Angeles National Forest - Radioing for help?

SuperHotLarry

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Hello! I was recently speaking with a fellow enthusiast and they said if you are hiking at ANF and you get stuck or need emergency help, you can tune to one of the main input "net" frequencies (admin, law, forest, service) and you can broadcast to them for help.

Naturally, I am extremely skeptical. The legal ramifications of doing this notwithstanding, and assuming you are actually carrying a powerful enough radio, has anyone ever heard of this being a viable method of emergency communication to the FS?

I have not heard of this being allowed, but I am not an avid listener of the ANF radio, nor am I familiar with their systems so I cannot comment for definitively.

Can anyone shed some light?
Thanks!
-SHL
 

Randyk4661

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How many people carry radios capable of transmitting on those frequencies?
Highly unlikely anyone would.
but I would guess if it were a TRUE emergency they may not scold you much for being on the channel.
It would be nice if they had a way to monitor FRS channels either from the ground or air for emergencies, might make finding lost, injured hikers easier.
 

mmckenna

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Hello! I was recently speaking with a fellow enthusiast and they said if you are hiking at ANF and you get stuck or need emergency help, you can tune to one of the main input "net" frequencies (admin, law, forest, service) and you can broadcast to them for help.
There are a number of issues with doing this.

Can it be done? Yes/Maybe, a lot of variables.
Should it be done? No.

There are a number of legal issues with this. I'd suspect your 'fellow enthusiast' is an amateur radio operator?

There are no permissions granted by the FCC to amateur radio operators to utilize -ANY- frequencies that are not specifically granted under the Part 97 rules. ANF and Amateur radio frequencies are different and will not work together.

The National Forest Service operates on frequencies governed by the National Telecommunication and Information Administration, not the FCC. NTIA rules and FCC rules are different. Again, nothing in the FCC Part 97 rules grant permission to legally transmit on those frequencies in any situation.

Most amateur/hobby grade radios, especially the Cheap Chinese Radios, do not have type certification to be used outside the amateur radio bands. Transmitting with a ham or CCR radio outside the ham bands is another violation of the FCC rules.

I run radio systems for public safety agencies. I've specifically talked to our dispatchers about how they'd respond to a random person popping up on one of our frequencies. They would treat it as a hoax and likely would ignore you. They are trained to ignore interference like that. If you kept it up, they may respond, but you'll have a ton of explaining to do. For the agencies I work for, that would be followed up by a call to the FCC.

Relying on an agency to respond to you transmitting illegally on their frequencies is a poor plan. It relies on breaking several FCC Rules and likely NTIA rules. It requires programming questionable data into your radios (remember, data on the site is submitted by hobbyists, so accuracy is not guaranteed). It also relies on USFS not making any changes to their radio systems. Since USFS doesn't update their information on the RadioReference website, and the frequency information is not on the FCC website, it would be downright foolish to rely on data provided by hobbyists in any emergnecy. It also relies on a public safety professionals not treating you like a hoax. It ignores established procedures for contacting emergency services, and sort of demands that an individual with a ham/CCR radio are much more important than those that follow the established procedures. It assumes that at any given point, your radio traffic is more important than whatever else they are working on. It ties up resources that may be needed for more important situations.

A while back, someone specifically asked this question of the FCC. Here is their reply:

Question: Can amateurs modify their radios and use them in time of emergency on public service frequencies (e.g. police, fire, etc.)

This question was referred to the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Here is their answer.

“Your question was referred to me because it concerns the Commission’s amateur radio rules.”

“Section 97.105(b) answers your question: ‘A station may only be operated in the manner and to the extent permitted by the privileges for the class of operator’s license held by the control operator.’ Control operator privileges are specified in Section 97.301.”

“Section 97.403 ‘…applies to amateur frequencies only. For example; a technician may operate an extra class frequency in time of emergency…not non-amateur frequencies.”

“Part 97 does not contain any “privileges authorized” for amateur radio operators that include Part 90 or Part 95 frequencies. Part 90 and Part 95 both require the use of certified equipment. See Section 90.203 and 95.409. Use of modified amateur radio transceivers on Part 90 or 95 frequencies violates the rules because modified amateur radio equipment is not certified for either Part 90 or 95 radio services.”

