Why is FRS/GMRS “suddenly” more interesting, especially in emergency preparedness?
Wrting this on 1/13/23 while the Russian River is in moderate flood stage; this week has well demonstrated the value of GMRS. The lower Russian River communities from Guerneville to Cazadero are exceptionally well prepared to utilize GMRS despite (and because of) their topographical challenges. A number of us working as SCRA’s Neighborhood Communications Committee have been in frequent contact with GMRS radio operators in places like Cazadero which had no power, cell or landlines. We were repeatedly thanked for listening-out for them.
Sonoma County Radio Amateurs (SCRA) has created a Neighborhood Communications Committee to reach out to the non-Ham community by developing and testing interfaces between ACS Ham radio operators and community groups utilizing General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). Family Radio Service (FRS) is essentially a restricted version of GMRS. Hams engaged in GMRS communication links will need GMRS radios as well as an FCC license, which requires no exam, but does cost $35 for 10 years for the whole family. Detailed instructions to get a GMRS license from the FCC:
GMRS License Application Process
- Register for a FRN number with the FCC:
1.1. This is a personal ID number and required for all FCC interactions.
1.2. The FRN is issued immediately after successful submittal of your application.
- Complete FCC Main Form 605:
2.1. After clicking this link, scroll down to the GMRS link.
2.2. This is the application form that needs to be completed and signed, then uploaded and submitted with the online application on the ULS site.
- Apply for GMRS license using the FCC ULS and pay fee:
3.1. After clicking this link, click the ULS Online Filing link and log on using your FRN and follow the prompts.
3.2. You will need to upload your completed Main Form 605.
3.3. The GMRS License and callsign assignment should be a few hours to a day after successful submittal of your application.
3.4. The GMRS license fee is $35 and is valid for 10 years.
Comparing FRS and GMRS
FRS is now the low-power, unlicensed, channels 1 to 22 service; less cost, less power but sufficent in some applications. FRS and GMRS are completely interoperative on Simplex channels. FRS has no duplex repeater capability.
GMRS covers the same channels of 1 to 22, but offers high power options and repeater options on channels 15 to 22. While there is a fee, there is no test—a limitation that keeps many people out of amateur radio. In addition, the new rules allow a licensee to share his license with specified family members at no extra cost.
The overlapping channels allow an FRS operator to use a GMRS operators’ simplex repeater with permission. That can provide reliable service over a 2-mile-diameter zone using a $10, ½-watt, unlicensed radio. That can be effective “last mile” communications. There is one such FRS simplex “parrot” in West Santa Rosa.
The full-duplex GMRS repeaters allow reliable, many-mile communications for those willing to invest $40 to $200 for a 5-watt radio and $35 for a GMRS license. The setup for these radios is a bit more difficult.
Also, the eight channels (15 to 22) for GMRS repeaters are largely available. There is no formal coordinating agency (as there is for amateur radio), so users may “claim” a channel on mygmrs.com.
Amateur radio will likely out-perform FRS/GMRS technically in just about all circumstances, but the ease of access and low cost is making FRS/GMRS very attractive to many people today.
GMRS Emergency Plan
guidance for General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) operations during an emergency
Richard Mogford August 27, 2022
This document provides guidance for General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) operations during an emergency. An emergency is defined as an electrical power outage, threats such as wildfire, or disasters such as extended flooding, storm damage, tsunami, earthquake, or other wide-scale emergencies.
This plan contains basic procedures to follow in an emergency. These procedures may be tailored during an emergency event as necessary,
- Role of GMRS During an Emergency
GMRS provides a channel for communication during an emergency by operating an Emergency Net. The GMRS Emergency Net collects information about the emergency from available sources, provides information about the emergency to other GMRS operators, and may passes message traffic to and from amateur (ham) radio operators, first responders, government officials, and other authorities.
- Before an Emergency
3.1.1. The GMRS Emergency Plan is posted on the web [URL?].
3.1.2. A GMRS volunteer maintains and makes available a list of GMRS radio operators in the area who could act as Net Control Operator (NCO) during an emergency. The list includes contact information and data on all GMRS communication assets.
3.1.3. Training via Zoom sessions is offered to the GMRS community.
3.1.4. Training in some NCO procedures is found here:
- FEMA ICS 100: https://training.fema.gov/is/courseoverview.aspx?code=IS-100.c
- FEMA ICS 700: https://training.fema.gov/is/courseoverview.aspx?code=IS-700.b&lang=en
3.1.5. The volunteer is provided with a list of all amateur radio operators and radio nets in the area (with email addresses and phone numbers) and emergency services contact information.
3.1.6. These lists are distributed to all GMRS operators in the area and are available on the web site [URL?].
- During an Emergency
4.1. Net Control Operator
4.1.1. In the event of an emergency, the first GMRS station (person) on the air becomes the NCO for their repeater. There will be an NCO (if available) for each repeater location.
4.1.2. The first GMRS operator on the air asks if there are any other operators on the air. If not, that operator assumes the first NCO shift. If other operators are also on the air, they decide who takes the first NCO shift, while noting the other available stations. They ask everyone to keep their radios on, arrange the next NCO shift, and announce the activation of an emergency net.
4.1.3. The NCO assesses their own communication assets. Are there still telephone, cell phone, and Internet connections? Priorities are to be able to contact emergency services (911) and other GMRS and ham radio operators.
4.1.4. The NCO announces that this is a directed net. All traffic should go through the NCO. NCOs for each group will be responsible for passing traffic between the two groups.
