Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

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Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by Dorsai » Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:16 am

So the city I live in is offering a CERT-like emergency preparedness program, and my neighborhood (typical American suburban subdivision, about 200 single-family homes) has chosen to participate and put together a small response team for light duty within the neighborhood. It's still early in the game (our second weekly seminar session is tomorrow night), but as the resident amateur radio guy I'm starting to think ahead on a communications plan.

Which leads me to why I am posting today - does anyone have experience with small handheld radios for this purpose? The neighborhood is populated with typical American suburban randos, so there's probably not going to be a lot of interest in everyone getting licensed, nor are we going to want to spend a huge amount of money. I keep coming back to FRS handhelds, but I question their range in real-world use. Our neighborhood is irregularly shaped, something like a banana, well wooded with some rolling hills and about a half-mile tip to tip.

Thoughts? Suggestions? We haven't even begun to talk about a budget yet, so I'd like to start with the cheapest thing that will do the job and go up from there.

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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by Stercutus » Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:30 am

Best way is to test it. I can tell you from my experiences the FRS radios would work just fine. I get about two miles out of them in gently rolling hills. Expect interference and everyone listening in.
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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by NT2C » Mon Jun 04, 2018 11:03 am

What he said. FRS will work fine with what you're doing, though you should come up with a short training class on their use that will address such things as primary, secondary and tertiary channels and why your group won't be using the high power setting on the shared GMRS channels without a GMRS license.

Could your group get away with it? Undoubtedly, but it is illegal and, as a ham, FCC could take action against your ham ticket if you do. (It's rare, very rare, but FCC has done it in the past, most notably with hams using more than 4 watts on CB.) Besides, this is ZS and we don't do or advocate anything illegal, right?

Now, if you find, for one reason or another, that FRS doesn't cut it for your group, GMRS is a viable option that might work. If your group were to be willing to pony up the current license fee then GMRS is probably a better choice due to the higher power. You could even setup a GMRS repeater, but that's probably more than you'll ever need, and doing it legally is probably going to cost more than the typical participant will want to spend.
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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by woodsghost » Mon Jun 04, 2018 12:55 pm

Do you need your radios to work during a thunderstorm? Because our local storm watchers have a rule saying storm watchers radios have to be 10w or more. Most 5w get washed out when they are in the middle of a storm. But those FRS are about .5w. I would not rely on them during a storm unless they are tested and found satisfactory.
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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by Dorsai » Mon Jun 04, 2018 1:32 pm

Wow, good thoughts here already. Let's see...
Stercutus wrote:Best way is to test it. I can tell you from my experiences the FRS radios would work just fine. I get about two miles out of them in gently rolling hills. Expect interference and everyone listening in.
Agreed, testing is key. Assuming we go forward with a radio communications plan (it was mentioned in passing by the instructor, we've had no discussion on it at all), I'll probably buy an initial set of radios for my family for personal use and test those before making a recommendation to the team. Can you share what make/model of FRS radio you've gotten your results on?
woodsghost wrote:Do you need your radios to work during a thunderstorm?
Excellent question. Severe weather is probably our #1 response scenario, but I don't know that we'd necessarily be getting out there right in the heart of the storm; that sounds like a good way to add to the casualty list instead of being helpful. But I could see there still being lightning in the area, if we're hurrying to help someone who had a tree drop on their house, for example.
KJ4VOV wrote:Besides, this is ZS and we don't do or advocate anything illegal, right?
Right, and that's why I didn't mention GMRS to begin with; I'm assuming most people won't be interested in getting a license, and I'm definitely not interested in doing anything illegal on the air.

Agreed on setting up a training class - if we're going to do this we're going to do it right, so there will be training, an ops guide, et cetera.

Setting up a repeater *does* appeal to my inner nerd, though. :) But we're probably not going to want (or need) to spend that kind of money, especially if FRS radios can cover the neighborhood.

