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Author Topic: Ham Radio and Search and Rescue  (Read 32009 times)
KF7VXA
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Posts: 568




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« on: January 22, 2015, 02:36:51 PM »

I live in a rural community that draws quite a few outsiders to Ski, Mountain bike and Climb the mountains in our area.
As a result, we get more than a few SAR call outs due to people getting in over their heads or the "Hold my beer and watch this" type activities.
Our SAR unit only had one person who is a ham radio operator and takes care of the radio end of the rescues.
The SAR unit has it's own VHF frequency, radios, a couple of repeaters in the area and a portable repeater.
Having only one person with radio experience sometimes limits the ability for good communication.
As a result, our Ares/Races group was asked if we would like to get SAR trained and help with communications. Most of us are too old or beat up to strap on a 50 lb. pack and hump it up several thousand feet into the mountains, but we are able to man the SAR trailer that also houses the communications gear. This frees up others to get into the field and also helps insure that the Comms are done correctly and technical problems can be handled.
The one SAR member who is a Ham also carries a 2M/70CM handheld for those times when the SAR radios cannot get out a signal due to location. Many times a Ham repeater can be accessed when the SAR radio's are in a dead spot.
Bottom line. I have got a lot of good training and have found another way that my radio experience (limited as it is) can be used to help the community.
We have got a total of 5 other amateurs trained in SAR, so there is always someone to help when needed.
As a bonus, we get some great discounts on winter clothing, boots and even some commercial radio gear. We also get to take out a 4 Wheeler, Snow sled or the "Hummer" whenever we want to. We just have to have a SAR radio with us in case the equipment is needed.
This gives us more experience in operating these machines safely.
This is just one more way your experience in Radio can be put to good use and just maybe save a life or two.
I also get to work with a great bunch of people. It has it's rewards.

John
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KB8VUL
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Posts: 200




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« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2015, 04:42:31 PM »

My take is to build infrastructure for the SAR group on commercial licensed frequencies.  A recognized SAR group is typically considered to be public safety when activated.  Due to that I would be also discussing access to pubic safety infrastructure for the SAR group when they are activated and doing an active search.  The hams on here will no doubt throw a duck fit that I am saying this but here's the hard truth.  Public safety equipment is typically way better maintained than ham gear because it simply HAS to work.  If a repeater owner (ham) decides that his repeater Doesn't need repaired right away, it just don't get fixed.  If a cop or fire repeater is down, then it's treated as a big deal.  Trust me, I professionally work in them and it's a BIG deal when they don't work.   The other thing to look into is a in-band vehicular repeater for your mobiles.  If you are driving into the area and then getting out to do the search work, it's a good piece of hardware to have.  And you can upgrade the power storage (batteries) on your Gator or utility 4X4 quad and run one on that.  They increase the talk out and talk in on the portable radios and give them the performance of a mobile. 

I understand the idea of using ham.  The cost factor makes it very appealing.  But the cost factor can't be the only consideration when talking about life safety
 
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KF7VXA
Member

Posts: 568




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« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2015, 05:17:14 PM »

The SAR equipment is well maintained including having a back up generator at the main repeater site. The idea to have Hams be included in the SAR group is to free up other members and have people more experienced with communications. The idea is not to replace the SAR VHF with ham gear, it's just an extra if needed. The SAR radios have great coverage. Now when they are forced to go to 700 MHz, that's going to be a different story. All the hills and valleys are going to cause problems. 700MHz may work OK in the flat lands, but with the many hills and valleys, all bets are off.
John
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KB8VUL
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Posts: 200




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« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2015, 03:58:35 AM »

Yeah, that makes more sense.  I somehow took what you said as if someone had got you to drink the "ham is the last best hope for humanity" Koolaid.  Don't get me wrong, ham radio has a place in EMCOMM, it's just not reasonable to put any real reliance in it as a "go to" source for primary communications.  In all honesty, getting a ham license ain't real hard.  I got mine 20 years ago after they created the no code tech license and have been some level of active ever since.  Becoming a professional radio tech does tend to steer away from the hobby part of radio due to working on them all day long but I still get on the local repeater from time to time and occasionally fire up the HF rig.  You might find out about a couple local clubs and go to a meeting and ask if anyone would be interested in doing some work with the SAR group though.  Most hams are pretty helpful in that regard and I am betting that you will get a few that will commit to it.
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KF7VXA
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Posts: 568




