communications information. During emergencies – local, state,
and national – the importance of our country’s communications
system, including telecommunications, broadcast, cable, and satellite
systems, becomes clear. We use our phones to call 911 or to call
our family members to make sure they are safe. We turn on our
televisions and radios to get information updates.
there is no doubt that our country has one of the world’s most
extensive and dependable communications systems, unusual conditions
can put a strain on it.
following information will help you better understand what happens
with our communications system during an emergency and how best
to use the various components of our communications system during
a crisis or disaster.
the power is off, phones go out and the internet is down, when
police, fire, and hospital services are overwhelmed, amateur radio
operators are there to take up the slack as emergency communcations
volunteers. They have, in fact, been there in virtually all disasters
in recent memory .. Hurricanes, fires, ice storms, earthquakes,
floods and so on.
a little forethought and a few bucks, you can prepare yourself
for similar events in the future and avoid being incommunicado
when you need it the most.
are some criteria for setting up an emergency communications system:
1) It should
be easy to operate
2) have effective range
3) have a modest amount of protection against interference
4) be inexpensive (i.e. low initial cost, low maintenance and
no monthly fees)
5) be readily available 6) be able to operate “off the grid”
are at least five communications systems that more or less meet
these criteria. Some have big drawbacks, others minor ones. In
making your choice, you should examine your own needs and match
them with the appropriate system.
In the late ’50s, the FCC took a set of frequencies from the Amateur
Radio service and designated it as the Citizen’s Band. The rules
were simple: a rubber stamp license, low power, ease of operation
and channelized tuning. But the service was a relative sleeper
’til the ’70s when movies like “Smokey and the Bandit” and popular
tunes like “Convoy,” with their “rachet jawin’,” truck drivin’
cowboys, captured the American imagination. That sent a stampede
of otherwise respectable Americans onto the airwaves and the Interstate
and overwhelmed the sluggish FCC which promptly abandoned the
band to the mayhem that ensued. The Commission’s only response
to the millions of yahoos yelling at each other over CB was to
expand the band to 40 channels.
you haven’t used a CB in the last 20 years, a few things may surprise
you: 1) The units themselves are virtually unchanged (which leads
one to wonder if they’re still selling off excess inventory from
the initial craze). 2) Prices for complete systems are cheap.
3) In many areas, the CB channels are relatively quiet. Advantages
of using CB radios for emergency communications are considerable.
Aside from the low price tag, lack of licensing and fees, they
are operated on your car’s 12v. electrical system and can be easily
operated from home using a small, cheap motorcycle battery. Their
range, depending on antenna type and placement, can be anywhere
from one to fifteen miles.
of CB’s are few, but persistent. Antennas tend to be large (4'
to 8' on vehicles and larger for “base” or home stations). While
much smaller antennas are sold, their effective range is drastically
reduced. Transmissions tend to “leak” into all kinds of other
electronic devices. In the home, CBers will often be heard on
TV speakers, corded telephones, electronic keyboard speakers,
etc. This was an aspect the FCC came to regret as the Commission
was faced with hundreds of thousands of complaints from frustrated
neighbors. Another problem is that sometimes, during favorable
atmospheric propagation, range can be as great as several thousand
miles. Thousands of people all hitting their mike buttons at the
same time sets up an unearthly squeal and nobody gets through.
for CB radios range from US$50 to $150 for full-sized mobile-mount
radios to $230 for handheld portable units with AM/Single Side
Band (SSB) capabilities. I recommend units with built-in Weather
Radio receivers. Antennas are sold separately and range from $28
to $75 and usually have attached cables and connectors to simply
plug into the back of the unit.
After the CB fiasco and before the Family Radio Service was established,
manufacturers took advantage of FCC rules regarding transmissions
in the 49MHz band. They built small, lightweight, self-contained,
low power systems which featured a single headset with boom mike
attached to the transmitter/controller which could be clipped
onto the user’s belt or pants pocket. Usually single channel operation
only, some models are sold with as many as five frequency channels.
All feature PTT (push-to-talk) mikes as well as VOX (voice operated)
transmitters. The VOX feature makes them ideal “hands free” systems
for cyclists, joggers or motorcyclists. Without speakers, the
audio is heard only through the earphone. Early cordless phones,
baby monitors and a few other devices share this band.
advantage of this system is the extremely low power drain. Most
sets are powered by only 2 or 3 AA batteries and can be in service
for months. Their size makes them perfect for traveling lightand
taking up very little space. The big disadvantage is limited range.