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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by CrossCut » Mon Jun 04, 2018 5:15 pm

Dorsai wrote: Agreed, testing is key. Assuming we go forward with a radio communications plan (it was mentioned in passing by the instructor, we've had no discussion on it at all), I'll probably buy an initial set of radios for my family for personal use and test those before making a recommendation to the team. Can you share what make/model of FRS radio you've gotten your results on?
Something to consider is with the recent Part 95 changes the 2 watt "FRS only" radios should be shipping soon if they aren't already, and the add'l wattage may help through the foliage (or rain). On a manufacturer/model, I have been happy with the Midland GXT series. Mine are all older models, and the rechargeable AVP7 battery packs are (were?) less than stellar in terms of usage/capacity but the radios can be run off 4 AA (alkaline) batteries as well. I returned one that was under warranty (got dipped in a river while fly fishing, allowed to dry but was dead), they shipped me a new one promptly with no questions asked.

We switched to VHF/2m for our personal use years ago but the Midlands are kept for handing out to neighbors if needed, and a couple of PX-UV973's with cross band repeat capability for bridging the UHF Midlands into our VHF system in the event of Zeds.

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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by Stercutus » Mon Jun 04, 2018 5:35 pm

I have used a wide variety of FRS radios over the years. I understand they are mostly the same inside however... I have found the Cobra brand to be the most reliable, have the best batteries, most durable and the batteries last the longest.

These are my favorite kind:

https://express.google.com/product/8289 ... wQod_QgPIw

Same but watertight:

https://www.cabelas.com/product//248526 ... lsrc=aw.ds

You may also want to consider handheld and/or station base scanners. You can keep track of whatever fire, rescue and police are doing in your area. Sometimes the local channels are available through an ap or on online portal. These can get shut down under certain circumstances but are a way of doing it more cheaply.
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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by Dorsai » Tue Jun 05, 2018 12:45 pm

CrossCut wrote: Something to consider is with the recent Part 95 changes the 2 watt "FRS only" radios should be shipping soon if they aren't already, and the add'l wattage may help through the foliage (or rain). On a manufacturer/model, I have been happy with the Midland GXT series.
Good point about the recent changes, I had forgotten about that. A 2W FRS radio would likely be perfect for us, I'm sure there's got to be one in the Midland product line somewhere.
CrossCut wrote:We switched to VHF/2m for our personal use years ago but the Midlands are kept for handing out to neighbors if needed, and a couple of PX-UV973's with cross band repeat capability for bridging the UHF Midlands into our VHF system in the event of Zeds.
Is your neighborhood organized? Or is the VHF system you mention your own?
Stercutus wrote:Same but watertight:
Those look like pretty sweet radios. I like that they can run on AA batteries; given how infrequently they will be used, I don't think we can rely on rechargeable batteries necessarily being ready when needed.
Stercutus wrote:You may also want to consider handheld and/or station base scanners. You can keep track of whatever fire, rescue and police are doing in your area. Sometimes the local channels are available through an ap or on online portal. These can get shut down under certain circumstances but are a way of doing it more cheaply.
Yup yup. Personally, I'd like to see us being prepared for a situation where all powered services (phone, electricity, internet, and cell service) are unavailable. I doubt the neighborhood would be interested in springing for a scanner, but I will have mine (Uniden BCD996P2) available for use (assuming my availability). One of the things I want to discuss with the trainer is whether it's possible to contact emergency services via radio on a frequency that a General ham would have access to. I'd like for us to have that ability.

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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by NT2C » Tue Jun 05, 2018 4:19 pm

Dorsai wrote:...whether it's possible to contact emergency services via radio on a frequency that a General ham would have access to. I'd like for us to have that ability.
Your local ARES group would likely have a simplex 2m frequency they use for this, and/or a repeater that is used for ARES as needed and with backup power. In my AO the local ARES group has a room alongside the county EOC/911 center and that gets manned with volunteer hams as needed.
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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by MPMalloy » Tue Jun 05, 2018 6:40 pm

KJ4VOV wrote:
Dorsai wrote:...whether it's possible to contact emergency services via radio on a frequency that a General ham would have access to. I'd like for us to have that ability.
Your local ARES group would likely have a simplex 2m frequency they use for this, and/or a repeater that is used for ARES as needed and with backup power. In my AO the local ARES group has a room alongside the county EOC/911 center and that gets manned with volunteer hams as needed.
Cool!

