Amateur radio and out-of-band transmit in the news

Robert721

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Folks, the topic of discussion is the reported use of amateur radio equipment on Part 90 frequencies during a California wild fire, not what happened in the aftermath of a hurricane in Puerto Rico. Amateur radio activities in one large-scale emergency does not justify what reportedly happened in California.


I am not a lawyer.

But, I once served as a juror in a case where a woman, who had been consuming cocaine and alcoholic beverages, decided to drive 20 miles to get treatment for a head injury allegedly caused by her spouse. In those 20 miles, she drove by several hospitals, police stations, and fire stations. During the course of her trip, she was stopped by a state police officer who determined that the woman was intoxicated and took the woman, with her consent, to a hospital for a blood draw which later proved that she was intoxicated. The woman's attorney used an "affirmative defense" to say that her illegal actions, four variations of driving while intoxicated, were mitigated by her desire to seek medical treatment and escape her abusive spouse. We, the jury, didn't buy it and found the woman guilty of the charges.

Would an affirmative defense apply if the FCC decided to charge the fire department or the helpful amateur radio operators for transmitting in Part 90 with a non-FCC-certificated radio? Probably. Would the FCC accept that defense? Maybe. Would the FCC even issue a citation for this action? I don't think so. As others have stated, the FCC has bigger fish to fry.

But, as stated above, the FCC is pretty clear in §90.203 that certification is required. As stated above, the FCC has been pretty clear that using non-FCC-certificated radios in Part 90 could result in confiscation of the radios. Unfortunately, there are a lot of amateur radio operators who believe that §97.403 is justification for ignoring the rest of the FCC's rules. And, now we have a situation where a group of amateur radio operators are being heralded for violating the rules.

As we say you may bet the rap but not the ride. beating the rap is expensive
 

vagrant

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I think one of the failures here is lack of training on the radios. The fire department is a small one, but radio training should be part of the job.
Indeed, qualified training from A-Z is critical whether paid or volunteer. I would like to comment more about this, but I promised a friend not to divulge details. I will say there are radio problems where there should not be. He’s working on it internally, so hopefully things change quickly. mmckenna, it would make your head spin if not blast off from your neck. Stunned disbelief with mouth agape would describe me when I found out. My head blasted off when I found out the issue could easily be avoided, but isn’t at the moment.
 

bill4long

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Would an affirmative defense apply if the FCC decided to charge
The FCC cannot "charge" anyone with a crime. They can only issue civil forfitures.

Would the FCC even issue a citation for this action? I don't think so. As others have stated, the FCC has bigger fish to fry.
More than that, the FCC is a complaint driven agency. They wouldn't even care about this incident unless the modified radios actually caused harmful interference and someone complained about it. The intent of Part 90 certification is the avoidence of harmful interference. Similarly, Part 90 radios are being used on GMRS these days. Like the plague. The FCC doesn't care at all. Just because something is technically against the rules, it doesn't mean that the FCC cares about a violation just because it's a violation. They have demonstrated over and over that they do not care, unless harmful interference occurs and a complaint obtains. They have that discretion and they use it.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of amateur radio operators who believe that §97.403 is justification for ignoring the rest of the FCC's rules. And, now we have a situation where a group of amateur radio operators are being heralded for violating the rules.
Under normal circimstances I would agree with you. And the fire dept should have some backup comms. But the time to deliberate that is not in the middle of an emergency. All involved parties have probably become aware of the regulations by now.
 
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n6hgg

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Here is why I own modified radios. I'm supposed to be a communication expert and I'm not going to let some stupid ass rule prevent me from successfully providing Communication in an emergency. One time on field day I took the Pacific seafarers net out-of-band to 14.355 mhz to enable a gravely injured single handed sailing vessel captain to be able to stay in contact with us and the French Coast Guard. It provided a quiet frequency we could operate on while the contest went nuts on field day. We could not keep them from interfering with us it was impossible. When life and property is at stake, that constitutes an emergency. Figure out a way to make communications happen no matter what stupid rule it breaks in normal times. The first sentence of 97.403 says it all.

§97.403 Safety of life and protection of property.

No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.

§97.405 Station in distress.

(a) No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station in distress of any means at its disposal to attract attention, make known its condition and location, and obtain assistance.

(b) No provision of these rules prevents the use by a station, in the exceptional circumstances described in paragraph (a) of this section, of any means of radiocommunications at its disposal to assist a station in distress.
 

alcahuete

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If I found myself in a life or death situation, I would absolutely use any means necessary to save my life, rules of any kind, FCC or otherwise, be damned. While an amateur radio operator, I really wouldn't be using the "any means" as a ham. I might not even be using an amateur radio. I certainly wouldn't be identifying every 10 minutes and at the end of my transmissions. I would just be transmitting as a private citizen of the United States. At the end of the day, my life is worth way more than the $10,000 fine. I'll happily pay that fine and live to tell about it.

