Programming my HTs for emergencies (East Bay)

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dmccasland

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Hey folks,

Complete noobie here. I got my license. I bought some baofeng HTs (I am coming to understand this might queue some groaning, so go ahead..).

Now I want to program the HTs with useful emergency and repeater frequencies. A relatively short list with just what would be useful in the East Bay.

Does anyone have recommendations on which entries to include and exclude? ARES, RACES, Regional Park Services? I can't see why airport operations would be useful in an emergency.

And does anyone know how to transform the information in this database into what my HT needs? The lists here have columns:
Freq Output, Freq Input, FCC Callsign, Agency/Category, Description, Alpha Tag, PL Tone, Mode

Baofeng HTs need:
Loc, Freq, Name, Tone Mode, Tone, ToneSql, DTCS Code, DTCS Rx Code, DTCS Pol, Cross Mode, Duplex, Offset, Mode, Power, Skip

Thanks folks!
-don
 

mmckenna

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Assumptions are always dangerous, but I'll go out on a limb, forgive me….

As a new amateur and with a post count of 1, it needs to be made clear that your amateur radio license only authorizes you to transmit on amateur radio frequencies. An amateur radio license doesn't grant any privileges, even in an emergency, to transmit on any non-amateur frequencies. That includes aircraft, airport, parks district or any public safety frequencies. Unfortunately there's a lot of bad info on the internets that will claim otherwise. The FCC rules don't agree, and that's who we abide by.

Entirely OK to put non-amateur frequencies in as receive only, it's good for situational awareness. I'd also include the National Weather Service. Marine VHF frequencies can be useful since you are close to the bay.

For the amateur radio frequencies:
I'm a bit too far south of you to provide much in the way of accurate data. Usually these radios have enough capacity to program most, if not all, amateur radio repeaters within 50 or so miles of your location. I'd recommending doing that. Figuring out which repeaters actually get used is very beneficial information. There's a number of repeaters that see little use, some that exist on paper only, and some that have ceased to exist, but havent' been removed from the databases.
There may be a lot of repeaters labeled as RACES/ARES and other emergency type amateur radio use. That can be a mixed bag, but program those guys in.

It's really hard to tell what will be active in a disaster or emergency. With earthquakes and fires, you'll never know for sure which repeaters will have utility power, which ones are on generators, or have reliable/maintained battery backups.

Also, make sure you program stuff from the other side of the bay, sometimes those repeaters can give you better coverage in canyons and urban areas than repeaters along the hills to the east.

Translating data base info to BaoFeng info can be a challenge, but understanding what the terms mean helps a whole lot.

Frequency Output is the repeater output frequency. This will often be the "published" frequency for the repeater.
Frequency Input is the repeater input frequency. On the amateur radio side, there are standardized offsets that -most- repeaters use. That'll tell you where your radio needs to transmit so the repeater receiver can hear you. On the amateur radio 2 meter band, the "offset" is 600KHz, but depending on where you are in the 2 meter band, that can be 600KHz above the repeater output frequency or 600KHz below the repeater input frequency. This will often be shown as "-600" or "+600". So, if a repeater showed "145.450 -" you'd know the repeater input was 600KHz below the output, or in this case, 144.850MHz. So, 145.450 would be your receive frequency, 144.850 would be your transmit frequency.
FCC Callsign: This is just the FCC call sign of the repeater. Not really useful unless you want to program it as the repeater name. I prefer to use the location as the name, but everyone will have a different opinion on that, and will demand that they are correct. So, do whatever you want for the name.
Agency/Category, Description: Not really useful for programming radios, but good info to have printed out for reference.
Alpha Tag: This is just a suggested name for the channel. On this website, it's what will get loaded in to a scanner for the name. You can call the channel whatever you want.
PL Tone: This is the CTCSS/DCS tone/code needed to access the repeater. It will be either a CTCSS tone OR a DCS code, not both. Look up CTCSS and DCS to get a better description, it's a lot to type out here.
Mode: This is to tell you what emission the transmitter uses. For your BaoFeng, analog is all you will be able to do.

