Tips for emergency preparedness

modernsnipe14

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Good Afternoon HAMs and All,

Feel free to recommend me to another post if this has already been asked but I am wondering about some options I may have for using radios in remote areas. I have lived a in area where cell coverage was never an issue my entire life and because of my job it has me living and driving in remote areas of upstate NY that make it difficult for me to get cell service. I had an incident the other night where I got lost and my GPS wasn't connecting and luckily a good old map and navigation skills did the trick but I wanted to see if radios could be incorporated in remote areas better.

As a first responder I'm not trying to be the vigilante of the north however this does have me wondering what I can do. If anyone has any VHF/UHF/6m options or solutions I have analog and P25 capabilities in my mobile.

I have NOAA weather, GMRS, MURS, and most HAM repeaters I know are capable of being reached (not that I've heard anything in 2 months) programmed into my radio already.

Thanks in advance for your tips and knowledge being shared!
 
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mmckenna

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Yeah, relying on hobbyists in an emergency is never a good plan.
You have to figure that any ham radio operator you reach would unlikely be able to provide any actual/direct help. Best they can do is make a phone call for you. Local direction might be possible, but you kind of need to know where you are to give them a starting point.

When I'm out at my remote sites, I always have the VHF, UHF and 800MHz radios in the truck or on my person. The VHF and UHF radios have zones set up with local amateur repeaters, simplex, etc. But I'd never rely on those in an emergency. The Iridium phone always goes with me, that way I know I can reach someone directly if I need help.

You could also have your department check with other local agencies or state agencies and see if they have any resources that are available. You might find that a Fish and Game radio repeater, Fire, law enforcement, or other state agency, might cover that area and at least get you to a dispatcher who will be there 24x7 and get you some actual help directly.
 

AK_SAR

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I agree that Iridium is the way to go. However, rather than a sat phone, I would recommend an InReach text message device. The InReach is quite reasonably priced relative to sat phones. In fact I think West Marine has them on sale right now. InReach also has a very reasonably priced "Safety Plan" subscription, at about $12 a month.

InReach has some significant advantages over sat phones. While in theory Iridium sat phones have 24/7 connectivity, in practice this isn't always the case, particularly in mountainous terrain. A friend of my did some research on Iridium satellite visibility, using our location here in Anchorage, and the requirement that a satellite be at least 20 degrees above the horizon. Using this requirement he found there were frequent times during the day when no satellite was visible. These were mostly short periods of a few minutes here and there distributed throughout the day. This agrees with user experience, where we've found that it often takes several attempts to initiate a sat phone call, and that calls often drop off. You can get a sat phone call out sooner or later, but it is frequently more of a hassle than people expect.

The big advantage of InReach text messaging is that it is asynchronous. If it can't initially make a connection, the device continues to try until the message is sent. In my experience this is usually pretty quick, but sometimes takes several minutes. The message automatically includes your GPS location. In a dire emergency, for example if you are injured and partially incapacitated, all you have to do is uncover the SOS button and hold it down, and your SOS is sent. If you then pass out, your SOS keeps sending. If you don't pass out, you can then send a detailed followup text explaining your situation and what you need.

In Alaska a great deal of real deal experience by wilderness travelers, guides, SAR teams etc have shown that InReach is an excellent choice for both routine and emergency communication in remote areas. Many highly experienced people will tell you that InReach is a better choice for most people than a sat phone. And they are lighter weight and more compact to carry than sat phones.
 

a417

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I think the OP will not have to worry about the 20 deg above horizon requirement as much as your friend did above the 60th parallel, as he will be well south of the 45th parallel in upstate NY...Decidedly different view of the Iridium constellation.


i've always liked this animation. (note the dark red)

Iridium Coverage
 

AK_SAR

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I think the OP will not have to worry about the 20 deg above horizon requirement as much as your friend did above the 60th parallel, as he will be well south of the 45th parallel in upstate NY...Decidedly different view of the Iridium constellation.

i've always liked this animation. (note the dark red)
Iridium Coverage
Correct me if I'm wrong, but the yellow areas show the footprint of individual satellites (which are the tiny green dots). The red areas show overlap where two or more satellites cover the same area. In these red overlap areas the satellite will be low near the horizon, and be trying to hand off the call to another satellite. Taken literally, this map would indicate that we should have better coverage up here in the (currently not so) frozen North. However, note that because this map is un-projected, it tends to distort areas in the North and South. The 20 degrees above the horizon isn't a requirement. It was merely a means of testing the issue of satellite visibility in a real world, on land, situation. If you are on the ocean, or the middle of the great plains, this isn't so much of a problem.

As I indicated, the issue is related at least as much to terrain as to latitude. I'm not familiar with upstate NY, but I presume there is some terrain there? Likewise, even leafy tree foliage (which I suspect there can be in NY) can also interfere with connection to an Iridium satellite. While the InReach uses the same Iridium satellite constellation, the big difference is that it will keep trying to send the message until either a satellite moves into view, or you move to a spot with better view of the sky.