Expect under a quarter mile coverage with these systems. This
can be seen as an advantage when you don’t want to battle hundreds
of other people on your frequency.
for 49MHz Personal Communicators range from $30 to $50 each.
Once again, the FCC has tried to give the average citizen a chance
to use the airwaves with a new scheme they call the “Family Radio
Service” (FRS). Here the Commission sought to re-dress the problems
of the first citizen’s band. They assigned the band frequencies
in the UHF region (around 462MHz) which limits the propagation-induced
range. They also limited the output to one-half watt and transmissions
use Frequency Modulation (FM). All are small, battery-powered
“handi-talkies” which can easily fit into a pocket. The Commission
has again chosen channelized operation and this time has allowed
14 channels for use.
of FRS units are that they are very compact (typically 4? h x
2.5? w x 1.5? d) and weighing 6-10 ounces. The UHF frequency means
they have very short antennas (typically only a few inches). Some
units also have such useful features as optional headset/boom
mikes for VOX operation, audible low battery alert and transmit
LED. Some units feature 38 “interference eliminator codes” which
are subaudible tones which let your unit respond only to other
units transmitting a designated tone. Other notable features include
a programmable scan feature and automatic “power off” (shuts down
if not used after a certain period of time). The main disadvantage
of these units is the relatively short range. While manufacturers
claim up to two miles, don’t expect more than a mile.
to pay $50 each for basic FRS models, $90-$190 for higher-end
models with additional features.
Mobile Radio Service
The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is like the FRS in that
it operates in the 460MHz region, uses small handi-talkies and
is intended to be used by individuals to communicate with immediate
family members. The big differences are that GMRS requires an
FCC license with a fee and users must be 18 years or older. In
addition, the output of these units is considerably greater (1
to 5 watts), allowing a range of coverage from 5 to 25 miles,
depending on terrain and antenna position.
are 23 GMRS channels used on an unassigned basis and dependent
on the cooperation of all users. The channels are split up for
base, mobile relay and fixed station or mobile station use. Each
license is assigned one or two of eight possible channels or pairs
as requested by the license applicants. In order to avoid interference
or conflicts in use, the FCC recommends monitoring existing frequencies
in your area before making your application and requesting your
advantage of the GMRS is that this is the most useful of the previously
listed services, but brings with it disadvantages of government
oversight and stringent frequency assignment. GMRS radios are
bigger than FRS units and have more features. Higher power means
more batteries (as many as 6 AAs) and a higher price. Expect to
pay $200 for handheld 2 watt units and considerably more for 5
watt base station transceiver.
The great grandpappy of the two way radio scene is the Amateur
Radio service whose operators are known as Hams and who have pioneered
radio communications since the first decade of this century. AR
is also the most regulated of the non-commercial services, it
can end up being the most expensive, but it can also be the most
versatile and powerful.
hams and their stations must be licensed by the FCC, and in order
to receive a license, you must pass a written exam. Any license
above the entry level also requires a proficiency in Morse Code.
There’s no fee for the license (which is good for ten years),
no age requirement and operators are allowed to use any frequency
for which their license qualifies them.
nationwide system of repeaters on the 144MHz and 440MHz bands
allows nearly seamless communications as hams travel around the
country. These repeaters are built, installed and maintained by
active and well-populated local amateur radio clubs. Traditional
amateur frequencies in the shortwave bands provide excellent coverage
for local, regional, national, and even international, communications.
Unfortunately, there’s not one radio for all of these capabilities
which is why hams typically have three or four separate radios
easiest way into ham radio is via the “Technician” class license
which requires a written test based on a text available through
many sources. This class allows the user to operate(among others)
in the 2 meter band (144MHz). Small handi-talkies for 2 meters
are relatively cheap and give a range of 20-50 miles depending
on terrain, power and whether or not you’re using a repeater.
Many repeaters provide access to 911 services through the handi-talkie.
to pay $200-$500 for 2 meter transceivers depending on features.
If you’re planning to use Amateur Radio for your family, each
member needs a Technician license and their own handi-talkie
The FCC has made it illegal to modify any of these radios to operate
in any band other than the one for which they were intended or
to make it possible to place telephone calls from the radios.
what sales people might tell you, or manufacturers’ claims, none
of these services offer privacy. Anyone with a similar unit or
a scanner can tune into your conversations. You don’t need to
buy any of these transceivers to find out what’s happening in
your area in an emergency. Any scanner capable of tuning the VHF
or UHF bands can tune in. Any shortwave radio capable of tuning
as high as 27MHz can monitor the Citizen’s Band. This is particularly
useful in winter when you need to know about road conditions in
your immediate area.
personnel and others often learn about emergencies through 911
calls. 911 is the official national emergency number in the United
States and Canada. Dialing 911 quickly connects you to a PSAP
dispatcher trained to route your call to local emergency medical,
fire, and law enforcement agencies.
