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Author Topic: In an emergency how do you communicate with your non-ham family  (Read 19991 times)
JAPIE
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« on: March 13, 2011, 09:49:51 AM »

When following the news about Japan the number one issue is communication.  As a ham I would like to have some suggestions about what to buy for my non-ham family members.

I looked at several options like FRS GMRS and CB but non of them seem sufficient.

The suggestions I am looking for are of course legal suggestions but I do realize that I will not care for any legal issues if my daughter or son is in trouble.  I just like to give them a tool that they will use when internet, cell phone and land lines are gone.

73's

japie

« Last Edit: March 13, 2011, 10:39:37 AM by JAPIE » Logged
KG4RUL
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« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2011, 10:02:10 AM »

Two questions:

Distances over which you intend to communicate?

Terrain over which you intend to communicate?
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JAPIE
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« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2011, 10:24:11 AM »

Hi KG4RUL

In case of an emergency most factors fluctuate.  If one of the members is in another state I would not know the terrain nor the distance, but if she is able to communicate with someone she would be ahead of the came.

I know the HT will not get me far.  But if I climb on a high building I will get further.  So these things will be explained to my family members.  I also could make a foldaway J-pole that can be packed.

So for now lets keep the situation restricted to:

Maximum distance between me and my family member 7 miles
Terrain is: Suburbs in Rolling hills of PA

Simple in use is of course also important.


Thanks for you response.
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G8KHS
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« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2011, 10:44:59 AM »

In your situation I would look at 2metres because of the good supply of many types of different equipment that would suit your family's needs.

Your suggestion of a jpole is good, but a small yagi like the ones from sota beams in the uk would be better.
You could make a quick clamp to mount it on an apartment balcony.

More important you should have a real serious talk to your kids about getting just a basic ham licence so they will be fully legal.
Once they have a licence then they can ignore ham radio until they really need it.


73 John G8KHS
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KG4RUL
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« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2011, 12:08:09 PM »

A 2M HT will suffer from the same problems as GMRS or MURS radios when used in simplex mode, namely a very limited range with intervening terrain.

Providing all family members are licensed, if the emergency you are alluding to is localized, the 2M HT, with a suitable external antenna, may give you extended range you are seeking, via the use of repeaters outside your immediate area.  If the emergency is regional, you are toast, so to speak.
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AF6WI
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« Reply #5 on: March 13, 2011, 02:01:15 PM »

> The suggestions I am looking for are of course legal suggestions
> but I do realize that I will not care for any legal issues if my
> daughter or son is in trouble.  I just like to give them a tool that
> they will use when internet, cell phone and land lines are gone.

I understand your position, however: I live in earthquake country, and I often speak to people who feel the same way. They want to buy a handheld transceiver to use only when their cell and landlines fail. I hand them mine and say give me a call. They have no clue. They can't even turn it on. No frequency, no schedule, no nothing. Even having an HT that you can turn on means nothing if you don't know how to use it, what frequency to use, and how to schedule a contact. It's not a cell phone that you call somebody on and their radio rings with the right frequency set up already.

The issue isn't the radio, it's the users. They need to know how to use it, when to use it, and what frequency to use. The issue is training.

Seven miles might be too far for an HT in the rolling hills of PA. My suggestion is satellite phones, although they're horribly expensive. If your family isn't willing to learn how to use the radios (which means having a license) and to use them enough to remember how to operate when there's a disaster, then radios of whatever system (Amateur, GMRS) aren't going to be of use.

If you get ham licenses and base-station or mobile radios of 25W or so, you'll be able to communicate fine with proper antennas. All you'll need are plans for how and when to communicate. You should be able to reach repeaters outside your area and leave messages with other hams who monitor that repeater and who will be happy to help.

There are packet stations that will receive and hold "email" for you to let each other know health and welfare status; around the world sailors use packet to stay in contact with home and family even when they're not on the air simultaneously. There are some great solutions for hams, but you have to have licenses to use the systems.