In a real emergency this asynchronous aspect could be a significant. If I'm using an InReach, after I punch the SOS, I can focus on dealing with the emergency. I can have my hands free to stop the bleeding, or start a fire, or extract the injured from the crashed vehicle....or whatever else I need to do to deal with the situation. The InReach will continue to try to send until the SOS gets through. When I get things stabilized, I can send a follow up message with details. Were I using a sat phone, if I didn't make contact initially, I have no option other than to keep trying to make a call. And if the call drops partway through, before I've given my location, I have no choice but to start all over again to get through. While I'm using the sat phone it will be tough to do anything else.

Also keep in mind that InReach is a full featured GPS. You can do all the usual GPS things with it. You can mark a waypoint, navigate to another waypoint, log your route etc etc. While the user interface isn't quite as nice as some other handheld GPS, the InReach is quite usable for any normal GPS function. It also can connect to your smartphone via Earthmate app, which has a better user interface and makes it easier to enter messages. Also, with Earthmate you can download USGS topo maps (prior to going off the cell grid) and use them to navigate with.

I'm not suggesting that sat phones are not useful devices for emergency contact. For some situations they might be the best choice. But they do have their limitations. If one evaluates based on cost, ease of use, reliability, and usefulness for things other than purely emergency communications, the InReach is well worth looking at.
 

a417

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Well, I completely misunderstood the information I got many years ago. I took from the demo that the areas that were anything darker than yellow were fringe overlaps between satellites that was on the edge of the range of the units, and that yellow was solidly in the coverage of an overhead unit.

You are correct sir! We never had to implement satellite phone usage in our areas, so i've only retained a passing (and now I'm aware poor) understanding of it. I guess if I was up where you were, where it's more prevalent, I'd be more informed.

thank you!
 

SteveC0625

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In addition to having your department check with local agencies, you might also see if there are any federal land management agencies with radio coverage in that area (USFS, BLM, BIA, Fish and Wildlife).
In Upstate New York, there’s virtually no federal presence. There are no parks, etc. that the feds maintain or patrol. Most of Upstate in the east is either Catskills or Adirondacks which are all covered by state agencies.

Border Patrol and ICE are present in their areas of coverage, but they’re not giving radio access such as the OP is inquiring about.

I’m a first responder in the southern Adirondacks. I can verify that most state and local public safety and governmental agencies do not allow outside access to their radio systems. I have radio access within my county and that’s it. My 2M ham mobile can reach many repeaters as I move around the statebut due to the mountainous or hilly terrain, long distance coverage is limited In most places.

The recommendations for sat phone or similar probably offer the best continuous coverage but that’s not necessarily a cost effective solution for the average traveler in Upstate. YMMV
 

mmckenna

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Wouldn't a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) also be a relatively affordable option for the OP? Only for REAL emergencies, of course!
Absolutely.

I think the OP needs to clarify what they are looking for.
Public safety using amateur radio isn't the right approach, but if it's an emergency and you just need to reach a human being, then it's an option. Expecting a useful person to answer 24x7 is expecting way too much, though.
If the requirement is to reach a public safety dispatcher, then you need to look at interoperability with other agencies or a satellite phone or PTT option.

If getting help in a life or death emergency and no other resources are available, then satellite phone, PLB, or some sort of satellite based solution is your only real option.
 

jaspence

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I would drop the 6 meter option. Another ham and I had 6 meter HTs, and did better with a pair of FRS radios in our house to house test. A hand held on 6 requires a long antenna for any chance beyond very short range.
 

AK_SAR

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Wouldn't a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) also be a relatively affordable option for the OP? Only for REAL emergencies, of course!
Absolutely.
I think the OP needs to clarify what they are looking for.
Public safety using amateur radio isn't the right approach, but if it's an emergency and you just need to reach a human being, then it's an option. Expecting a useful person to answer 24x7 is expecting way too much, though.
If the requirement is to reach a public safety dispatcher, then you need to look at interoperability with other agencies or a satellite phone or PTT option.
If getting help in a life or death emergency and no other resources are available, then satellite phone, PLB, or some sort of satellite based solution is your only real option.
I agree with mmckenna on this. For emergency situations redundancy is desirable, and amateur radio is certainly an option. Now and then it might be the thing that saves you. However it should be far from the first option.

One last comment regarding PLBs vs InReach (or the latest Spot) devices. PLBs are definitely an option. They have both some advantages and disadvantages vs InReach.

On the advantage side, a PLB is cheaper, and has no ongoing subscription fee. In the absolute worst case scenario they are marginally more likely to get your SOS out. For one thing, they have a stronger signal (5 watts) vs less than a watt for the InReach. In heavy tree cover this might make the difference. Also, the PLB has a redundant means of location. Ideally, it will locate you via GPS and send those coordinates. However, if for some reason the PLB can't get a good GPS fix, the receiving station can still get a fix using doppler. This is not nearly as accurate as a GPS fix (I've heard the doppler fix is plus or minus about a mile or so), but is way better than no fix. Finally, the PLB also sends out a low power homing signal on 121.5 MHz. So if they get a rough doppler fix, rescue aircraft can home in on that weak 121.5 signal.

