This is my presentation for new CERTS. Please feel free to comment:. kj6wsv@gmail.com  

In a disaster I am going to secure my family and home.  Then I’ll check on my neighbors.  I would also like to know your status.  In my world I would turn on my two-way communication device and give a shout out to other CERT’s to let them know my situation and availability.  This would be similar to a phone tree without dialing.  If the incident is catastrophic I may be called in to one of the local Emergency Operations Centers to operate on the County’s emergency network.   The EOC’s are the next level of support for CERT’s.  You will contact your local EOC with information about damage, requests for fire, police or EMT.  No one can predict the state of our telephone systems.  They may not be functioning or they may be reserved for emergency responders.  Having our own comm. network will allow us to react faster and do the most good for the most people.

We have three types of radio communication available.  FRS, Family Radio Service, GMRS, General Mobile Radio Service and Amateur (HAM) Radio.

The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is in the 462 - 467 MHz spectrum. The most common use of GMRS radio is short-distance, two-way communications using small, portable hand-held devices that function similar to walkie-talkies that can connect to a base station or other hand held radios.

Similar services include the Family Radio Service (FRS) and the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS).  FRS radios are limited to 500 milliwatts according to FCC regulationsChannels 1 to 7 are shared with low-power interstitial channels of GMRS. Channels 15 to 22 operate at normal 5 watt power.  A license is required for those channels.
Unlike Citizens' Band (CB) radios, FRS radios frequently have provisions for using sub-audible tone squelch (CTCSS and DCS) codes, filtering out unwanted chatter from other users on the same frequency. Although these codes are sometimes called "privacy codes" or "private line codes" (PL codes), they offer no protection from eavesdropping and are only intended to help share busy channels. Tone codes also do nothing to prevent desired transmissions from being swamped by stronger signals having a different code.

FRS rules permit only +/-2.5kHz maximum deviation (Narrow Frequency Modulation).  FRS stations on channels 1 through 7 may communicate with GMRS stations on those shared channels; the GMRS stations may use up to 5 watts of power, while the FRS stations are restricted to 500 milliwatts (half a watt).

FRS radios must use only permanently attached antennas, such as walkie-talkies; there are table-top FRS "base station" radios that have whip antennas. This limitation intentionally restricts the range of communications, allowing greatest use of the available channels. The use of duplex radio repeaters and interconnects to the telephone network are prohibited under FRS rules, unlike other radio services.

FRS manufacturers generally claim exaggerated range. The presence of large buildings, trees, etc., will reduce range. Under exceptional conditions, (such as hilltop to hilltop) communication is possible over 60 km (37 mi) or more, but that is rare. Under normal conditions, with line of sight blocked by a few buildings or trees, FRS has an actual range of about 0.5 to 1.5 km (0.3 to 1 mile).

Amateur radio (also called ham radio) is the use of designated radio frequency spectra for purposes of private recreation, non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, and emergency communication. The term "amateur" is used to specify persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without direct monetary or other similar reward, and to differentiate it from commercial broadcasting, public safety (such as police and fire), or professional two-way radio services (such as maritime, aviation, taxis, etc.).

The amateur radio service (amateur service and amateur satellite service) is established by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) through the International Telecommunication Regulations. National governments regulate technical and operational characteristics of transmissions and issue individual stations a license with an identifying call sign. Prospective amateur operators are tested for their understanding of key concepts in electronics and the host government's radio regulations. Radio amateurs use a variety of voice, text, image, and data communications modes and have access to frequency allocations throughout the RF spectrum to enable communication across a city, region, country, continent, the world, or even into space.

The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) is a standby radio service provided for in Part 97.407 of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules and regulations governing amateur radio in the United States.[1]  The concept of a standby "Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service" to replace the conventional "Amateur Radio Service" during wartime was developed in 1952 as result of input from the American Radio Relay League and the Department of the Army's Office of Civil Defense. During World War II, the Amateur Radio Service had been silenced and a new War Emergency Radio Service (WERS) had to be created from scratch in a process that took six months.  The resulting standby RACES service was designed to provide a quicker and smoother transition in the event the President ever needed to silence the regular Amateur Radio Service again when invoking the War Powers Act. Despite four wars involving the United States since 1952, this has never happened.


When so activated, the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service will consist of only those amateur radio operators who have previously registered with State and local governments to provide emergency radio communications for them in times of emergency. Other amateur radio operations might be suspended and operations under the RACES rules might be restricted to certain frequencies within the amateur radio bands.

In addition to wartime communications, operations under the RACES rules can provide or supplement communications during emergencies where normal communication systems have sustained damage. It may be used in a wide variety of situations, including natural disasters, technological disasters, nuclear accidentsnuclear attackterrorist incidents, and bomb threats.


