[Draft 0.2: Added some programming info. Missing links to subpages.]
Why We Are Doing This
The main reason we are doing this in the first place (facilitating bulk purchases, teaching classes, helping people get radio licenses, helping with radio programming, etc.) is to make sure that we, as a community, can communicate in a disaster and coordinate emergency response. Our served agency, the Lawrence County Sheriff has a mandate to provide interoperable emergency communications. Everything we do should be considered in that context. The radios we recommend are extremely versatile. Having a 2-way radio has many other uses, such as participating in SkyWarn/storm spotting, communicating on the farm, on family trips, going to the mall, running your business, whatever, and we will try to point you in the directions you need to go, but our focus always comes back to emergency use.
Guidelines For Using Them
To that end, we request the following from people who participate (we cannot require, but we do encourage):
1) Find out how you can participate in a local, volunteer emergency/disaster response group, whether that is CERT, the Sheriff's Auxiliary, ARES, SkyWarn, the Red Cross, a Neighborhood Watch, cattle patrols, or whatever. We would be happy to help you decide which groups might be most appropriate and most rewarding for you and your skillset and physical abilities. If you do not have an organization where you are, start one.
2) As part of this, get training and get licensed (in something) so that you can be useful to the community in a disaster and know how to coordinate as part of an effective team. Again, we are happy to help you get valuable training at the least possible cost (free when we can manage it). If you can protect yourself and your own family, help your own neighborhood, that leaves more resources to help others who need it.
3) One of the reasons we are helping people buy programmable radios is so that, when it comes down to a disaster response we can reprogram those radios to meet whatever needs exist at that moment. We hope to get it to the point that volunteers can come to staging area, hand one of our communication people a radio, and we can set it up for that specific disaster either for you to use or for you to loan to another volunteer.
4) If you cannot volunteer for a disaster yourself, please loan your spare radios (of the types we use) so we can put them to use in the field. We will never have enough radios when we need them.
5) Keep your radios charged. Label them clearly so that if they are used on a disaster site, we can try to get the right radios back to the right people. Label both the radio itself and the battery pack. If you have a callsign from the FCC, please put that on your radio because it is very easy for us to look up and figure out who it belongs to. Battery packs may very well get shuffled around as people recharge or borrow spares. If you are going to store your radio (in a watertight box or ammo can, say) for any length of time, unplug the battery pack (otherwise it will reduce the life of both battery and radio). Take it out, top off the charge, and test at least quarterly, once a month if possible.
6) Use them legally and responsibly. There are many things you may do with your radio that may be of questionable legality or which may interfere with other peoples' equipment. If you do so, it may come back on us. Try to understand and follow the rules as best you can. Get licenses for the things which require licenses. Radio is a shared resource, like air or water, so how we use it affects others.
7) Practice! Get in the habit of using your radios around the farm, while traveling, while at the mall, whatever. Listen. Talk. Learn. The more often you use the tools and the skills, the better chance you will be to use them effectively when it really matters.
8) We would appreciate whatever donations you can afford for our classes, for helping program radios, and so forth. Donations and community support lets us provide the services that we do and go in harm's way when it is necessary.
Programming (Read me first!!!)
In order to use your radio properly, it has to be programmed. This means changing the settings and stored channels to what you need to use. When you first turn your radio on, it will probably be minimally set up to use the amateur radio bands (and very possibly the Chinese version of them). If you simply start pressing the button and talking (unless you are an amateur operator already!) you will probably make local amateurs unhappy.
Programming can either be done from the handset itself (it has a numeric keypad and a menu system) using the supplied manual written very well grammar English. You may find this quite frustrating (I did) but it works (sort of) in an emergency and a good bit of experimenting.
The better way, especially if you don't know what you are doing, is to find a more experienced radio operator with a special cable, a computer, and the right software (available for free) who will program your radio for you. The Sheriff's Auxiliary has a cable (just one at the moment) and software. With another special cable, it is fairly easy to copy one radio to another. Generally speaking, you will have someone in any community who knows how to do this and will often do so for a small fee which helps them pay for the special equipment needed. The Sheriff's Auxiliary will help people with this in Lawrence County (small donation for a set of radios helpful, maybe $10 for a family). The folks in Cedar County have someone up there that they use (ask Jerry Diamond). If at a loss, go to a local amateur radio, ARES, or Skywarn meeting and ask for help.
Portable Radio Fundamentals Class
Our next run of the Portable Radio Fundamentals Class will be Saturday, 10 August from 0900-1400 at the Lawrence County EOC (basement of the new Justice Center).
This will be a two-part course starting from basic radio use (how to turn it on, change channels, and talk) to the basics of team tactical radio use in an emergency situation. It will cover passing messages accurately, working with a dispatcher/ net-control, and so forth, with a practice session at the end of each part. The course is targeted at CERT use and qualifies for the Sheriff's Auxiliary radio requirement, but will also provide skills useful to neighborhood watch, patrolling for cattle rustlers, neighborhood/family emergencies, and so forth.
The class is free to the public, donations appreciated. Please bring your own radios if you have them, your manuals, charged and with spare batteries so you can learn how they function and practice with them. We will mainly be working with FRS/GMRS radios in the class and will have a small number to loan.
