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FRS activity during / after disasters?

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hertzian

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Seems like a silly question - but I was wondering what FRS activity sounds like during or right after a disaster?

Is it totally abandoned in a panic, or do you hear people using it for real things, other than kid chit-chat?

The other reason I ask this, is that while there are many fine services for disaster comms (amateur / gmrs etc), the sheer availability of both FRS radios and scanners makes me wonder if both could ever be put to good use?

What I'm thinking is that if someone was in trouble, and they aren't even technically savvy, that if they placed a call for help and didn't get a reply, that it *might* be possible that some scanner listeners, those with good outdoor antennas, might be able to at least transfer the plea for help to other agencies.

Situation: I'm down and not technically savvy - but someone once told me to just fire up the kids FRS radio, and at the top of the hour, make a call stating my location, situation etc. If no reply comes, try again in 5 minutes. If nothing heard then, shut down to save the battery, and try again at the top of the next hour.

This way, even if a scanner listener monitoring channel 1 FRS (default on FRS radio powerup) with an FRS radio could not reach the person needing help, they could at least *hear* the call, and possibly enlist the help of others.

What I'm thinking of is total brain-dead simplicity. Those with the knowledge to operate radios will obviously do so. But for mom and pop who remembered to just turn on the FRS unit, and make a call at the top of the hour, might be heard by a scanner listener with a good setup.

Is this just a pipe-dream, among all the other various schemes proposed over the years? Is it just an unusable bedlam of activity during these kinds of events?
 
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hockeyshrink

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Seems like a silly question - but I was wondering what FRS activity sounds like during or right after a disaster?

Is it totally abandoned in a panic, or do you hear people using it for real things, other than kid chit-chat?

The other reason I ask this, is that while there are many fine services for disaster comms (amateur / gmrs etc), the sheer availability of both FRS radios and scanners makes me wonder if both could ever be put to good use?

What I'm thinking is that if someone was in trouble, and they aren't even technically savvy, that if they placed a call for help and didn't get a reply, that it *might* be possible that some scanner listeners, those with good outdoor antennas, might be able to at least transfer the plea for help to other agencies.

Situation: I'm down and not technically savvy - but someone once told me to just fire up the kids FRS radio, and at the top of the hour, make a call stating my location, situation etc. If no reply comes, try again in 5 minutes. If nothing heard then, shut down to save the battery, and try again at the top of the next hour.

This way, even if a scanner listener monitoring channel 1 FRS (default on FRS radio powerup) with an FRS radio could not reach the person needing help, they could at least *hear* the call, and possibly enlist the help of others.

What I'm thinking of is total brain-dead simplicity. Those with the knowledge to operate radios will obviously do so. But for mom and pop who remembered to just turn on the FRS unit, and make a call at the top of the hour, might be heard by a scanner listener with a good setup.

Is this just a pipe-dream, among all the other various schemes proposed over the years? Is it just an unusable bedlam of activity during these kinds of events?
I think the technical limitations of FRS (e.g., power, frequency, fixed duck antenna, etc.) make it very unlikely that it would be of any use in an emergency. It may help in coordinating with others who are 1. very close by and 2. are operating on the same frequency with the same CTCSS.

The scenario you described is often called a "wilderness protocol," that is if you need help you call at specific times on a designated frequency, shutting down between calls. This only works if there is someone else following the protocol for monitoring the frequency at those times, and both are operating in sufficient proximity on an effective band to permit the contact. In areas where there are people monitoring, the protocol is often published and typically uses amateur calling frequencies (e.g., 145.52, 52.525, etc.).

I have never heard of anyone monitoring FRS for emergency calls. The technical limitations I mentioned above make it very very impractical to get help that is more than a few blocks away, and most FRS users are not sufficiently radio savvy enough to leave CTCSS off to ensure they could communicate with anyone who may be calling. Scanner users typically monitor carrier squelch (I guess?) so the CTCSS wouldn't be an issue, but you still have to be right on top of them and they still need a pretty good external antenna. Think of it this way, if a scanner user can hear you on FRS, you can probably walk to their place in 20 minutes.