I don't use BaoFengs, so it's a good idea to talk to someone who's familiar with those things. There are some decent tutorials on line.

Pay attention to the CTCSS/DCS stuff, that's usually where new hams run into issues.


Good luck!
 

dmccasland

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Thank you MMcKenna, assume away!

I am aware that I am not allowed to broadcast on a great many frequencies/power levels with my current license. My use cases in an emergency are:
- monitor emergency broadcasts, situational awareness -
- communicate with my home base if I am separated from them when an emergency hits

So, if I understand you correctly my list should be:
- Receive only mode: NOAA weather, Marine VHF, non-amateur public safety frequencies
- Repeater modes: RACES/ARES, all repeaters within 50 miles.

Does anyone maintain a curated list like this for the Bay Area?

For the translation from radioreference.com list fields to baofeng fields, sounds like I should be able to be able to do a little bit of coding to figure it out.

Thanks again!
 

ko6jw_2

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My suggestion is that you should join an organized ARES/CERT group and connect with other operators and get appropriate training. As a District Emergency Coordinator in ARES your value in a emergency will be enhanced if you do so. The other plus is that people will know who you are when you get on a repeater. I have heard too many times, "I don't want to join an ARES group, but I'm here if there is an emergency." This does not work. We have training and county disaster service worker cards.

If you truly want to operate in an emergency get something other than a Baofeng. In any case, you need to learn how to program the radio using CHIRP. Again, this is where being in a group will be of great assistance. Many Bay Area public safety systems are digital trunked systems that Baofeng can't monitor. Also, RR does not include many ham repeaters. You will find none for Santa Barbara County where I am located as an example. Local hams will help you.

As has been said above the only frequencies that are legal for you are ham frequencies. Baofeng is (generally) not type accepted on any other frequencies including public safety, business, marine, MURS and GMRS. B-Tech does have a type accepted GMRS radio (needs GMRS license).
 

mmckenna

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Thank you MMcKenna, assume away!

I am aware that I am not allowed to broadcast on a great many frequencies/power levels with my current license. My use cases in an emergency are:
- monitor emergency broadcasts, situational awareness -
- communicate with my home base if I am separated from them when an emergency hits

So, if I understand you correctly my list should be:
- Receive only mode: NOAA weather, Marine VHF, non-amateur public safety frequencies
- Repeater modes: RACES/ARES, all repeaters within 50 miles.

Does anyone maintain a curated list like this for the Bay Area?

OK, cool.

There are a number of free online repeater lists. Just search on Amateur Radio Repeaters Northern California, that should bring up several.

A lot of the public safety radio around you is on 700MHz trunked radio systems. You will not be able to listen to them on that radio. But you can still search around, CalFire is all VHF analog.
 

n5ims

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Lots of good information here. I have two comments.

1. Find a local ham radio club. Since most have web sites a simple Google search will find one or more that are close to you. Quite often, they will also be the sponsors of the ARES/RACES/CERT groups, but not always. If you have multiple groups nearby, visit them all a couple of times to see just how good of a "fit" they will be for you. There's no harm in joining more than one if you wish!

2. Be aware that a handheld left in a drawer or go box for emergencies will probably be of no use to you when the emergency hits. First off, the batteries will probably be dead and may be beyond the point where they can be recharged. Second, a radio you don't really know well will make it way too easy to press something that puts it into a mode that makes it useless to you and without knowledge of how it works no idea on how to get it back how you want it. Use the radio regularly and learn how it works really well. That will help solve both issues since you'll be cycling the batteries so they'll be ready for use when that emergency happens and give you the knowledge to understand that if you accidently press a button it will move it from your normal mode (memory mode for example where your programmed settings are used) into VHF mode (where those settings are ignored and you'll have to set everything from scratch, perhaps even if you accidently change the frequency by bumping the wrong dial or button).