If a firefighter came to me explaining that his radio died, he really needed one, and he asked if my amateur radio would cover the fire frequencies, I would gladly hand my radio over to him and allow him to use it.

However, as far as the circumstances of the article is concerned, how do 97.403 or 97.405 apply? While there was certainly a connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property, 97.403 specifically includes, "...when normal communications systems are not available." Is 2m not a normal communication system for an amateur radio operator? The article specifically states that they were monitoring 7.199 and conducting an emergency net on 147.42. If nobody could be reached on those frequencies, or whatever other bands if any they had at their disposal, then it could certainly be argued that normal communication systems were not available. But you certainly can't just jump to Part 90 public services frequencies under that section, when other normal communication systems were very clearly available.

97.405(a): Was there an amateur station in distress? The aticle describes setting up radios at the fire station, putting a radio in the Chief's truck. Nowhere does it say that particular amateur radio station or any other was in distress.

97.405(b): Was there another station in distress that these amateurs were assisting? Nothing is mentioned about a station in any service being in distress. 405(b) doesn't talk about the general public or anyone else being in distress. It specifically states a STATION in distress. Even assuming that "station" refers to a station in any radio service, again, what station was in distress? The Chief's Part 90 station was certainly not in distress. The Part 90 station at the main firehouse was not in distress.


So neither 403 nor 405 apply. That said, nowhere in the article does it say that the hams were transmitting on the fire frequencies. It is not unlawful for amateur radio operators to modify their radios to cover out of band frequencies. So as far as I'm concerned, the hams did nothing wrong. The Chief would take the fall for using non-type accepted equipment on Part 90 frequencies, since he is the one operating the amateur radio on the Part 90 fire frequencies, assuming he transmitted, and not just used the radio to monitor. Part 90.407 could potentially come into play, but considering the amateur radio is not a Part 90 authorized station, I personally don't think it would apply in this instance.

Hams, perfectly legal in what they did. Chief, not so much, assuming he actually transmitted with the amateur radio.

Still...don't be a whacker. :D
 

mmckenna

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Hams, perfectly legal in what they did. Chief, not so much, assuming he actually transmitted with the amateur radio.
What often gets ignored is that the Part 97 rules —ONLY— apply to the amateur radio service. Part 97 grants zero privileges outside the amateur radio bands. The provisions in Part 97 are to allow an amateur radio licensee to use their radio outside their license class, still on Part 97 frequencies.
There is absolutely nothing in Part 97 that grants hams the ability to transmit anywhere else.

The minute a ham radio is transmitting out of band, it's now operating under the rules of the frequency they are on. In this case, the issue would be 'non-type accepted radio'.

Probably not going to get any level of smack down from the FCC for that, but might if it extended beyond an immediate emergency. The chief, in this case, would have been representing the licensee, so probably no complaint from them.

When hams proactively modify the radio "just in case" and pop up on some public safety frequency without the authorization of the licensee, then there's a couple of things going on there. A lot of the risk from the FCC is going to be based off what the agency decides to do when someone who is not authorized by the licensee pops up on their channel. At that point, if one pisses off the FCC guy, they'll probably dig into the non-type accepted thing.

A few years back I sat down with our dispatch center supervisor and laid out a scenario where some random ham operator pops up on the primary dispatch frequency. Her reply "Hoax". In other words, the whole situation is going to have a hard time getting any real reaction since it won't be on of their officers. And then, 'we wouldn't be very happy".
In other words, the dispatchers are not going to suddenly go "oh, a licensed amateur radio operator, we better drop everything we are doing and focus on their needs!" In the end, they'd get the help they'd need, but it wouldn't be as fast as just dialing 911 and following the established protocols.

And for those hams that frequent places where there is no cell service, you really need to up your game and not rely on some $20 Baofeng. If you are serious about communications, get a PLB and do it right.

And when agencies go encrypted/trunked, you'll have more challenges….

Still...don't be a whacker. :D
Hell yea, don't EVER be a whacker. No matter what you think, everyone will quickly realize you are a whacker. Don't try to pretend you are something you aren't. It won't go well.
 

mancow

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If **** really goes pear shaped I'm coming up on 121.5. It's basically a really low low earth orbit of satellites with people on board and a huge footprint.
 

mmckenna

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If **** really goes pear shaped I'm coming up on 121.5. It's basically a really low low earth orbit of satellites with people on board and a huge footprint.
Exactly, but not whackerish enough for most good whackers.