“As you note, “The rules are clear that in order to use Part 90 or 95 spectrum, the operator must have the correct licensing and certified radios to use those services.” The debate y0u are referring to, therefore, comes down to “How can we get around the rules?” The answer is, “You can’t.” We will be happy to relieve you of thousands of dollars and your amateur radio license if you transmit on channels you are not licensed to transmit on.”

As it says, Part 97 grants zero permissions to do this. Hams/hobbyists like to misinterpret the rules to suit their fantasies. It's just that, a gross misinterpretation that shows little to no understanding of the FCC rules. Hams/hobbyists will argue this forever, but the FCC has spoken and it's well established in the existing FCC rules.

If you wander into the undeveloped parts of the world, the responsibility is on the individual to be properly prepared. Relying on hacked/modified radios to transmit in violation of many FCC rules is not being prepared.
There are established means of getting help when outside cellular phone coverage. Personal Locator Beacons are specifically designed for this. They'll be treated accordingly by public safety agencies, and they'll provide useable data that someone with a CCR cannot. They are NOT expensive for what they are and the safety they offer.

Also, "emergency" needs to be well defined. An average person does not have enough medical training to properly determine what constitutes a medical emergency in most cases. Breaking in on the USFS radio system and creating a lot of issues because of a situation that may or may not be an emergency is a waste of resources and puts others lives at risk. No emergency responder wants to put their own lives on the line rushing to a scene that turns out to be something that was not worth the risk.

That said, in a true life or death emergency, saving human lives will be top priority. Making good decisions ahead of time is your responsibility. Cheaping out and relying on bootleg radios working on systems you don't have legal access to is a lack of planning and preparedness.

If your "fellow enthusiast" still insists it is legal/OK, then please have him contact the Region 5 office and get their permission in writing and kindly share that with the rest of us.
 

ko6jw_2

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There have been threads recently about what radio should be used in an emergency when out of cell coverage etc. The answer is none. Get a Garmin Inreach+ or equivalent. You can send a distress message or text messages (subscription required). Satellite based, monitored 24/7.

The idea that you can use any frequency in an emergency has also been discussed here many times. It is widely misunderstood. If you are a ham you can use any ham frequency. You cannot use police, fire, USFS etc.

I have traveled in Alaska where there is no cell service, no commercial or government radio and no ham radio coverage. The best thing to do is to plan ahead for situations like this. Emergency beacons are a very effective choice. Sat phones may also work but are not as cost effective. At high latitudes sat phones may be problematical.
 

SteveSimpkin

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As ko6jw says, don’t rely on a radio when it comes to an emergency when hiking. Use a PLB or Satellite Messager.


 

P25Radio

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Office down and unresponsive, I bet you could grab his radio, call dispatch in saving his life, granted if no other options. Has been done in the past. But as a rule for yourself no.
 

alcahuete

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Should you rely on it? No. Should it be done? No.

That said, if I'm dying and it's either transmit on police frequencies or die, you bet your a$$ I'm going to do it. I could care less what the FCC, dispatch, or anyone else thinks. Not even a tiny bit. I'll take the fine or jail time, but I would be alive to tell the tale. In the days before PRBs, I used to carry an aviation radio with me when I would hike remotely, as I know the chances of reaching someone on Guard was fairly decent, compared to any other radio service.

As far as I'm concerned, the old adage "I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6" applies.
 

P25Radio

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Should you rely on it? No. Should it be done? No.

That said, if I'm dying and it's either transmit on police frequencies or die, you bet your a$$ I'm going to do it. I could care less what the FCC, dispatch, or anyone else thinks. Not even a tiny bit. I'll take the fine or jail time, but I would be alive to tell the tale. In the days before PRBs, I used to carry an aviation radio with me when I would hike remotely, as I know the chances of reaching someone on Guard was fairly decent, compared to any other radio service.

As far as I'm concerned, the old adage "I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6" applies.
AMEN!
 

mmckenna

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That said, if I'm dying and it's either transmit on police frequencies or die, you bet your a$$ I'm going to do it.
That said, in a true life or death emergency, saving human lives will be top priority.
Preservation of human life should come first. I've said it above, I've said it many times.

Point is, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail". If an amateur radio operator can afford a radio for hobby/fun, they can afford tools for communications in a real emergency. Priorities need to be in the right place. Putting a hobby before common sense and personal safety is a failure.

Ham radio loves to say "When all else fails", yet when all else fails some want to transmit on public safety frequencies. There are those that wonder why we give hams a hard time.