3. (OK, I said two comments, I guess I lied). A handheld is a cheap and OK option as a first radio but there are many operational issues using one. A higher power mobile radio (perhaps with a power supply to make it into a base station) along with a proper antenna will give you a much better signal when the emergency hits. Including a common 12v gel cell battery (similar to those use in the typical UPS) will allow that radio to be used when the power is off. The other thing that regular operating will do is let you learn and practice proper operation and procedures so folks will know you are a legit operator and not just somebody without a license that jumps on during the emergency thinking that they're somebody special.
 

mmckenna

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That's good stuff from N5IMS.

I'll also add:
Don't rely on repeaters.
In a true emergency, they can be overloaded. Power can go out, batteries will run down, towers can topple. They are a resource supported/controlled/maintained by someone else. Some clubs really look after their repeaters, some individuals don't.

Simplex can be a great resource. It's easy enough to find a quiet simplex frequency and use that. A good antenna at your home hooked up to a mobile radio, power supply or battery can work very well. Install a mobile radio in your car with a proper external antenna, and you can get some good range.
My wife has her ham license, so we have a VHF radio in each car as well as a base radio in the kitchen. It doesn't get used often, but it comes in handy periodically.
 

norcalscan

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Depending on the programming software etc, I've seen it be confusing or hard to program frequencies as RX only. Sometimes it demands the TX info or auto-populates the RX info in to the TX side as if it's a simplex channel. In that case, I always put in a 2m simplex frequency like 146.550 as the transmit. It's easy to get "lost" on the chinese radios and forget what band you're on, monitoring a ham repeater in band A and local fire in Band B, and then pick up the radio and transmit thinking you're on A when you're really on B.
 

jaspence

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Aircraft frequencies are AM modulation, and depending on the model of your radio cannot properly decode anything but FM transmissions. It also depends on the frequency range of the radio. AM aircraft is from 108 MHz to 137 MHz and is not covered by some radios. Military aircraft use frequencies not commonly covered in lower end ham radios. Get a Yaesu FT-60R if you want these, It costs more, but is well made and has 1000 memories that cover both AM and FM (no digital).
 

nd5y

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Depending on the programming software etc, I've seen it be confusing or hard to program frequencies as RX only. Sometimes it demands the TX info or auto-populates the RX info in to the TX side as if it's a simplex channel. In that case, I always put in a 2m simplex frequency like 146.550 as the transmit. It's easy to get "lost" on the chinese radios and forget what band you're on, monitoring a ham repeater in band A and local fire in Band B, and then pick up the radio and transmit thinking you're on A when you're really on B.
CHIRP programming software allows you to totally disable the transmit frequency in Baofeng and some other radios that support that function.
To do that you set the Duplex field to off for each memory channel that you want to be receive only.
That way it won't transmit at all and you don't have to worry about interfering with some frequency that you aren't even listening to.

I would suggest reading Documentation - CHIRP.
 

ko6jw_2

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A couple of observations about emergency operations:

1. Get the best ham radio you can afford. Actually a mobile and an HT preferably. Program in all the local repeater and simplex frequencies that you are likely to need. Know how to reprogram in the field.

2. Get the best scanner you can for the systems you need to monitor. Keep it up to date. Don't forget interoperable channels, state frequencies (CDF and CHP) and federal frequencies.

When you operate in an emergency you will be primarily using a single frequency. You cannot use the same radio to scan. You will miss calls.

Baofengs among their other faults overload easily. I did a drill a year or so ago and several hams were using Baofengs. They sometimes failed to hear traffic on a simplex channel if they were within fifty feet of another radio. Fatal flaw in a real emergency.

Multiple radios are best. Right now I have 5 ham radios going. Three for 2 meters, one 440 and one 220. My scanners just listen to fire and USFS dispatch frequencies. No scanning. Only scan during a real emergency, but prefer other single channel receivers. Lots of chatter, but I live alone!

Keep the Baofeng for a "when all else fails" backup to your backup radios.
 
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