In the past, actual RACES station licenses were also issued to civil defense organizations. To prevent abuse of station licenses by officials who were not licensed amateur radio operators, limitations on the duration of non-emergency operation and stations that might be contacted were incorporated into part 97.407. Such RACES station licenses are no longer issued, and any operations under the RACES rules would now use licensed amateur radio operators as control operators.
In daily practice, most amateur radio operators enrolled with their local government for possible operations under the RACES rules are also members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, organized by the American Radio Relay League. ARES provides emergency communications in the conventional Amateur Radio Service without the need for an emergency declaration from the government.

Now that you know the differences in the systems available I want to talk about their uses.  The FRS radio is just what it says, it’s a radio for family’s to use while camping or hiking where the distance between them is less than a mile or two.  Within those limits the FRS equipment is suitable for communicating.  Another upside is no license requirement.  Most of these units have many functions that only confuse most users.  It is most common to set a channel, set the call feature to on so the paging alert will sound when someone is trying to contact you and the vox (voice operation) is off.  Everyone will meet on an agreed channel.  This channel should be locked to prevent accidental changing.  You should always carry a replacement supply of batteries.  Always change all batteries at the same time.  You will have two main controls:  the push to talk switch for transmitting your voice and the receive audio volume/off-on control.  GMRS radios are very similar but have more power and greater range.  A high/low power option allows for saving battery power.  Low power operation uses less battery and allows for longer periods of use between battery changes.  But…you must have a license for GMRS.

From the FCC:

Any individual in the United States who is at least 18 years of age and not a representative of a foreign government may apply for a General Mobile Radio Servie license by applying and paying the license fee (currently $85.00). No exam is required. A license for a GMRS system is usually issued for a 5-year term.[3] Prior to July 31, 1987, the FCC issued GMRS licenses to non-individuals (corporations, partnerships, government entities, etc.). These licensees are grand-fathered and may renew their existing licenses.

No new GMRS licenses are being issued to non-individuals, nor may existing non-individual licensees make major modifications to their licens

The license extends privileges of the primary licensee to include communications with the licensee's immediate family members, and authorizes immediate family members to use the licensee's station(s) to conduct the activities of the licensee. Additionally, the FCC rules allow GMRS licensees to communicate with other GMRS licensees. GMRS licensees are allowed to communicate with FRS users on those frequencies that are shared between the two services. The rules require each GMRS user family to have a license, rather than (as in the case of commercial and public safety land mobile license) authorizing a licensee's employees to use the same license.


That’s more than the cost of becoming a HAM and buying a radio.  If you’re up to the challenge, you can take a “ham-cram’ course to get a Technician license.  It’s a day long study hall that teaches the answers to all of the questions asked on the ham test.  You learn the answers, take the test, and, you’re a ham.  The test has 35 questions.

The FCC Technician License exam covers basic regulations, operating practices and electronics theory, with a focus on VHF and UHF applications. Morse code is not required for this license. With a Technician Class license, you will have all ham radio privileges above 30 MHz. These privileges include the very popular 2-meter band. Many Technician licensees enjoy using small (2 meter) hand-held radios to stay in touch with other hams in their area. Technicians may operate FM voice, digital packet (computers), television, single-sideband voice and several other interesting modes. You can even make international radio contacts via satellites, using relatively simple station equipment. Technician licensees now also have additional privileges on certain HF frequencies. Technicians may also operate on the 80, 40 and 15 meter bands using CW, and on the 10 meter band using CW, voice and digital modes.

Once you’ve obtained your license you will be able to purchase a hand held or base station radio.  The base station allows you to uses equipment with more power than the hand units.  A typical UHF or VHF base station may have output power as high as 100 watts.  The typical hand unit has 5 Watts maximum.  That 5 Watts will put you in contact with other operators as far away as the Sierras and 50 or more miles to the north and south of Richmond.  If you take your radio on your travels you can tune to repeaters in your local area and link to many places.

For those who chose to become HAM’s there are amateurs/CERT’s who have knowledge and will assist you with programming your radio with the necessary channel information for Contra Costa CERTS and R.A.C.E.S.

If you use FRS or GMRS in your group plan to have daily or weekly check-ins to maintain your proficiency.  If you are an amateur you will find morning and evening networks that will welcome the new blood.  It will help you gain confidence and skill with your radio.
We are all preparing to be of assistance when “the big one” hits.  We have to be in communication with one another to effectively utilize our resources.  Being prepared means staying prepared because the big one will not be sending out invitations with an rsvp, it will smack us and we will be notified.  Readiness means we have practiced and we are ready.

djovida, KJ6wsv