If USFS is OK with random users accessing their radio system, they'll have no problem putting it in writing.
 

f40ph

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After someone reports the emergency, any theoretical leniency ends.
Every transmission after that would be an FCC or NTIA violation.
 

SuperHotLarry

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Holy Smokes! These replies are incredible! And super insightful. So basically, what I'm taking away with this discussion is that the "fellow enthusiast" is speaking pretty much with no sense to the legalities of such an undertaking. It is bad (basically always) to use federal or state airwaves when you are unaffiliated.

That being said, I'm also seeing a small number of people who would use it in a life or death situation as a complete last resort, ie my legs are broken and mangled and there's a giant forest fire 100-feet from my position.

But basically, don't ever, for any reason, do anything, to anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what, no matter where, or who, or who you are with, or where you are going, or where you've been, ever, for any reason whatsoever broadcast over any government agency when you are an amateur radio operator, or anything short of an actual agency employee on duty.

Thank you, again, all for your awesome responses. Seriously. You all perfectly helped me answer my question.
My most sincere gratitude,
-SHL
 

mmckenna

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Holy Smokes! These replies are incredible! And super insightful. So basically, what I'm taking away with this discussion is that the "fellow enthusiast" is speaking pretty much with no sense to the legalities of such an undertaking.
Pretty much. Ham operators will often misinterpret the rules in an attempt to give themselves more than they have. It happens a lot and the internet just perpetuates it. Trying to reason with those types is nearly impossible. They are not interested in rules and they've long since made up their mind. Key take away is that passing a 35 question multiple choice test with a C grade is not the same as being a public safety professional. It's still just some random dude playing radio.

That being said, I'm also seeing a small number of people who would use it in a life or death situation as a complete last resort, ie my legs are broken and mangled and there's a giant forest fire 100-feet from my position.
In a true life or death situation, you should put the preservation of human life really high on your list of priorities. Pretty much after making sure your own life is not in danger.
But if someone feels they are likely to be in a situation where they are out of cell coverage and there are no ham repeaters, they should have a lot more tools in their 'tool box' than just a two way radio. Unfortunately some hobbyists only focus on their own hobby and assume that's all they need.
 

RFI-EMI-GUY

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This has been discussed so many times.

My rule of thumb, If I am bleeding out I would do it. If not I would exhaust all other options. If I see someone else bleeding out, I may do it and when help arrives talk about the wonderful miracle worker who did the deed but could not stick around.
 

tkenny53

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I think if you have the time to lookup any input freq, tone, on any public service repeater, it is not an emergency, but more preplanned event.
In that case you are on your own. There are many ham freq's monitored by public service, and worth mentioning, LA City fire is one.
 

ko6jw_2

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Let's consider this whole scenario. You're lost or injured in the Los Padres NF. You have your trusty CCR. You know the input and output frequencies. Do you know the PL for the repeater you want to hit? Remember you're lost. In the LP each repeater has a different input tone. Even they get confused sometimes. Next where are you? Have a GPS? Yes is good. No is very bad. How will they find you? Don't even think of starting a signal fire. By the way, dispatch is not staffed 24/7.

Wait! You have a PLB because you thought this out ahead of time. Send a distress signal. The PLB will give them your exact position. You can send a short text message about the nature of the problem. Sprained your ankle ? SAR can help you walk out. Compound fracture needs a helicopter.

The point is as the French say "sauve qui peut" PLB's also for a subscription let you send non-emergency texts to friends and family like "arrived at xyz campground as is well" Try that with your Baofeng.

If you are going into the wilderness be prepared. Ham radio, FRS and GMRS are great for short range communications with your party. Useless for summoning help (mostly) in a real emergency. Stop worrying about what is legal and take effective steps to help yourself.
 

es93546

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Hello! I was recently speaking with a fellow enthusiast and they said if you are hiking at ANF and you get stuck or need emergency help, you can tune to one of the main input "net" frequencies (admin, law, forest, service) and you can broadcast to them for help.

Naturally, I am extremely skeptical. The legal ramifications of doing this notwithstanding, and assuming you are actually carrying a powerful enough radio, has anyone ever heard of this being a viable method of emergency communication to the FS?

I have not heard of this being allowed, but I am not an avid listener of the ANF radio, nor am I familiar with their systems so I cannot comment for definitively.

