What are people with FRS radios supposed to do in an emergency?  

Thia Bell
KJ7CNH
WRKF373

How can you help as individuals or how and when are radio teams activated? 

Several answers in a local Net included how volunteers may be self-activated until they can organize on the air, or at a gathering site, or among neighbors forming small Damage Assessment Teams (DATs).

Groups or teams that practice may have their own plans, procedures and assigned FRS/GMRS channels. For instance, the radio team of Friendly Area Neighbors (FAN) uses Ch 6, which was assigned in the Eugene EmComm/CERT neighborhood map, with an alternate channel assigned to be used if 6 is congested. FAN welcomed and went with this plan.

Its Radio Ready team further adopted an internal neighborhood plan that incorporates other channels on low power for smaller areas. People with several radios are to be monitoring the main channel(s).

But when? 

Following basic FRS emcomm procedures, FAN suggests all operators spare their batteries. We are to turn our walkie-talkies to the main neighborhood ch(s) at the top of the hour for 5 min following an event of widespread disruption of normal forms of communication. 

How do you know it’s major and not just your block affected? Ham operators can pull in information from farther away than neighbors who just have FRS radios. This is why we call our FAN campaign Radio Ready. It starts with keeping battery-powered AM/FM radios on hand, in a go kit, or wherever it will stay until needed. NOAA weather radios usually have this reception, as do other small transistor or windup, crank radios. We may be able to access radios in our vehicles as well. Some handheld ham radios also easily tune to FM radio stations. 

Any activating neighbor who gets on the air at the top of the hour may assume FRS Net Control until another takes over. Announcements may come first, about when to listen again, such as also at the bottom of the hour, and when there may be calls for check-ins and reports. If nothing is heard, try the alternate channel, and try again over subsequent hours. Rinse and repeat. 

We understand many “untrained” people may soon deluge the FRS/GMRS channels in widespread local disasters, so practicing directed nets under a single net control operator helps us politely assume control, state who we are, about how long we will need the channel, and to be brief in real emergency communications. We expect most traffic will peter out after early users deplete their batteries, or they learn to listen more than talk. 

The important thing for any group or neighborhood is to have a plan. 

FRS/GMRS operators also may be familiar with the National SOS protocol described in the attached flier. It suggests just three minutes at the top of the hour, and other times, instead of five minutes. And whereas CB radio attempts to reserve its Ch 9 for emergency messages, FRS/GMRS attempts to reserve Ch 1 for emergency communications. 

This standard of reserving Ch 1 may necessitate a neighborhood team to monitor Ch 1 as well as any assigned neighborhood channel(s) if some members have adequate backup power. Of course, anyone can monitor FRS/GMRS at any time. Even some hams can monitor Ch 1 and the neighborhood channels without having to rely on FRS batteries that do not have very long life. It is illegal for hams to transmit on FRS/GMRS channel frequencies. ln the example on the flier, a monitoring ham could switch radios to respond to the caller on their own FRS to let the caller know their message is received and is being forwarded. They might also ask the caller to switch to another, neighborhood FRS channel for further comms and updates to free up the emergency channel. 

Not all ham radios can hear FRS channels. But hams usually have longer battery power and backup supplies, whereas FRS and handheld GMRS batteries can deplete in several hours, especially if they are transmitting a lot.

(I have left an inexpensive ham handheld (HT) radio turned on, monitoring or scanning overnight for four days on its extended battery pack before getting the low battery alert. Having more charged packs on hand to switch out limits anxiety.) 

So even if you have not seen a need to acquire FRS or GMRS radios yet, you or another ham might still be able to monitor their channels and alert another neighborhood ham who could try to respond with their FRS or relay to others. If not blocked by the manufacturer, FRS/GMRS channel frequencies can be programmed via chirp or manually

Eugene Emcomm, CERT, Portland NET and Seattle Communication Hubs, have useful training videos on ways to activate and use radio teams. The Neighborhood Emergency Radio Communications Response Guide provides instructions and tools with the Eugene neighborhood channel map. 

The challenge of convincing more neighbors, and hams, to acquire FRS or GMRS radios, battery supplies, and ways to charge them, seems the Big One to overcome. 


Radio Relay International