4.1.5. Ham and GMRS NCOs will establish communications with each other, most likely via the Fort Ross GMRS repeater (or other repeaters depending on geography). This would be initiated by a ham operator with a GMRS license. This allows the ham NCO to pass emergency traffic from the GMRS NCO and other GMRS operators to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Santa Rosa or other incident command posts as needed. Currently, emergency traffic from GMRS needs to be relayed through a ham operator to the EOC.
4.1.6. The NCO makes contact, if possible, with other GMRS and ham radio operators to establish communications. This can be accomplished by radio, telephone, cell phone, or satellite phone. (Some GMRS operators also have a ham license and equipment.)
4.1.7. The main responsibility of the NCO is to pass emergency message traffic (or “traffic”).
4.1.8. If emergency traffic is communicated to the NCO through radio, telephone call, the Internet, or in person, their first step is to decide about the importance of the information and who should receive it. For example, if a neighbor runs out of gas for their generator, this could be dealt with on the local repeater. If a wildfire has started in the area, this must be passed to emergency services.
4.1.9. GMRS stations will normally operate on the Fort Ross repeater (or others depending on geography) since most people can access that repeater.
4.1.10. Ham stations, especially those with a GMRS license, will monitor GMRS repeaters. GMRS stations will monitor the Seaview and Bob’s repeater (and several others).
4.2. Activating the GMRS Emergency Net
4.2.1. At the beginning of the declared emergency, the NCO says: “The GMRS Emergency Net is now activated due to [nature of the emergency]. My name is [name and call sign]. I am the first GMRS NCO for this event. Starting at [XXXX] hours, an NCO will be monitoring this GMRS Repeater 24 hours per day until further notice. We will hold a 10-minute check in each hour on the half hour, except during the period between midnight (2400 hours) and 0800 local time when the repeater will be monitored but there is no hourly check in. The NCO will make announcements and answer questions during each check in period.”
4.2.2. NCO shifts between 0800 and 2400 (local time) are 2 hours each. Shifts may be modified according to operator availability.
4.2.3. The NCO shift between 2400 and 0800 hours is 8 hours (overnight).
4.2.4. An NCO constantly monitors the repeater during the daytime shifts.
4.2.5. The NCO may sleep during the overnight shift but keeps a radio nearby in case of an emergency call.
4.2.6. During the overnight shift, the NCO does not hold a net check in every hour.
4.2.7. If the nature of the emergency is so dire that overnight active monitoring is required, the NCO on duty puts into effect overnight net control shifts of 2 hours each (with hourly check ins) between 2400 and 0800. This will be announced on the air by the NCO.
4.2.8. At 30 minutes after each hour during a shift, the NCO starts an hourly Emergency Net to make announcements and answer questions. The NCO reports any pertinent information gathered from available sources. They also accept information from GMRS members who check into the net. The net should be limited to 10 minutes, if possible.
4.2.9. During the first Emergency Net session, the NCO asks for volunteers to be NCO for the next few 2-hour periods. It is the responsibility of the NCO on duty to find the next NCO. If no one is found, the NCO continues into the next 2-hour shift.
4.2.10. During their shift, the NCO monitors available sources to collect information regarding the emergency. These include (but are not limited to):
Name of Resource Web Site Other Information
PG&E Public Safety
KGUA http://kgua.org/ 707-884-4883
KDTE http://ktde.com/ 707-884-3000/4000
Timber Cove Fire Dept. https://www.timbercovefire.net/ 707-847-3299
Fort Ross Fire Dept. https://www.facebook.com/FortRossVFD/ 707-847-3184
4.2.11. The NCO keeps notes of communications when acting as NCO during an incident.
4.2.12. VERY IMPORTANT: It is critical that only verified information be passed onto others by the NCO. If something is reported that is not from a verified source or is questionable, the NCO must confirm the truth of the information before it is broadcast over the GMRS Emergency Net or relayed to 911, etc.
4.3. Handling Emergency Traffic
4.3.1. For routine traffic, the NCO handles it as needed.
4.3.2. If the NCO on duty receives a phone call, email, or radio traffic with urgent emergency traffic (risk to life or property), they use available resources to pass the message to the appropriate emergency service provider. The NCO on duty calls 911 or, if 911 is not available, contacts a ham operator or GMRS radio operator to relay the traffic to 911 or emergency authorities. (See Figure 1.)
4.3.3. The GMRS operator steps through the flow chart until they have called 911 themselves or relayed the traffic to someone who can call 911. If none of these steps are possible, the operator should consider other methods, such as driving to a location where they can call 911.
4.3.4. The goal is to get the emergency traffic to emergency services as quickly as possible using whatever means are available. This should not include sending a text or email or leaving a voice mail. Positive communication of the traffic is essential.
4.3.5. If the NCO on duty does not have telephone or radio access directly to emergency services, they may contact another ham or GMRS operator who does.
4.3.6. The NCO says to the person reporting the emergency: “I will use the resources available to me to route your request for emergency services to the correct provider, but it is not certain that I will be able to do so. Please stand by for confirmation that your message has been successfully transmitted.”
4.3.7. The NCO uses available resources including:
- Their own land line, cellular telephone, or satellite phone (if available)
- Relaying the message over the radio to a ham or GMRS member who has telephone access
- Other means (driving, etc.)
- Once the message has been successfully (or unsuccessfully) passed, the NCO reports the results to the caller.
4.4. Ending Emergency Net Activation
4.4.1. When the emergency has ended, the NCO on duty announces that the GMRS Emergency Net is concluded.
4.4.2. After the emergency is over, GMRS holds a meeting to discuss outcomes and lessons learned.
Mike Von der Porten, AD6YB WRJQ994
Bob Dozor, K3FUL WRJD829
comments, corrections, suggestions welcome!