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« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2015, 10:00:07 PM »

We are in a rural area. Not a great deal of hams, maybe 20 in our area.
To be involved with even the radio portion of SAR, we had to get SAR qualified. SAR has a pretty good radio system; not much need for any amateur equipment except for those very few occasions where the SAR radios cannot make contact. In that case, we will of course try the amateur radios, but this is really not a part of anything Ares/Races or amateur radio related.
It was really just a good chance to get some good training and be a part of a great team of people.
I just thought others may want to consider getting involved in their local SAR groups and lend radio and other experience where needed.
No doubt that in a real wide spread emergency type situation, SAR would work with Ares/Races as to coordination of resources and any other things requested of us.
The biggest thing that could happen here would be Yellowstone blowing in which case we would be among the lucky one's to go very quickly. The rest of the USA and World would have hours, days, months and years to slowly freeze or starve.
Hope that one doesn't happen for many, many years.
73's John
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K5BBC
Member

Posts: 99




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« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2015, 08:58:33 AM »

.......Now when they are forced to go to 700 MHz, that's going to be a different story. All the hills and valleys are going to cause problems. 700MHz may work OK in the flat lands, but with the many hills and valleys, all bets are off.
John

Make sure the "Powers that Be" are made aware of this in a documented public meeting. They are easily blinded be the "Interoperability" sales pitch and grant money, and give up equipment and freqs that are superior to the new in many ways. Seems they throw away the old tool in favor of a new tool before considering or understanding what the two tools are used for.
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K5SLS
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Posts: 8




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« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2015, 10:54:19 AM »

Hello John.  Your post is a thoughtful sharing of information that I feel is of importance.  Thanks for that!  I got licensed as a Tech about a year and a half ago because I was a SAR volunteer in New Mexico.  Our SAR group encouraged all team members to take the Tech exam, to enhance communications.  When out on a search, we were issued radios and given the assigned SAR frequencies to work with.  But, as you probably are familiar with where you live, sometimes a simplex communication from a SAR ground pounder does not work if you are in a couple canyons over from the base command post.  But, we did have several good repeaters in the area that could be used ---- if you are a ham.  So, in my case, I was SAR, but not a ham originally.  Of course, I solved that by taking and passing the Tech test at a 2013 annual SAR meeting (called "Escape") in Ruidoso, NM.  I have since taken and passed the General, fyi.

Now, what you are describing is where one is a ham but not SAR.  We had a number of folks in our SAR group who were active as hams who volunteered for SAR so as to help out with comms.   In short, I highly encourage you and others to volunteer with SAR!  I suppose a perfect group would have all SAR team members be hams so that local repeaters could be used, etc.  In my case, having the ability to hit the repeaters as a HAM increased my usefulness.  It is indeed a great way to give back to the community and help save lives.  Our motto was "so that others may live."

One thing that we had to live with in SAR:  That our radios had to be what they called commercial and approved for SAR use. Moreover they had to meet the narrow banding requirements.  That meant that some regular Ham HT's do not qualify.  In my case, I bought a Wouxun KG-UVD1P HT, as part of a SAR group-buy that we had.  FYI, I know of some other SAR units that went for the Baofeng HTs, that were qualified and cost not a whole lot, like $40.

In summary, keep up with this!  Like you stated in your post, there are plenty of things to do around base camp that do not require one to be hiking in the back country 10 miles or more at age 70.  ARES + CERT + SAR = great community service contribution!

73

Steve
K5SLS
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KS4VT
Member

Posts: 165




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« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2015, 12:15:25 PM »

The SAR equipment is well maintained including having a back up generator at the main repeater site. The idea to have Hams be included in the SAR group is to free up other members and have people more experienced with communications. The idea is not to replace the SAR VHF with ham gear, it's just an extra if needed. The SAR radios have great coverage. Now when they are forced to go to 700 MHz, that's going to be a different story. All the hills and valleys are going to cause problems. 700MHz may work OK in the flat lands, but with the many hills and valleys, all bets are off.
John