So many good ways to get help in an emergency, yet some keep going back to the exact same tool every time in an attempt to make it work for everything.
 

alcahuete

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What often gets ignored is that the Part 97 rules —ONLY— apply to the amateur radio service. Part 97 grants zero privileges outside the amateur radio bands. The provisions in Part 97 are to allow an amateur radio licensee to use their radio outside their license class, still on Part 97 frequencies.
There is absolutely nothing in Part 97 that grants hams the ability to transmit anywhere else.

The minute a ham radio is transmitting out of band, it's now operating under the rules of the frequency they are on. In this case, the issue would be 'non-type accepted radio'.
I agree with all, but unless I missed it in the article, the hams did not do any transmitting on the fire frequencies. They simply installed the radio. The Chief is the one who did the talking on the non-type accepted radio.
 

vagrant

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If **** really goes pear shaped I'm coming up on 121.5. It's basically a really low low earth orbit of satellites with people on board and a huge footprint.
In my head I can already hear the 11+ replies for an emergency request....Guaaaaard!....You're on Guard....Guard....On Guard!
 

mmckenna

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I agree with all, but unless I missed it in the article, the hams did not do any transmitting on the fire frequencies. They simply installed the radio. The Chief is the one who did the talking on the non-type accepted radio.
That's my understanding. My statement was a "this is the issue" for those hams that think it's a free for all.
 

mmckenna

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In my head I can already hear the 11+ replies for an emergency request....Guaaaaard!....You're on Guard....Guard....On Guard!
All you have to do once is suggest that anyone with a radio who cannot reach the people they want to all come up on a random amateur radio frequencies.
You'll hear the howls of "they are not licensed!!!!".
 

mmckenna

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All you have to do once is suggest that anyone with a radio who cannot reach the people they want to all come up on a random amateur radio frequencies.
You'll hear the howls of "they are not licensed!!!!".
Tell CB'ers that if they can't get help on Channel 9, then they should "modify" their radio to work on 10 meters.
Again, what for the howls from the ham operators….
 

alcahuete

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That's my understanding. My statement was a "this is the issue" for those hams that think it's a free for all.
Ah yes. Gotcha. Makes sense! :)


In my head I can already hear the 11+ replies for an emergency request....Guaaaaard!....You're on Guard....Guard....On Guard!
Don't forget the meowing.

I actually used to hike with a PLB and aviation radio. Can be very useful.
 

kb2ztx

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Back in NY we had alot of guys who were coyotee hunters. They all ran 2mtr rigs in there trucks. some of the local hams went nuts over it, although all of them ran opened up ham radios and used them on simplex public safety channels all the time... Its never wrong for them to break the rules, only for other.
 

MTS2000des

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at the end of the day, if one chooses to do something outside the law, they'd better be able to articulate why at a later date. The totality of the circumstances will come into play. If it's Whacker Willy with his flashing lights, fake badge, illegally programmed trunking radios, and "I'm ARES and the Chief said it was okay", one better be prepared to be named a whacker and dealt with by "teh police" accordingly for whacking.
The excuses and justification some folks cook up is amusing but won't cut it in real life when given the smell test.
 

mmckenna

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Back in NY we had alot of guys who were coyotee hunters. They all ran 2mtr rigs in there trucks. some of the local hams went nuts over it, although all of them ran opened up ham radios and used them on simplex public safety channels all the time... Its never wrong for them to break the rules, only for other.
Wow, I think we just solved one of my issues at work. The PD I support is in need of some VHF pairs. Haven't been able to get any through the coordinator. So, since this is an "emergency" service, I'm going to drop 2 P25 encrypted repeaters on the 2 meter VHF band. After all, it's an "emergency" service.
Pretty sure I need to put one of the outputs on 144.39 and 146.52.
 

AJAT

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If you press the PTT button on a non certified radio for public safety a death ray gets sent out and zaps everyone in site.
At the time of the major fire burning, and the “inconvenience” of not having good comms the fire chief reached out to “amateur” radio operators to help and this was the solution. It sounds liked it worked. Maybe the fire department needs more training, maybe they need a better IT shop, maybe they need more radio technicians, none of that matter at the time because they had a fire burning. Hopefully because of this they identified issues in the department and now they can address them properly when towns are not burning. They did what they had to do with the equipment and the knowledge they had. If I did that to help them I would be more than happy to explain to OSHA why I did it and not stutter.

This is why people will watch someone die if they are having a heart attack or are choking, People won’t do something because they are afraid of getting get sued, so they watch them die.

I not saying the Hams saved lives and are great heros, their fire chief reached out to them to help their community and they responded to the call the best they knew how.
 

AK9R

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I not saying the Hams saved lives and are great heros, their fire chief reached out to them to help their community and they responded to the call the best they knew how.
And, understanding that what they were doing was technically a violation of Part 90, they should have kept quiet about it. Instead, they got an article on Newsline and their story has been heard by amateur radio operators all over the country.
 
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