks like they give the exam every two weeks about 5 minutes from the house. I'll join their club when I take the test. Saw some sample questions and got six outta six, not reading about a darned thing.

I'm excited about the new toy. There's a Ham Radio Outlet store about a half hour drive from here. Think I'll see what they got in stock and see something in action. Glad to hear you can buy without the license.

My brother has an acquaintence whom I spoke with last weekend. He has a huge setup and he's into the mods. I'm going to be talking with this guy at length on Sunday, after "The Weekly Dump shoot."

Please, please keep the discussion going on this subject.

I can already see that, like guns, I'll be spending lots of $$$$$. I've got to have all the accessories and add-ons. :rolleyes:

February 14, 2003, 10:13 PM
At my height in this hobby, I had far more invested in it than I did guns. I had four legal limit HF amplifiers. I had three complete stations with every possible option. Two of them were vintage stuff that had significant collector value. The two vintage stations looked just like the ones in the magazines of the 1960s. Every possible accessory.

I was never sure exactly who you would communicate with in a disaster situation. Or what the purpose of this communication would be, but emergency/disaster communication is a significant aspect of ham radio. They have traffic nets that met several times a day whose purpose is to pass "traffic" as practice for emergency communications. There are two disaster/emergency groups in ham radio ARES and RACES. As was mentioned, Field Day (in June) is a weekend event where clubs or individuals go out "in the field" and operate. The people who play the game as it was meant to be played put up their antennas just prior to operation and operate off of alternative power supplies like generators or solor. This is also a drill for disaster/emergency communication. Then there is MARS, the military affliliate radio service which are ham radio operators who pass traffic from military personel to their families in the states. Again, the purpose is to provide an alternate communications network in the event of an emergency. Most towns have a VHF/UHF weather net that meets weekly. The real purpose behind this net is to prepare for communications during a weather emergency. Ham radio is used by search and rescue teams and other emergency groups like the Civil Air Patrol. If you are into SHTF communications, you are certainly in the right place.

February 15, 2003, 03:42 AM
I'm on the same "wavelength"


I'm more than willing to be a part of the team.

February 15, 2003, 09:35 PM
Purchased starter radio today - I-Com IC-T90A hand-held transceiver.

Starting studying for the test and learning a whole new world as soon as I throw my chicken in the Oven and load some mags for shooting tomorrow.

February 15, 2003, 09:55 PM
I just looked that up, wow, that is a very versitile radio. Charge it up and dial in the frequency of 146.940, that used to be the most popular 2 meter repeater frequency. If you don't hear anything there after a few minutes, try listening from around 146.70 to 147.00, this is of course FM if your radio has different modes.

February 15, 2003, 10:09 PM
Cool. I'm very excited on getting it. Should be by next weekend, I hope.

I'm enjoying the HAM radio book I've delved into. got another one at the office for when this one is done.

Damm, one of the links I got for local testing guy, came back with a Mailer Daemon saying, No Can Find.

Might have to travel a bit farther to take the test.

Dave Markowitz
February 23, 2003, 09:01 PM
I've been thinking about getting my ham license, probably starting off with a handheld. Am I correct that with a technician's license you can use the 2 meter band?


February 23, 2003, 09:06 PM
You are correct.

For anyone intested in this subject, check out this link: http://www.arrl.org/

This organization is the radio equivilent of the NRA.

February 23, 2003, 10:20 PM
Also, if you're interesting in a great book on taking the test:

Technician Class, by Gordon West (2000)

I bought mine at Ham Radio Outlet. Radio Shack carries this book as well.

February 24, 2003, 01:06 AM
Ok, so did you pass the test or what ?

February 24, 2003, 01:11 AM
I'll take it when I get the time. I've had two days of a little bit of time in the last three weeks to actually sit down and study. The book I got at Library sucked.

Purchased the Gordon West book Saturday. Been sitting down with it this evening.

I'll be taking the test soonest. I'll probably not have any more time to study until Thursday. :(

I'll get there. Picked up the radio, Saturday, to inspire me to study faster.

The job hasn't given me too many options in the last 9 weeks and I've been working every weekend.

February 24, 2003, 01:16 AM
Work sucks.
It takes up all your free time.

February 24, 2003, 01:37 AM

This Gordon West book is just great. Just what I needed. I picked up the General class book for $4 at a local radio shack for the future.

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