Even GMRS with more power and antenna setups are not well suited for emergency use in simplex, by virtue of the physics of the frequency. At least in GMRS there was a push for "open repeaters" on 675 with an understood CTCSS of 141.8 to allow users to find help if needed. These do exist, also because REACT used to have GMRS systems set up on 675/141.8.

Just my humble opinion worth maybe $.02 :cool:
 
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mm

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I do know that during the first weeks of Hurricane Katrina, due to FEMA and every other agencies lack of suitable comms and lack of any type co-ordination that the US CBP was dropping FRS radios to stranded citizens on roof tops to co-ordinate later rescues.

With the latest disasters I don't know if the frs bands were active or not ?
 

hertzian

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In areas where there are people monitoring, the protocol is often published and typically uses amateur calling frequencies (e.g., 145.52, 52.525, etc.).
That's a great idea for scanner listeners who may not be licensed to transmit - if they had an amateur or other disaster operator point of contact, they might be able to relay that distress call if no contact is heard on frequency.... they may never become hams, but in time of crisis, perhaps enlisting the help of a scanner enthusiasts would be valuable. I haven't worked out the logistics of that one yet, but I suppose the more people are monitoring the local emergency freqs the better! Hmmm.

Maybe the local amateur ARES or other safety groups would consider including rx-only members if it was coordinated in some fashion to be useful.

Scanner users typically monitor carrier squelch (I guess?) so the CTCSS wouldn't be an issue, but you still have to be right on top of them and they still need a pretty good external antenna. Think of it this way, if a scanner user can hear you on FRS, you can probably walk to their place in 20 minutes.
That was my first thought when I thought about non-skilled user-user 2-way contact. Not only that, but grabbing a half-dead proprietary battery with no way to charge it wouldn't be helpful either. So they would have to have spare batteries, or AAA's on hand. Not likely if it is buried in mud.

Even GMRS with more power and antenna setups are not well suited for emergency use in simplex, by virtue of the physics of the frequency.
Now that you made me think about it - yes, unless one is in the clear and the receiving end is not blocked. In my example of being down, I would probably be surrounded by rf-absorbing materials, so yup - frs in that condition wouldn't be good.

I'd have to think about this some more, but perhaps the idea of enlisting scanner enthusiasts help to listen for amateur / gmrs distress calls might be interesting - and may even lead to licensing, although that is not the aim at the moment....

Great .02! That was a good reality check for me.
 
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hockeyshrink

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...and that makes me think too. ARES/RACES does not go near Part 95 frequencies, CB is all but dead (in an organized way at least, but many people still have them), and while there used to be REACTs on GMRS, I think many of those outfits are defunct now.

So your idea is some kind of network of folks like scanner users that can monitor FRS, GMRS, or even CB in an emergency, listen for folks in distress, and relay that info to some authority. In the "gub-ment" we called those Listening Posts (LPs). Not a bad idea. Should have some connection with some group, like ARES/RACES or the local emergency communications center, some basic SOPs and training, and somehow get the work out to Part 95 users that they are there and what an emergency communications protocol in each service would be.

I like it!
 

hertzian

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Wow - I'm blown away by the CERT link that incorporates FRS in the sop's. Good stuff.

It all goes to show that with training, even a toy can be turned into a tool.

It would be interesting to put together some sort of tips or list like they mention about NOT using PL. And of course using fresh batteries and at the lowest power level needed for comms - which frs is good at. :) Having AAA or AA's handy sure beats the abused oem battery which was probably cooked sitting in a drop-in charger, or depleted so often that one of the cells has reversed. OR for GMRS users, trying to use the dinky OEM battery on high-power. Use the AA/AAA's!