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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by Dorsai » Tue Jun 05, 2018 9:14 pm

KJ4VOV wrote:
Dorsai wrote:...whether it's possible to contact emergency services via radio on a frequency that a General ham would have access to. I'd like for us to have that ability.
Your local ARES group would likely have a simplex 2m frequency they use for this, and/or a repeater that is used for ARES as needed and with backup power. In my AO the local ARES group has a room alongside the county EOC/911 center and that gets manned with volunteer hams as needed.
Derp! Shoulda thought of that on my own...

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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by emclean » Wed Jun 06, 2018 7:24 am

just to help muddy the waters for you, have you considered Multi-Use Radio Service?

also 2W, with no license, but with a lot less people on the frequencies.

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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by Dorsai » Wed Jun 06, 2018 10:19 am

emclean wrote:just to help muddy the waters for you, have you considered Multi-Use Radio Service?

also 2W, with no license, but with a lot less people on the frequencies.
I have, and I should have mentioned it. MURS would be ideal for our purposes, except the HTs seem to be about 2x-3x as expensive as FRS. Given how rarely they will be used (in the four years I've lived here we've never had a situation that would justify activating the team), I'm not sure they're worth the additional expense *if* FRS can get the job done.

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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by Dorsai » Thu Jul 12, 2018 8:54 pm

So just to update on this...I purchased a pair of Midland T-10 0.5W FRS radios on my own dime for testing purposes. I dropped my 12 year old son off with a radio at the neighborhood clubhouse (our default command post) and proceeded to drive around the neighborhood while talking with him.

These radios almost do the job. Reception across the neighborhood was pretty good right until I got to the far end. As a reminder, our neighborhood is shaped something like a banana with the clubhouse near the main entrance at one tip, and a second entrance at the other tip about a half mile away. The neighborhood starts getting hilly at that far tip, and I'd say two dozen houses (out of the ~200 in the neighborhood) would be out of reach from the clubhouse.

One possibility would be to move our CP from the clubhouse to the athletic field nearer the middle of the neighborhood. Comms from the field to the clubhouse were good, but I didn't have my son with me to test from the field to the far entrance - I may do that this weekend. The downside of this is that the field is...a field. No shelter, no power, no water, no nothing. So I'll probably start by trying to find more powerful radios, such as those 2W ones that are supposedly out there.

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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by Dorsai » Wed Jul 18, 2018 2:44 pm

And as an update to my update...doesn't look like the geography problem can be overcome by more power. After stationing my son in the athletic field, I tried to reach him from the far end of the neighborhood, no dice. So short of setting up some kind of neighborhood repeater (not gonna happen), it looks like we don't get neighborhood-wide radio comms. :(
Last edited by Dorsai on Fri Jul 20, 2018 9:40 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by SCBrian » Wed Jul 18, 2018 6:27 pm

Remember those radios work best as "Line of sight". Anyway to get some elevation on him?

For my baofeng I have a few different antennas including something like this one when I'm camping, I can run it up 30' into the trees

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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by NT2C » Wed Jul 18, 2018 8:29 pm

Dorsai wrote:
Wed Jul 18, 2018 2:44 pm
...short of setting up some kind of neighborhood repeater (not gonna happen), it looks like we don't get neighborhood-wide radio comms. :(
Have you considered contacting a commercial radio leasing service and see what solutions they can offer?
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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by Dorsai » Fri Jul 20, 2018 9:24 am

SCBrian wrote:
Wed Jul 18, 2018 6:27 pm
Remember those radios work best as "Line of sight". Anyway to get some elevation on him?
Yes...but probably not enough. I just got done looking at some topo maps of the area, and what we have is essentially an 80' hill in the middle of the neighborhood. I don't think I can reasonably get that much elevation from our clubhouse, and there's no prospect of being able to set up on top of the hill (it's someone's house).