Otherwise, I recommend satphones.
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W3LK
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« Reply #6 on: March 13, 2011, 04:06:57 PM »

I agree completely with AF6WI.

With several years of actual disaster communications experience under my belt, IMHO the most reliable means of communication will be the Sat phone, and as has been said, they are NOT cheap and neither is the service. If my memory is correct, the last ones my agency bought were in the $1,200-$1,300 range and Sat time was on the order of $3/minute - and that was with a bulk -time contract. True, that was about five years ago, but I doubt that the prices have changed appreciably.

Anything that relies on a repeater is useless when the power is off; VHF/UHF simplex, under the best of circumstances, is short range, typically under five miles. Seven miles in rolling hills is iffy, at best. It's not something I would bet my life on.

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K9KJM
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« Reply #7 on: March 13, 2011, 11:41:04 PM »

I agree.

The BEST solution is for everyone to get a ham license, Some equipment, And USE it on a regular basis to see how it all works.

Lacking that,  GMRS would be your best low cost choice.  Same rules, USE it to see how it works.
While something like MURS might work slightly better than GMRS, Prices for equipment are much higher.


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NN4RH
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« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2011, 03:13:32 AM »

When following the news about Japan the number one issue is communication.  As a ham I would like to have some suggestions about what to buy for my non-ham family members.


The "number one issue" following a disaster like that is NOT communication, but survival.

Food. Water. Sanitation. Shelter. Medical care.

Think about that stuff ahead of time.  Learn how to survive. Cache supplies. Make plans ahead of time on options for where the family members should rendevous, or when it's better to shelter in place. Everyone in the family should learn how to take care of themselves.

An HT isn't going to be of much help if you're otherwise unprepared to survive. All it lets you do is MAYBE call each other to whine about how bad off you are. That's assuming that everyone kept their batteries charged remembered to bring their radio with them when they left the house.

Ham radio or GMRS or  is not going to save you. Eventually the infrastructure will come back up. Eventually the cell phone system and Twitter and Facespace and Google People Finder will all be available. Your problem is to stay alive and safe until it does.


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LA9XSA
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« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2011, 05:34:54 AM »

Sure, anyone is allowed to use any radio equipment and any gear to raise the alarm about a life-or-death calamity, but that does not mean that your kids can use any radio to say "hey dad, how are you and the family dog coping with the hurricane?" - that's still illegal. It just means that they are allowed to, for example, grab an injured police officer's radio and say "help, we're stuck on a roof drifting out to sea - please call the coast guard" or "a dam is about to break".

I suppose you could give them a 2 meter amateur radio or a marine VHF radio - but then they would ONLY be allowed to use it to call for life-saving assistance. They are not allowed to transmit otherwise.

If you want to talk at will to your kids over long distances without infrastructure, you all need licenses for HF frequencies, and have pre-arranged times and approximate frequencies.

So do we all have to become radio amateurs then? No. If you just want to know that your kids are alive, pre-arrange to have a couple of dependable out-of-state family members or friends serve as contact points. Then use phone, internet, or amateur radio to get a message to them that you're alright.

In the US and Canada, some radio amateurs take part in the so-called National Traffic System, which passes formal emergency, priority, welfare, and routine radiogram messages all across the country. Some of these amateurs are stationed at county and state emergency centers, while others are stationed at Red Cross and Salvation Army shelters - some are just radio amateurs in the neighborhood who keep in touch with their neighbors by foot, CB or GMRS. Amateurs outside the affected area can pass messages to and from these locations by phone or digitally.

Let's say a hurricane or tsunami knocks out phone and internet in large areas of your state. You send a welfare message to your in-laws in Texas saying, effectively "From Ronald, at Red Cross shelter in Fairfax. I'm OK. Have you heard from the kids?". Your welfare message will take precedence over routine messages, but will have to wait if there's any life-saving emergency or official priority messages which need to be sent first. When the message reaches out of the affected area, an amateur in the NTS will call your in-laws on the phone and pass on the message, then ask if they want to give a reply. That reply is then passed along to the amateur radio operator at your shelter. This process can take some hours.