If you did not purchase radios in this order and wish to purchase radios prior to the class, we recommend the Midland GXT-1000 FRS/GMRS radios ( http://www.amazon.com/Midland-GXT1000VP4-36-Mile-50-Channel-Two-Way/dp/B001WMFYH4 currently $58.56 per pair) for their durability, or for a professional-grade radio, the WOUXUN KGU-V6D ( http://www.amazon.com/Wouxun-KG-UV6D-Handheld-136-174-Transceiver/dp/B0076T2C9U/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1374620599&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=WOUXUN+KGU-V6D
) which will work for GMRS, Commercial, or Amateur Radio. We will be facilitating more bulk radio orders periodically; the next one is scheduled to close on 20 September. The Midland radio is UHF for FRS and GMRS (more below). The WOUXUN is a dual-band VHF/UHF commercial and public service radio.
RSVP is appreciated so we know how many copies of materials to make. The materials for this class are online.
Radio Services, Licensing, Programming, etc.
The following sections will contain links to specific information and How-Tos as we get them written and posted. Check back as it grows and changes.
Life and Death Emergencies
It is always legal for you to use any radio, at any power, on any channel specifically to make a distress call when your life (or someone else's) is genuinely in danger. For example, if you are trapped in a storm shelter with a collapsed building on top of you. If you do not know how to do anything else, turn the radio on, push the button to talk, then let go so you can listen and others can talk. Hopefully someone with a scanner will pick you up and alert rescuers. Better, though, is to learn what you are doing ahead of time.
Family Radio Service (FRS)
The Family Radio Service or FRS is a short-range Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) land mobile radio service which requires no license to use. FRS radios are intentionally limited in power and range so that many people can use them without interfering with each other or with other radio services. The Midland FRS/GMRS radio will work for FRS and will not require a license on low power (1/2 watt max) on channels 1-14. They will generally cover 1/4 mile up to maybe a mile and will not penetrate solid structures. The remaining channels and higher power requires a General Mobile License (see below). Many people use the GMRS features without a license and enforcement of the rules is poor. For our part, we will refer to guideline #6 above "Use them legally and responsibly". FRS channels 1-7 are shared with GMRS so that FRS and GMRS users can talk to each other. FRS channel 1 is recommended as the national emergency and traveler information channel (like channel 9 on a CB). So, if you need to call for help, try channel 1 first.
It is always legal to program a radio to listen to the FRS-only channels.
Radios like the WOUXUN KG-UV6D which have detachable antennas are not allowed to transmit on the FRS-only channels.
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
GMRS is FRS' big brother. It is a land-mobile UHF radio service for personal, family, and business use. GMRS radios are allowed higher power, better antennas, may have detachable antennas, and sometimes can use repeaters (if supported by the radio or programming). GMRS can talk to FRS on channels 1-7 and can use higher power on those shared channels and on the GMRS-only channels 15-22. GMRS also allows mobile radios (for vehicle use), base stations, and repeaters up to 50W for potential coverage of 20-30 miles. A typical GMRS handheld will cover maybe 3 miles to another handheld in good terrain. The vendor claims of up to 36 miles are simply fantastic and should not be believed.
The WOUXUN KG-UV6D has a transmit/receive range which will allow it to be programmed for GMRS use, which CERT here uses for emergency response. Because FRS channel 1 is recommended for emergency use and GMRS radios can hear channel 1, GMRS radios and their higher power, better antennas can be very valuable in emergencies for talking to trapped victims (someone stuck in a storm shelter under a collapsed home, for instance). If you, yourself, are trapped, it is always legal for you to use higher power to try to get help (your life is in danger) even if you have no license.
Using GMRS requires a license and permitted equipment. The license costs money (currently $85 for 5 years, likely to be increased to 10 years) but there is no test, and your whole family can use one license (children, parents, brothers, sisters, even aunts, uncles). For families it can therefore be very cheap. You simply have to read the rules, agree to follow them, and pay the fee. Instructions for getting the license is in our CommunicationsHandbook.
Amateur Radio License (Ham)
Amateur Radio covers a number of different types of technology on different bands and includes voice radio, video, data, computer networking, TV signals, and so forth. Amateur Radio is intended for hobbyists, competition, personal use, emergency communication, encouraging innovation and exploration. Amateur Radio is self-policing. The Amateur Radio Relay League, the organization of amateur radio enthusiasts, sets its own rules, decides on training, and designs the tests for the different levels of licensing. The main reason for licensing is simply to ensure that people who use the Ham bands know enough about what they are doing so they won't ruin it for everyone else. If 300 people in Lawrence County (for instance) picked up amateur radios tomorrow with no rules and no training, it would be pure chaos and no one would be able to use their radios effectively. For those who dislike the FCC on priciple, and don't want to just pay money for a GMRS license, consider Amateur Radio. The only cost is the testing fee (usually $15) to pay the costs of the volunteers and filing and tests can usually be taken at HamFests, local radio society meetings, ARES and SkyWarn meetings.
Amateur Radio may not be used for commericial purposes. So, if you want to also use your radios for your family business, you may want to look at GMRS or Business (Part 90) radio.