911 network is a vital part of our nation’s emergency response
and disaster preparedness system. This network is constantly being
upgraded to provide emergency help more quickly and effectively.
For example, most traditional wireline 911 systems now automatically
report to the PSAP the telephone number and location of calls,
a capability called “Enhanced 911? or “E911.” By receiving the
telephone number of the caller, the PSAP is able to call back
in the event the call gets disconnected. The PSAP is also able
to determine the location of the caller by cross-referencing the
telephone number against a location database. Traditional wireline
E911 is available in most parts of the country.
Safety Answering Point and Call Dispatch
emergency dispatcher uses location information to direct public
safety personnel responding to the emergency to ensure the shortest
possible emergency response time.
the PSAP, the operator verifies the caller’s location, determines
the nature of the emergency, and decides which emergency response
teams should be notified. Sometimes, a single primary PSAP will
answer for an entire region. In most cases, the caller is then
transferred to a secondary PSAP from which help will be sent.
PSAPs are sometimes located at fire dispatch offices, municipal
police headquarters, or ambulance dispatch centers. Communities
that don’t have PSAPs rely on public safety emergency operators
and communications centers to process emergency calls.
the call is processed, the PSAP operator or dispatch center alerts
the appropriate emergency response team. During emergencies, radio
systems frequently are used by emergency units and officers at
the scene to coordinate activities among all emergency personnel
– fire, rescue, police, dispatchers, etc. – with the emergency
units on their way and with dispatchers at command bases.
new telecommunications technologies can be important tools for
public safety, they sometimes create special challenges for public
safety personnel. For example, the mobility of wireless telephone
service makes determining a wireless user’s location more complicated
than is true for traditional wireline services, which are associated
with a fixed location or address.
an effort to increase the ability of emergency personnel to respond
to wireless 911 calls, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
has adopted rules requiring wireless telephone carriers to provide
Enhanced 911 (E911).
carriers have begun to deploy technologies to meet the FCC’s E911
rules. When fully implemented, wireless E911 will provide PSAPs
with information about the location of consumers dialing 911 from
mobile phones. However, since wireless E911 will not be available
everywhere immediately, it is important for consumers to follow
a few basic steps when calling 911 from their mobile phones:
* Tell the
emergency operator the location of the emergency right away.
* Give the emergency operator your wireless phone number so
that if the call gets disconnected, the operator can call you
* If your wireless phone is not “initialized” (i.e., you do
not have a contract for service with a wireless service provider)
and your emergency call gets disconnected, you must call the
emergency operator back because he or she does not automatically
receive your telephone number and therefore cannot contact you.
FCC also has imposed E911 obligations on providers of “interconnected”
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. Interconnected VoIP
service allows you to make and receive calls to and from traditional
wireline phone numbers using any high-speed (broadband) Internet
connection (i.e., DSL, Cable Modem). VoIP can be used in place
of traditional phone service. Typically, interconnected VoIP technology
works by either placing an adapter between a traditional phone
and a broadband connection, or by using a special VoIP phone that
connects directly to your computer or Internet connection. While
you may choose to use interconnected VoIP service from a single
location, like a residence, interconnected VoIP services can be
used wherever you travel as long as a broadband Internet connection
the end of 2005, all interconnected VoIP providers must automatically
provide E911 services to all customers as a standard, mandatory
feature without customers having to specifically request this
service. VoIP providers may not allow their customers to “opt-out”
of E911 service.
interconnected VoIP service providers can activate a new customer’s
service, providers must obtain from the customer the physical
location at which the service will first be used so that emergency
services personnel will be able to locate callers who dial 911.
Interconnected VoIP providers must also provide one or more easy
ways for all customers to update the physical location they have
registered with the provider, if it changes.