If you're lucky enough to live in a area where radio amateurs also monitor CB and GMRS radio, then a CB or GMRS radio might be useful in a disaster, to keep in touch with their neighbors and getting messages passed out of the area by radio amateurs.

The "number one issue" following a disaster like that is NOT communication, but survival.

Food. Water. Sanitation. Shelter. Medical care.
Communication is actually essential to achieve those things. How do you call for medical evacuation? How do you get out word that you're stuck on a rooftop? That your shelter is running out of fuel and toilet paper? Where reinforcements are needed? That your part of the city is un-damaged?

Sure, for most private individuals stuck in a disaster, their main concern is to tell their loved ones that they're still alive; while that is important psychologically, and to avoid diverting search- and rescue operations needlessly, it's the official priority and life-saving emergency communications which are even more important. Amateur radio can truly save lives and lessen hardships in that way.

Ham radio or GMRS or  is not going to save you.
It can help you get help, and it can help coordinate emergency relief efforts. Communication is pretty essential.
There have been disasters where there were enough resources, but where problems were caused due to poor communications and control.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2011, 05:55:13 AM by LA9XSA » Logged
JAPIE
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« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2011, 08:22:49 AM »

Great replies guys.  And I realize all the limitations. 

I  have Japanese news here and can see the last minute news and the two tings that they keep talking about is 1. Water and 2. Communication

I think that is just so interesting.  At home we have some preparation ready to go like two big containers with about ten gallons of water.  A container with camping equipment and an RV with supplies ready to go at anytime. We also are CERT trained.

Still I think we are not prepared sufficiently as the people in Japan get weekly training for this and they were not prepared enough, just because of the magnitude of the disaster.  So I will change some of the things at home and hopefully the kids have a better open ear for disaster planning after seeing this.

We can learn a lot from this. 

Please keep feeding this tread maybe someone does have an idea that we did not think about.

Many thanks

j






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LA9XSA
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« Reply #11 on: March 14, 2011, 09:06:17 AM »

Thank you. Please tell us about what you learn, and what you decide to do. (Except any parts which might benefit burglars.)

Have you taken the advice to arrange an out-of-state contact point?

Do you have an emergency plan for the family which you exercise a couple times each year? Pick a likely scenario for your area - flooding, bush fires, house fires out of control - and exercise it.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2011, 09:08:24 AM by LA9XSA » Logged
K5LXP
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« Reply #12 on: March 14, 2011, 11:41:27 AM »

I suspect the issue of lack of communications isn't on the personal, but region level.  Major infrastructure was taken out.

It's a given there are thousands of people in desperate straits by now, and even if each of them had a working cell phone it wouldn't change anything at this stage.  Everything's broken and services are overwhelmed.  Stand in line.

The best thing to do for the family is teach self reliance.  Having the knowlege and tools to make it through without any help or communication from you.  The best training for them would start with "make believe I'm not here" and go from there.  You may be out of commission or too busy saving your own skin to be worried about helping someone else a city, county or state away.

Ham radio may play a small part in that but the big ones are water, food and shelter.  Worrying won't kill anyone so better to be equipped and survive than playing around with radios calling for help that may never come.  That can work when you're a lone hiker lost in the woods or a boat foundering at sea but disasters present a whole different dynamic.


Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM


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K7RBW
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« Reply #13 on: March 14, 2011, 10:19:42 PM »

I thought it was interesting how only moments after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, there were text messages, tweets, facebook updates, and you-tube videos posted on line. Granted some of those came from areas that were less damaged, but it shows that the cell phones shouldn't be discounted completely. Also, isn't it likely that text messages are more likely to go through (if there's any service at all) even if the voice channels are all jammed up?
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K7RBW
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« Reply #14 on: March 14, 2011, 10:25:07 PM »

Buy now! It looks like sat phones are having a promotion: http://www.globalstar.com/en/index.php?cid=1250
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