A commercial service would also potentially work, but the original hope was for a low-cost solution. And now even that is in doubt; we had 12-15 people show up for the initial training sessions, but apparently most of them were just there to learn basic first aid and CPR and then go home. We have a grand total of four people who have expressed interest in setting up an actual team out of that number, so this doesn't look to be going anywhere. :(

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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by MPMalloy » Fri Jul 20, 2018 10:30 am

Dorsai wrote:
Fri Jul 20, 2018 9:24 am
SCBrian wrote:
Wed Jul 18, 2018 6:27 pm
Remember those radios work best as "Line of sight". Anyway to get some elevation on him?
Yes...but probably not enough. I just got done looking at some topo maps of the area, and what we have is essentially an 80' hill in the middle of the neighborhood. I don't think I can reasonably get that much elevation from our clubhouse, and there's no prospect of being able to set up on top of the hill (it's someone's house).

A commercial service would also potentially work, but the original hope was for a low-cost solution. And now even that is in doubt; we had 12-15 people show up for the initial training sessions, but apparently most of them were just there to learn basic first aid and CPR and then go home. We have a grand total of four people who have expressed interest in setting up an actual team out of that number, so this doesn't look to be going anywhere. :(
It's a start...you may not have made your goal but it sound better than nothing...(hopeful emoji).

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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by NT2C » Fri Jul 20, 2018 11:23 am

Dorsai wrote:
Wed Jul 18, 2018 2:44 pm
And as an update to my update...doesn't look like the geography problem can be overcome by more power. After stationing my son in the athletic field, I tried to reach him from the far end of the neighborhood, no dice. So short of setting up some kind of neighborhood repeater (not gonna happen), it looks like we don't get neighborhood-wide radio comms. :(
Crazy idea here but... a simple ham cross band repeater would solve the problem of that hill. All you need is good elevation on the repeater antenna, and that's easy enough to do with a telescoping mast or ladder line antenna. Getting everyone licensed is going to be the difficult part but it can be done.
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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by woodsghost » Fri Jul 20, 2018 5:02 pm

This may be getting to focused on the issue, but...

1) What antenna are you using on your Baofeng?

2) What was the receiving radio? Another Baofeng? A FRS radio? What antenna was used?

Just curious. There are places where I can get my 5w Baofeng to go 20 miles, but the land has to be right. Or the weather has to be good. And I need a particular antenna setup.
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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by NT2C » Fri Jul 20, 2018 10:34 pm

Just a gentle but official reminder here... Part 95.561 makes it illegal to use a non-certificated radio on FRS frequencies, and 95.587 requires FRS radios to have non-removable antennas. The Baofeng (and other cheap radios of that nature) do not meet those requirements. :wink:
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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by Aikibiker » Sat Jul 21, 2018 12:07 am

Beofeng BF888S radios are cheap, reliable, have good battery life, and are USB rechargeable. Amazon has them for $14 each or $10.50 if you buy a 6 pack. The USB charger is separate on some packages and you get regular 120v wall chargers so check when you order.

They can also be programmed to work on MURS frequencies easily if you get a programming cable and download the Chirp program. There are plenty of how to videos on youtube.

Operating on MURS frequencies lets you have a removable antenna. I upgrade mine with the nagoya NA-701 8 inch. You can even get a kit to turn two bf888s into a poor man's repeater.
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Re: Neighborhood Emergency Response Radio?

Post by NT2C » Sat Jul 21, 2018 12:33 am

Aikibiker wrote:
Sat Jul 21, 2018 12:07 am
You can even get a kit to turn two bf888s into a poor man's repeater.
I'll just call your attention to Part 95.1311 and Part 95.2761
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