Damage and Black-outs
the telecommunications network is damaged in a disaster, your
traditional wireline, wireless, or VoIP phone and text pager may
not work. If only your electricity goes out (a “black-out”), your
traditional telephone may still work. In a black-out, you still
may be able to use your traditional wireline phone because electricity
and telephone transmissions travel on different wires. If you
keep the battery on your wireless phone and text pager fully charged,
you should be able to use these, too, in a black-out. Unless you
have a backup power supply, your VoIP phone will not work if your
broadband connection is down or in a black-out.
pagers have a built-in radio transmitter/ receiver. Messages are
transmitted over the wireless network, a nationwide network of
radio towers that transmit data. Some text pagers can subscribe
to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA)
National Weather Service for any weather alerts.
May Work When Phone Lines Don’t During a Terrorist Attack, Natural
Disaster or State of Emergency
a telephone call is completed on the public telephone network,
transmission circuits are assigned and dedicated between the two
users for the length of the call. The telephone network is engineered
so that during normal usage there are adequate facilities that
can be assigned and dedicated to handle the number of calls during
the peak period.
if during a disaster or emergency the number of calls exceeds
that peak (or if the network transmission capacity is reduced),
then some calls will be blocked. And, of course, if the phone
being called is already in use, the call will be blocked.
Internet backbone uses shared rather than dedicated transmission
facilities so that even during heavy usage the Internet will work,
albeit perhaps more slowly. However, if Internet traffic is heavy
enough, VoIP phones may not work. Cable modem and DSL users who
have dedicated Internet access can generally get through to their
e-mail systems, although dial-up Internet users may experience
some blocking when they try to dial their Internet Service Provider
(ISP), either because the local telephone system is congested
or all ISP’s lines are busy. E-mail itself is an Internet application
which has the additional characteristic that the recipient doesn’t
have to be available at the same time as the sender, and instead
can connect to his or her own mail system at his or her convenience
to retrieve messages that have been delivered there.
Emergency Alert System Radio and Television Updates
the event of an emergency, many people rely on local radio and/or
television stations to receive updates on what is happening and
what to do.
is a nationwide broadcast system in place for national disaster
or other large-scale disasters. The Emergency Alert System (EAS)
currently provides not only the President, but national, state,
and local authorities with the ability to give emergency information
to the general public via broadcast, cable, and wireless cable
broadcast stations and cable systems currently are required to
broadcast emergency alerts and messages for national security
emergencies initiated by the President.
October, 2005, the FCC expanded its rules to require EAS participation
by digital television (DTV) broadcasters, digital cable television
providers, digital broadcast radio, Digital Audio Radio Service
(DARS), and Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) systems. These rules
are effective as of December 31, 2006, except for DBS, whose effective
date is May 31, 2007. The FCC continues to consider ways to enhance
the EAS to ensure that all Americans, including those with hearing
and vision disabilities and those who speak languages other than
English, receive EAS alerts
participants are not required to broadcast EAS alerts and messages
initiated by state and local authorities, but the FCC encourages
them to transmit emergency alerts as a public service. Information
about local natural disasters is often broadcast via EAS.
EAS alerts should be accessible by audio and visual means, or
simple visual means, including closed-captioning, open-captioning,
crawls or scrolls.
If your local television/radio tower or studio is damaged during
a natural disaster like a tornado, you may not receive the signal.
was designed, however, so that if one link in the dissemination
of alert information is broken, the public has multiple alternate
sources of warning.
of Emergency Information
FCC has separate requirements to meet the needs of persons with
disabilities in cases of local emergencies. The FCC requires that
any information that is intended to further the protection of
life, health, safety, or property, such as immediate weather situations,
civil disorder, evacuation orders, school closings, relief assistance,
etc., be accessible to persons with disabilities. These rules
apply to all local broadcasters, cable operators, and satellite
television service providers. Critical details about the emergency
must be provided in a visual format, such as open captions, scrolls,
or even hand-lettered signs.
critical details must also be provided in an aural format. If
crawls or scrolls are provided during regular programming, an
aural tone is required to indicate to persons who are blind or
who have low vision that emergency information is being provided.
up radios are available through a variety of sources however the
quality in wind up radios varies.
you don’t have a radio that works during a power failure.. you’ll
wish you had a Freeplay wind up radio. It’s the one we use and
Baygen Freeplay wind up radio is the best alternative power, AM/FM,
Shortwave you can buy and is the only one we recommend. Simply
stated there is no better choice for a dependable radio of any
type in an emergency.
National Terror Alert Response Center
Federal Communications Commission
National Hurricane Center [NWS
National Weather Service [NWS
Red Cross [ARC]
National Voluntary Organizations
Active in Disaster [NVOAD]
American Radio Relay League [ARRL]
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