Monday, September 2, 2013

Emergency Communications: Preparing For A Lack of Phones

Today our amazing emergency communications guest blogger, Ben, is back to share more with us! Be sure to check out his blog over at The Making of a Ham.









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In today's busy world, in constant communication, it seems like cell phones are available everywhere. The truth is, they are highly available, but they do have their issues, whether climbing mountains, major disasters, or traveling to remote areas, there will be a time where you don't have constant communications with the world through phones and cell phones. What do you do then?

Car Broken Down in a remote location
First of all, let me give an example of when this happened to me, which caused me to think seriously about how to communicate in remote areas. I was a Boy Scout leader, taking a troop of boys up Mt. Lemmon near Tucson, AZ, when the vehicle I was driving broke down. While my phone almost thought it had service, I really didn't have any service until I got down the mountain. Luckily for me, there was another leader who was able to take me down the mountain so I could call and get someone to tow my truck. I've often thought about what would happen in that situation if I hadn't had another leader to bail me out? And in fact, much of what I've done over the last year in learning about Emergency Communications is based off of that story.

Whatever your chosen method of emergency communication, the key thing is to practice with it beforehand! In a real emergency, you are allowed to talk on whatever frequency you think will best allow you to get a hold of the people you need to get a hold of, at least in the United States. Yes, that means you can talk on police and fire frequencies if that's all you have available to you, in the event of a real emergency. However, you need to know the limitations of your equipment, how to make it work better, what types of batteries it takes, how long the batteries last. In order to get all of that information, you really need to test out your equipment beforehand!

The simplest thing to do is to get a pair of walkie-talkies. There are two primary types of walkie-talkies in the United States, which have different power restrictions and licensing abilities. The first is called Family Radio Service, or FRS. These are the kinds of inexpensive walkies talkies commonly seen around. They require no license, can use up to 0.5W, cost little, and are a great resource to have. Despite commonly advertised ranges, I wouldn't count on being able to talk on one of these further than about half a mile, although you could get some distance if you were up high.

GMRS Radio
The next type of walkie talking is called General Mobile Radio Service, or GMRS. As of writing this, the userequire a $85 license, however, there is some work being done to remove this rule. The spectrum overlaps with FRS radios, and there are many common radios which allow both. One can use a dual radio in FRS mode without a license, and switch to the higher powered GMRS mode in the event of an emergency. The higher power should allow for approximately 3 times further communication, assuming all other factors are maintained. One license is sufficient for a family to use.
of these

The last type I will discuss in this post is Citizen's Band, or CB radio. Of all of the radios discussed here, this is the most popular by far. The principal users of this are truckers, giving it the nickname "Trucker Radio". Unlike the previously discussed radios, when you buy one of these radios, you usually need to buy an antenna, and most anticipate that you will power them externally, although there are some handheld varieties that have internal batteries. For the most part, your communication range will be close, but occasionally you can get some long distance communication via these frequencies. On a similar frequency, I've talked to Brazil before from my home in Virginia. Channel 9 is the "Emergency Channel", but there are 39 other channels you can practice with on a normal day.

In short, there's a lot of options to buy a radio that can be used to assist with emergency communications. Practice using these systems before an emergency happens, and know their limitations! These are great choices to take hiking, camping, etc, to ensure constant communications!

Ben is an Amateur Radio Operator with an interest in Emergency Communications. He is the author of a blog about his adventures in learning about Amateur Radio, known as The Making of a Ham.

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