One thing they mentioned was how to properly hold the radio - talking across the mic instead of into it. This is good, yet they don't mention keeping the antenna vertical! I don't know how many times I've seen people holding their radio like a cell-phone, or speaking down into it like they were reading a compass - so there is a lot of cross-polarization attenuation going on. So that would be another tip - keep your antenna as vertical as possible.

FRS Radio - More Range.AVI - YouTube

This link shows what happens with cross-polarization measured by an rf-detector, and even mentions facing the group so you don't attenuate the signal with your head. I've never tested that, but seems like a good idea to avoid the "first obstacle". :)
 
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talkpair

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I think the biggest problem with establishing an emergency channel in either the GMRS or FRS radios is the non-standard channel and tone numbering schemes used by the various bubble-pack manufacturers.

Prior to bubble-packs, GMRS users referred to channels as 675, 700 etc.

If there had been some coordination between manufacturers, I would have proposed use channel 9 (to match the CB emergency channel) and tone 11 for FRS radios.

The end result would be something easy to remember.........9-11
 

hertzian

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That is definitely a problem - for untrained users who don't know their radio, be it $20 special, or $2K. :)

I think in a round-about way this leads back to the original question - if those who rely solely on cellphones, and suddenly find them unusable, would they really try the kid's FRS radios these days? Probably not - or maybe just to caravan to get out and not stick around with the community.

BUT, I was wondering if those who were familiar with the radios, might actually be of some assistance to the community as spotters, extra ears, etc - even scanner users who could run ctcss / search mode to help out and become part of the solution with even just a little bit of training.

I got a feeling this will always be an after-thought. :(
 

hertzian

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Improve your receiver!

Maybe I'm over-thinking this:

While you can't modify an FRS radio's antenna or power level, there is nothing on the books that says you can't use a separate receiver with a good antenna!

I'm sure that many of us here are avid scanner enthusiasts - so in times of emergency would it not be feasable to run with a high-gain 462 mhz antenna atop a high location (rooftop etc) for the scanner, yet still use just the handset for transmit with it's own built-in antenna? If this was done on both ends of say an FRS point-to-point link, wouldn't that be helpful?

I suppose at this point you'd have to watch out so that you don't blow out your scanner's front-end. Or maybe run half-duplex on the link. Since bubble-packs come in pairs, you have the transmit side of the link setup right there. Add the scanner and high-gain rx-only antenna at each end of the link and bingo.

Ok, maybe too much coffee at this point. :)
 
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hockeyshrink

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Maybe I'm over-thinking this:
...methinks so...

Ok, maybe too much coffee at this point. :)
...perhaps. :)

I think it is a great concept to have coordinated LPs to monitor these frequencies in time of emergency, just in case someone may try to call out on their kid's FRS radio or a GMRS radio if they needs help. You don't have to worry about CTCSS if you are just listening - you use carrier squelch. If you are really into it you can have a huge beam antenna with all kinds of preamps on it to help you find those signals.

The utility of FRS to communicate back is extremely limited, but not impossible in the right situation with the right users. GMRS provides greater flexibility in power, repeaters, and antenna systems, but is still limited when you are talking simplex due to the physics of the frequency.

No matter which scenario you are talking about, unless there is some sort of SOP and users 1. are aware of it and 2. practice it with their equipment, it will be pretty useless in a real emergency.
 

talkpair

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Because FRS radios look like toys to begin with, most adults would probably never even to think about using them in an emergency.

The people most likely to use FRS in an emergency are probably the people that use them on a daily basis.

People with poor or no cell coverage......I'm thinking maybe on small family farms, or people traveling together on the highways
 

hertzian

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A little practice goes a long way

Both of you are right. I scaled things back and talked to some neighbors on the block and had an impromptu little training session.

I have a Midland GXT1000 pair, and a neighbor was gracious enough to split his Midland LXT490 pair with another person since his kids are too busy texting to use them. I dig the Midlands, but anyway...

Since these are dual GMRS/FRS units, we just agreed to meet on channel 9 in the display. No PL/DCS. Showed them how to get into and out of NOAA wx monitoring, and how to change channels if need be.