On the minus side, a PLB is a one way signal device. It only sends an SOS and position. You cant add any specific info about what sort of predicament you are in. And there is no way for the rescue agency to send any message back to you. With a PLB you activate it to send out an SOS and GPS coordinate, and hope the signal got through. Then you wait and hope someone shows up to assist you. And, the PLB is good for one thing, and one thing only, which is sending an SOS.

Before I got an InReach I carried a PLB on some of my adventures. Fortunately, I never ever had to activate it. Since getting an InReach, I've never triggered an SOS, but I use it all the time. If I'm hiking by myself (as I sometimes do), I'll send my wife a quick text letting her know I'm OK. If I get delayed, I can text her that I'll be late getting back, but don't worry I'm OK. I can also use it for all the normal GPS functions.

Usual Disclaimer: I'm just a satisfied user. I don't own stock in Garmin, nor do I sell their devices.
 

mmckenna

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Before I got an InReach I carried a PLB on some of my adventures. Fortunately, I never ever had to activate it. Since getting an InReach, I've never triggered an SOS, but I use it all the time. If I'm hiking by myself (as I sometimes do), I'll send my wife a quick text letting her know I'm OK. If I get delayed, I can text her that I'll be late getting back, but don't worry I'm OK. I can also use it for all the normal GPS functions.

Usual Disclaimer: I'm just a satisfied user. I don't own stock in Garmin, nor do I sell their devices.
We carry a PLB when on ATV trips. Never needed it, but it's one of a few options we have.

I work alone quite a bit in remote areas. I'm thinking of getting one of the InReach units. Heard bad things about Spot! customer service and the hardware reliability.
Thanks for your info on them. Just need a way to send messages out periodically and have an SOS if nothing else works.
 

jim202

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Good Afternoon HAMs and All,

Feel free to recommend me to another post if this has already been asked but I am wondering about some options I may have for using radios in remote areas. I have lived a in area where cell coverage was never an issue my entire life and because of my job it has me living and driving in remote areas of upstate NY that make it difficult for me to get cell service. I had an incident the other night where I got lost and my GPS wasn't connecting and luckily a good old map and navigation skills did the trick but I wanted to see if radios could be incorporated in remote areas better.

As a first responder I'm not trying to be the vigilante of the north however this does have me wondering what I can do. If anyone has any VHF/UHF/6m options or solutions I have analog and P25 capabilities in my mobile.

I have NOAA weather, GMRS, MURS, and most HAM repeaters I know are capable of being reached (not that I've heard anything in 2 months) programmed into my radio already.

Thanks in advance for your tips and knowledge being shared!
You might want to check out the different cell carriers for the region your looking to be in. Maybe or not, there just might be another cell carrier that may have some coverage where your looking to be in. Don't go by any coverage map they provide, because most of them are bogus anyway.

I have worked for many different cellular companies since 1991. Have used just about every carrier out there over the years. What I have found during traveling around a bunch is that Verizon and AT&T would be my choice of carriers. Sprint seems to brag about their coverage, but in using their phone, their coverage did not impress me at all outside any major city or high house concentration areas or along large Interstate highways.

Jim
 

prcguy

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I'm not advocating the use of 6m for the OP, but I can say I've done over 60mi range with a pair of military 1 1/2 watt PRC-68B hand helds on 6m from high ground and routinely got 10 to 15mi over flat ground. This is with their supplied roughly 2ft long whip antennas.

I would drop the 6 meter option. Another ham and I had 6 meter HTs, and did better with a pair of FRS radios in our house to house test. A hand held on 6 requires a long antenna for any chance beyond very short range.
 

rescuecomm

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I have NOAA weather, GMRS, MURS, and most HAM repeaters I know are capable of being reached (not that I've heard anything in 2 months) programmed into my radio already.
If you aren't hearing ham operators talking in that time period, you need to recheck the frequencies and tones. You should locate the most active repeater that covers your work area if amateur radio is to be any help at all. I assume you are licensed if you have 2 meter/440/6 meter capability. If so, you should participate in some QSO so the locals will be familiar with you.

As far as satellite based communications go, mountainous terrain can be a hit or miss as noted.

Interestingly enough, I found that the 2 meter repeater that I rely on for emergency communications when hunting was off the air this fall. I thought I had miss programmed the dual band repeat function. Shame on me for not being more active.

Bob
 

kb2ztx

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Spent alot of time over the last 20 years in the ADK and Catskills for work along with SAR stuff. Buy an InReach first and foremost. There is ham stuff in both parks, but they are not the greatest. If you have a mobile you should be able to reach most of the repeaters. As others said other than the state and local counties there really isn't much more RF footprints in these areas.
 
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