There is NO federal requirement to go to 700 MHz.  700 MHz is additional spectrum that is available to public safety and the FCC is not forcing those on VHF or UHF (with the exception of 470MHz UHF T-Band) to remove themselves from any spectrum.  You license and use what works for your area.
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KF7VXA
Member

Posts: 568




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« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2015, 07:54:44 PM »

The SAR equipment is well maintained including having a back up generator at the main repeater site. The idea to have Hams be included in the SAR group is to free up other members and have people more experienced with communications. The idea is not to replace the SAR VHF with ham gear, it's just an extra if needed. The SAR radios have great coverage. Now when they are forced to go to 700 MHz, that's going to be a different story. All the hills and valleys are going to cause problems. 700MHz may work OK in the flat lands, but with the many hills and valleys, all bets are off.
John

There is NO federal requirement to go to 700 MHz.  700 MHz is additional spectrum that is available to public safety and the FCC is not forcing those on VHF or UHF (with the exception of 470MHz UHF T-Band) to remove themselves from any spectrum.  You license and use what works for your area.

That is good to know. I thought at some point that 700 Mhz was going to be mandatory.
Speaking for myself, I have some issues with my back, but can still do more than just operate radios. A couple others will just be able to do radio/logging,  a few others will do most anything. We are all getting all of the SAR training except maybe repelling in my case. The important thing is that we all have something to add to the SAR team. A great bunch of guys and gals. They do an amazing job in some pretty rough places. We can be at 40 below zero in winter to the low 90's in the summer, so we see it all weather wise except for tornados. I'm waiting for a CERT class, but being a retired LEO, I have a good handle on what to do in emergency's.
Being in a rural area, we have a lot of people who volunteer to help their friends and neighbors as well as our visitors. In any larger emergency, we will be on our own for a while. The people here are up to the task.

73's John
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KB8VUL
Member

Posts: 200




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« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2015, 03:40:01 AM »

While the 700 Mhz thing is not a FCC mandatory requirement, if you are simply a user on a system, it will be mandatory when the system owner switches if you want to be on the system.  A lot of state wide systems are going 700.  The sales pitch is it's clean frequencies and less interference.  Of course as systems are built out the noise floor nationally will go up. 
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KF7VXA
Member

Posts: 568




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« Reply #10 on: January 26, 2015, 01:02:12 PM »

The County Sheriff's office, FD and State Patrol have already gone 700Mhz. I really don't see any need for the SAR group to follow. I'm going to check with someone who knows for sure what will happen in the future.
I know the State Bull (SP) hates the 700 Mhz system. He's a resident State Patrolman and many times, he looses the ability to communicate with his dispatchers. It would be a disaster for SAR. The places we many times go don't do well on 700 Mhz.
I know the lead man in SAR will do everything possible to stay on the VHF system.
73's John
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KB8VUL
Member

Posts: 200




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« Reply #11 on: January 26, 2015, 05:27:34 PM »

I know just what you are saying.  You might also look at a cross band repeater (VHF to 700) if nothing else to have the ability. 
I guess the other thing I would be looking at is does ham coverage work where the VHF don't.
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KF7VXA
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Posts: 568




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« Reply #12 on: January 26, 2015, 08:05:52 PM »

The ham radio would work darn good in most places, but the real idea is to have a set up that allows us to use the VHF bands, allows comms with the Sheriff dept, ambulance, fire, ect.
I'm sure we'll figure it out. With any luck, we will figure a way to keep our VHF and have the 700 Mhz. also

73's John
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KB8VUL
Member

Posts: 200




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« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2015, 03:26:39 AM »

There is a company that makes a radio patch device called and NCS box.  It would give you the ability to patch 700 over to VHF if needed.  Might take a look at those.  We have several fire depts that are on 700/800 that run mutual aid with depts that are using VHF.  When they go on those runs, they set their VHF radio to the channel of that dept and turn on the box.  It cross patches the VHF with the 700/800 radios and everyone can talk to everyone else
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KF7VXA
Member

Posts: 568




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« Reply #14 on: February 04, 2015, 03:30:43 PM »

Our County Emergency Radio van has a NCS box, but SAR doesn't and money being a problem with smaller SAR groups, I doubt we'll ever have one. Sure would be nice though. They work great. We do have a commercial 700 Mhz Mobile radio as well as HT's for comms with the Sheriff and FD.
73's John
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