The WOUXUN KG-UV6D radios are commercial radios which may be used for amateur radio (with a license) on the 2-meter VHF and 70 cm UHF (440 mhz) bands. Generally speaking, 2m/VHF is better in semi-forested areas because leaves don't block it as much. It will also often better penetrate or get out of buildings. UHF is often better inside buildings or in urban settings. You can also program your radio to listen to HAM traffic even if you don't have a license. It can be useful to listen to the local SkyWarn (storm spotter) repeater, for instance, as you will often get up-to-the-second weather information from spotters in the field. The KG-UV6D is not particularly useful as a scanner (searching for and listening to traffic over many channels). If you want to do that, you can get a dedicated scanner, which are often inexpensive new or used.
See "VFO Note" below.
The Part 90 Business Band is a land-mobile VHF radio service for commercial users. Businesses purchase a license for use by their employees. The WOUXUN KG-UV6D will work as a commercial radio if properly programmed.
See "VFO Note" below.
The Part-90 Public Service UHF/VHF channels are for emergency responders and other public service workers. In Lawrence County, the 150mhz Public Service channels are well-used for fire, police, public works, EMS, and so forth. Public service organizations get a license from the FCC which can then be used by their employees/volunteers. Sheriff's Auxiliary volunteers who meet the Sheriff's training standards, for instance, can use the law enforcement channels (or talk to other organizations as needed) using the Sheriff's Office's Part 90 license. We want to make sure we have access to enough Public Service radios in the Sheriff's Auxiliary to make sure that our core staff and a number of volunteers can communicate in a disaster where the phone networks and text messaging may not work. For this purpose, we have an on-call calendar and want volunteers to carry a radio everywhere (we cannot control when a disaster will strike or where we might be).
The WOUXUN KG-UV6D can be programmed for Public Service for people who are licensed. It is also legal to program a radio to listen to Public Service traffic (people with scanners do it all the time). Because we work directly with law enforcement, however, and have access to the county communication plans, some of which is confidential, there is some information (about specific channels and what they are used for) that we may not give out. We can't stop you from finding out for yourself, and there are sources online for information people have figured out from scanners, but we, ourselves, have to be careful. We will happily help you program the publicly posted channels used for disasters, though (published in a document called the NIFOG).
[VFO Note:] There is an odd requirement in both GMRS, Public Service, Commercial Service that a radio "type accepted" (read "approved") for either one cannot have an accessible VFO. VFO means Variable Frequency Operation and means the ability to tune the radio to random frequencies. In amateur radio, VFO mode is common and you can simply turn the dial or punch in a frequency from the keypad (best to read and understand your local "Band Plan" first so you know what frequencies have been blocked out for particular uses, such as repeater use, calling, Morse Code, video, or whatever, otherwise chaos will ensue. In these other services, all operation is done from pre-stored, pre-programmed channels which the end user is not allowed to change (without reprogramming the radio). What this means is that most amateur radios have VFOs and therefore cannot be used for these other services by definition. However, some manufacturers get around this by automatically locking out/disabling the VFO as soon as you program GMRS, Commercial, or Public Service channels. Therefore, if you program your radio, do not be surprised when the VFO stops working. This is frustrating to emergency responders because it can be very useful (read "life saving") for Search and Rescue to directly tune a First Responder radio in the field to match a distress call which someone has received (if the radio operator knows what they are doing). The KG-UV6D has this lock-out feature however, and that is what allows it to be licensed for more than one service, so in the end we have to suffer with this "feature".
Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS)
Just for completeness, we will mention MURS. MURS is a short-range, land-mobile VHF radio service similar in character to GMRS but closer to the HAM 2-meter band in performance (works well in wooded areas). There are five channels which require no license to use, but... the rules for MURS are complex, almost incomprehensible, and frankly stupid. The WOUXUN KG-UV6D can physically be programmed to MURS but we are fairly certain it is not legal. In fact, it is very difficult to find any radios on the market at all which may be (legally) used for MURS. Some businesses such as Wal-Mart use MURS heavily for their own communications, but you cannot buy their radios. (!!!)
There are people out there who use MURS, however, some legally, some not, and it is popular with hunters. For that reason, we may want to program some radios to listen to MURS and some of our first responder radios to transmit back in emergency/disaster use in case victims are making MURS distress calls (say, if a Wal-Mart collapses...).
Another commonly used radio service, almost always illegally in Missouri, is the Marine VHF service. Not, surprisingly, the Marine VHF service is meant for boating, water navigation, and maritime distress calls ("Hey folks, I'm sinking..."). Because Missouri is inland, many people use Marine VHF radios (or program their commercial handheld radios to those channels), and there are a few Public Service channels (e.g. VTAC17) which overlap with Marine channels and are used in inland parts of the country. However, because of proximity to inland waterways, those channels are not permitted in Lawrence County.
Cattle thieves apparently use Marine VHF with some frequency in our area, so it can be very useful to have a radio programmed to listen to them. The amateur radio group in this area occasionally teaches and runs "fox hunts" where you learn to detect and locate a transmitting radio using your own handheld. Put two and two together.