Can anyone shed some light?
Thanks!
-SHL
As a retired U.S. Forest Service employee I can say absolutely not. It is a federal crime to transmit on federal agency frequencies without authorization. I had one case where a licensed ham operator who was backpacking tuned up on the Inyo Forest Net, calling it an emergency and inquiring about the open/closed status of a road where their vehicle was parked. They wondered if they should exit at June Lake instead of Agnew Meadows. I told him to cease and desist after I copied down his callsign. I then wrote up the incident and turned it over to our law enforcement special agent and our radio tech. There was a well known person at the FCC in charge of ham enforcement at the time, I don't recall his name, who called me. I did not inquire as to what happened, but it sounded like his license was going to be revoked and that he was going to face some sort of enforcement action for the federal law violation. I was told that even if there was a bona fide emergency the course of action was going to be the same.

There is a widely misunderstood provision in ham radio regulations that states in an emergency that hams can use any communication means available to them. Lots of people interpreted that as being able to come up on public safety frequencies and federal government frequencies in an emergency. This is not true, the ham operator can use any amateur radio frequency, even if not licensed for it. For example, a ham with the tech license can use HF if the tech frequencies cannot establish communications in an emergency. That is it, just ham frequencies here, not any others.

I understand being in an emergency and having a radio that can be used on non ham frequencies. Some say it is better to take the consequences than have a medical emergency get worse due to lack of communications and delay. I've been in that situation once in Yosemite NP during severe flash flooding. I could tell by listening to the NPS that they had more emergencies than they could handle and getting a response for the extremely hypothermic person I had happened upon was going to have a considerable delay so 3 of us devised another plan and saved the woman's life. As a retired Inyo NF employee they might have given me some slack on the violation, but who knows? The consequences could be severe.
 

es93546

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There are a number of issues with doing this.

Can it be done? Yes/Maybe, a lot of variables.
Should it be done? No.

There are a number of legal issues with this. I'd suspect your 'fellow enthusiast' is an amateur radio operator?

There are no permissions granted by the FCC to amateur radio operators to utilize -ANY- frequencies that are not specifically granted under the Part 97 rules. ANF and Amateur radio frequencies are different and will not work together.

The National Forest Service operates on frequencies governed by the National Telecommunication and Information Administration, not the FCC. NTIA rules and FCC rules are different. Again, nothing in the FCC Part 97 rules grant permission to legally transmit on those frequencies in any situation.

Most amateur/hobby grade radios, especially the Cheap Chinese Radios, do not have type certification to be used outside the amateur radio bands. Transmitting with a ham or CCR radio outside the ham bands is another violation of the FCC rules.

I run radio systems for public safety agencies. I've specifically talked to our dispatchers about how they'd respond to a random person popping up on one of our frequencies. They would treat it as a hoax and likely would ignore you. They are trained to ignore interference like that. If you kept it up, they may respond, but you'll have a ton of explaining to do. For the agencies I work for, that would be followed up by a call to the FCC.

Relying on an agency to respond to you transmitting illegally on their frequencies is a poor plan. It relies on breaking several FCC Rules and likely NTIA rules. It requires programming questionable data into your radios (remember, data on the site is submitted by hobbyists, so accuracy is not guaranteed). It also relies on USFS not making any changes to their radio systems. Since USFS doesn't update their information on the RadioReference website, and the frequency information is not on the FCC website, it would be downright foolish to rely on data provided by hobbyists in any emergnecy. It also relies on a public safety professionals not treating you like a hoax. It ignores established procedures for contacting emergency services, and sort of demands that an individual with a ham/CCR radio are much more important than those that follow the established procedures. It assumes that at any given point, your radio traffic is more important than whatever else they are working on. It ties up resources that may be needed for more important situations.

