In the event of an outage of normal internet and telephone service, radio is the proven way to communicate. Don't allow yourself to be isolated.
In Knox County we are introducing a system where community members can interact over short and long distances using simple Personal Radio Service (PRS) 2-way radios. These radios are most commonly exemplified by Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) handie talkies. While the range of these radios is relatively short (don't believe the advertising), our system is being augmented by incorporating amateur (ham) radio operators who can communicate using FRS or GMRS radios and then relay messages locally as well as throughout the county, state and country as needed using normal ham radio communications techniques.
This program follows the guidelines established by Radio Relay International (RRI), an organization that is dedicated to global messaging by amateur radio. The Personal Radio Service components include two national level efforts. The National SOS Radio Network, which is now under the umbrella of RRI, supports neighborhood emergency communications using FRS radios. Neighborhood HamWatch is RRI's officially endorsed community service program that formalizes links between FRS & GMRS users and the amateur radio service. Together, these programs provide a unique linkage of radio communications services.
How it Works - A Quick Overview
During significant storms and other events where conventional communications may be compromised, Knox County ham radio operators have a system in place to provide "on the ground" information from around the county to each other, to the county Emergency Management Agency and to the National Weather Service in Gray. Reports can include items such as:
At these times, area hams meet at the top of each hour on the county repeater system or by direct "simplex" communication if the repeater has failed. Anyone who has a scanner can monitor these transmissions.
We are formalizing a new dimension to this program by implementing a system for non-hams to participate in the process. Along with the above, a number of involved hams are equipping themselves with Personal Radio Service communications devices. There are two services that are being supported using frequencies (channels) that are common to both. The first is the Family Radio Service or FRS. FRS is an unlicensed radio service but is limited to relatively short ranges by radio power and built-in antennas. Recent changes to the FCC regulations on FRS radios has increased the permitted power level substantially, from 1/2 watt to 2 watts. The section on Radios on this site has information on current radio models that have the best performance.
The second service is the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). GMRS permits higher powers (up to 50 watts) and external antennas. GMRS requires an FCC license but the license is applicable to all immediate family members of the license holder. This is defined as the licensee's spouse, children, grandchildren, stepchildren, parents, grandparents, stepparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and in-laws. A GMRS license costs $70 and is valid for 10 years. There is no test, all one needs to do is apply on line. The GMRS channels are currently included in the current FRS radios but a much better alternative is to get a GMRS-only radio and a simple external antenna. This can be had for under $100.
If you and your neighbors have FRS radios, you can communicate amongst yourselves should telephone and internet service be interrupted. If one of you has a GMRS radio you can communicate with the FRS units on a shared frequency and also communicate with a ham who is similarly equipped. The use of shared channels permits hams to monitor both FRS and GMRS using a single channel. The ham can then relay messages to local agencies, the Weather Service, etc. Hams can also send personal messages to your friends or relatives who might be elsewhere in the state or country. This message relay system is exactly the same system that has been used to relay thousands of personal messages from Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes.
The chart below depicts how the network is structured. The links to the left go into further detail about how you can monitor radio activity and, best of all, become an active participant.