To save battery life, I showed them how to stay on FRS channels, since the FRS channels have no H/M/L power options. No real interest from them on getting a GMRS license - they just wanted something they can use for a few blocks and by staying on FRS, they can be sure they aren't draining the battery by mistake just going door to door.

Got everyone to agree on NOT using the OEM battery, and just have a stash of either AA or AAA's around. I sort of geeked out when I got into Sanyo Eneloops, Maha chargers, and stopped when their eyes started to roll. :)

So we practiced a bit, got everyone to hold the radio vertically and not like a cellphone. We aren't really planning on a lot of chit-chat, so these things are going to be on the ready, rather than in daily use, and the chargers hidden away so we won't be tempted to use some dilapidated hi-self-discharge oem battery.

I guess we'll see how it goes...
 

redneckcellphone

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when i had my midland(before giving them to a friend) i always used the rechargeable battery packs. but hertzain you made a good point about having a stash of alkaline battery's around. We should all look for battery packs for our ham/ commercial radios that use them just in case
 

hertzian

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Curious side note about emergencies:

I tested a ten-dollar Midland LXT114 miniature bubblepack, and it has superior sensitivity and overall audio quality than does my Uniden 396XT scanner with a 462 mhz quarter wave. It isn't a weakling in the front-end overload department either - but yes, you can push a $10 radio to it's limits if you really want to. I really think it is good sensitivity combined with a better narrow-fm demodulator than the scanner.

I was blown away. For emergencies involving FRS/GMRS, I am no longer considering the scanner as a viable option when ten bucks of plastic can outperform it for weak-signal work. However, this little unit has no open-squelch option, so I'll stick to the better radios that can open squelch.

Channel 9 is what I am promoting around here for two reasons - all radios that I have seen are the dual-use combos, and 9 is FRS on those radios. This automatically saves battery life, and gets out of the way for possible interference to other emergency activities that are on GMRS - be it simplex or repeater operation. Cooperation is key and one less inadvertent maddening call tone could save a life. Personally, in the NPRM I would have liked call tone functionality restricted to FRS channels only, but I was too late to respond.
 
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Arizona_Scanner

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In an actual emergency.....

99% of all people will reach for their cellphone.....If it does not work, panic will ensue...and that will be that. I've often pondered the chaos that would erupt if people lost their cell phone service. Most people would not ever think of using GMRS/FRS radios, because nobody else would be listening most likely.

The GMRS / FRS band is pretty much silent in Phoenix now, other than a few small businesses that use them. They used to be used by kids, but pretty much any kid 3rd grade and up has a cell phone now.
 

newsphotog

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There has been a push by CERT and other groups to use FRS channel 1 with no tones as the default emergency calling channel.

Honestly, if it was a disaster like a tornado, I think the average family would put "finding the FRS radio" towards the bottom of their list.

I have trained with some K-9 SAR groups who use FRS to communicate with the rest of their teams.
 

Phantom1989

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During Hurricane Rita I was monitoring those frequencies with my scanner. I did hear some interesting "disaster related" activity from a few guys at a stadium a half mile away from my house. They were sheltering people from the storm there and talking about road conditions, who needed medical attention, ect.

I've never really heard any calls for help via FRS in my area though.
 

Arizona_Scanner

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If your only salvation after a disaster comes down to FRS radios, you are in big trouble. It would be more effective to set a signal fire, or even yell really loud. The range would be about the same.
 

KJ4ZIN

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Lots of good discussion here. If I may add to this discussion, Id say two things. First, I agree with the points being made about PL tones and CTCSS. Second, during Hurricane Irene, I had the ham gear ready to go in case of power outage. Beforehand, I also told several neighbors to use a FRS channel and instructed them on how to use them. The range is limited especially within the neighborhood and all the trees. However if needed a relay could have happened between neighborhoods or between the neighbors, me, and the ARES group. I think is about seeing what options are out there and setting up a plan.
 
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