A while back, someone specifically asked this question of the FCC. Here is their reply:

Question: Can amateurs modify their radios and use them in time of emergency on public service frequencies (e.g. police, fire, etc.)
This question was referred to the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Here is their answer.
“Your question was referred to me because it concerns the Commission’s amateur radio rules.”
“Section 97.105(b) answers your question: ‘A station may only be operated in the manner and to the extent permitted by the privileges for the class of operator’s license held by the control operator.’ Control operator privileges are specified in Section 97.301.”
“Section 97.403 ‘…applies to amateur frequencies only. For example; a technician may operate an extra class frequency in time of emergency…not non-amateur frequencies.”
“Part 97 does not contain any “privileges authorized” for amateur radio operators that include Part 90 or Part 95 frequencies. Part 90 and Part 95 both require the use of certified equipment. See Section 90.203 and 95.409. Use of modified amateur radio transceivers on Part 90 or 95 frequencies violates the rules because modified amateur radio equipment is not certified for either Part 90 or 95 radio services.”
“As you note, “The rules are clear that in order to use Part 90 or 95 spectrum, the operator must have the correct licensing and certified radios to use those services.” The debate y0u are referring to, therefore, comes down to “How can we get around the rules?” The answer is, “You can’t.” We will be happy to relieve you of thousands of dollars and your amateur radio license if you transmit on channels you are not licensed to transmit on.”

As it says, Part 97 grants zero permissions to do this. Hams/hobbyists like to misinterpret the rules to suit their fantasies. It's just that, a gross misinterpretation that shows little to no understanding of the FCC rules. Hams/hobbyists will argue this forever, but the FCC has spoken and it's well established in the existing FCC rules.

If you wander into the undeveloped parts of the world, the responsibility is on the individual to be properly prepared. Relying on hacked/modified radios to transmit in violation of many FCC rules is not being prepared.
There are established means of getting help when outside cellular phone coverage. Personal Locator Beacons are specifically designed for this. They'll be treated accordingly by public safety agencies, and they'll provide useable data that someone with a CCR cannot. They are NOT expensive for what they are and the safety they offer.

Also, "emergency" needs to be well defined. An average person does not have enough medical training to properly determine what constitutes a medical emergency in most cases. Breaking in on the USFS radio system and creating a lot of issues because of a situation that may or may not be an emergency is a waste of resources and puts others lives at risk. No emergency responder wants to put their own lives on the line rushing to a scene that turns out to be something that was not worth the risk.

That said, in a true life or death emergency, saving human lives will be top priority. Making good decisions ahead of time is your responsibility. Cheaping out and relying on bootleg radios working on systems you don't have legal access to is a lack of planning and preparedness.

If your "fellow enthusiast" still insists it is legal/OK, then please have him contact the Region 5 office and get their permission in writing and kindly share that with the rest of us.
There is not an agency called the "National Forest Service," it is the U.S. Forest Service. Yes, they manage national forests, but have never been named the "National Forest Service." What if someone called the Coast Guard, the Coastal Guards, or the Ocean Guards on a radio forum, you would want to correct them. People on these forums who use and contribute to the RR DB should know exactly what agency they are listening to. Knowledge of civics is a part of the scanning hobby.

Your advice to the OP is very good. A SPOT device, especially the type where the user can communicate via text message is highly effective. Reporting a victim's vital signs and receiving instructions as to how to treat a medical emergency could save a life or a limb. The money spend may seem expensive, but think about the potential cost of not having one. When out on the trails seeing a SPOT device mounted on a backpack's shoulder straps is becoming more common now.
 

jonwienke

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The only situations in which one should consider contacting a public safety agency via radio:

  1. Using a fallen/incapacitated officer's radio to call in a "man down" on behalf of said officer.
  2. IF an agency issues public notification that they monitor a certain public or amateur frequency (eg CB channel 9, a GMRS/FRS channel, or some amateur frequency), then by all means call on that frequency. But you're still subject to range issues, and are less likely to be successful than if using an EPIRB or satellite phone.
Where radio is most likely to be useful is during the actual SAR mission. If it's known in advance you are monitoring a given frequency, your rescuers can contact you from a greater distance than shouting range, and if you can transmit an APRS ping periodically, you have a backup position beacon that can guide rescuers to your current location, even if you're on the move for some reason (carrying an injured person toward aid, trying to evade an animal, etc).
 

mmckenna

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There is not an agency called the "National Forest Service," it is the U.S. Forest Service. Yes, they manage national forests, but have never been named the "National Forest Service."
You are absolutely correct, brain fart on my end.

A SPOT device, especially the type where the user can communicate via text message is highly effective.
I have held my ham license for many decades. I'm a professional radio guy, as in I get paid a lot of money to do this stuff. I run a number of radio systems and have access to the right radios.

I still carry a Garmin InReach device when I'm anywhere that I expect to be out of cell phone range or in a situation I may need help.
 
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