Directions on use of GMRS radios in Stake Communication

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retiredtech
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Directions on use of GMRS radios in Stake Communication

Postby retiredtech » Wed Sep 21, 2011 3:15 pm

Can you direct me to the correct forum or church group who may address the issue of using the GMRS radios in Stake emergency communication.

Richard

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Postby russellhltn » Wed Sep 21, 2011 3:25 pm

We've discussed emergency communications elsewhere on the forum. The first issue is getting licenses. IIRC that's $80/family.
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Postby Mikerowaved » Wed Sep 21, 2011 4:49 pm

retiredtech wrote:Can you direct me to the correct forum or church group who may address the issue of using the GMRS radios in Stake emergency communication.

Richard

Are you talking about actual GMRS radios, or the FRS/GMRS radios you can pick up from Walmart, Radio Shack, etc.? I've done quite a bit of research into the latter and can maybe help you sort out the confusion over licensed vs unlicensed usage.
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retiredtech
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Postby retiredtech » Thu Sep 22, 2011 8:23 am

I have 60 years experience in RF communications with an extra class amateur radio license and a 1st class FCC license with Radar endorsement so am full aware of the technology in the FRS/GMRS world. The problem is that my stake uses the FRS/GMRS radios purchased from Costco/Walmart for emergency communication tests each month. Every ward and the stake are assigned GMRS channels but there are no GMRS licenses for any of the users (I do have a license). So basically the stake is in violation of the FCC rules by using these GMRS channels. The 500 mw FRS channels provide insufficient coverage through out the stake. So what I need is a reading from the church authorities on what are the legal issues here. We have several MURS units that work quite well but the 2-5 watt GMRS work the best. Is the FCC monitoring truck going to catch us, probably not as there are hundreds of thousands of these units across the country in violation of the rules too. But anyway....

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Postby techgy » Thu Sep 22, 2011 8:27 am

retiredtech wrote:I have 60 years experience in RF communications with an extra class amateur radio license and a 1st class FCC license with Radar endorsement so am full aware of the technology in the FRS/GMRS world. The problem is that my stake uses the FRS/GMRS radios purchased from Costco/Walmart for emergency communication tests each month. Every ward and the stake are assigned GMRS channels but there are no GMRS licenses for any of the users (I do have a license). So basically the stake is in violation of the FCC rules by using these GMRS channels. The 500 mw FRS channels provide insufficient coverage through out the stake. So what I need is a reading from the church authorities on what are the legal issues here. We have several MURS units that work quite well but the 2-5 watt GMRS work the best. Is the FCC monitoring truck going to catch us, probably not as there are hundreds of thousands of these units across the country in violation of the rules too. But anyway....


The real issue here is that, as church members, we agree that we will follow the laws of the land. This practice is a dangerous one and could land the church in trouble with the FCC and have huge fines levied..
Have you read the Code of Conduct?

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Postby retiredtech » Thu Sep 22, 2011 8:41 am

Exactly what I am telling the stake communications specialist who has no communications experience at all. My next stop is to the stake president and review these issues with him and put more emphasis on using amateur radio for these communications tests with the MURS units as secondary. My guess is that we are not the only stake using the GMRS transceivers with no regard to the FCC rules.

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Postby russellhltn » Thu Sep 22, 2011 10:29 am

retiredtech wrote:So what I need is a reading from the church authorities on what are the legal issues here.


I think there's only one answer the church can give - follow the law. What's the law? I'd suggest carefully reading all the paperwork that comes with those FRS/GMRS units.

At $80/license, that would go a long ways toward the cost of a amateur radio setup.

You might also consider what's going to happen if communications goes out. Everyone who has one of those units will be getting on. You might have more "company" then you want. There's a lot more "channels" on amateur radio.
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Postby retiredtech » Thu Sep 22, 2011 2:04 pm

I agree. I was finally able to contact the church on this issue and the answer is, as we both know, follow the law. The cost of the GMRS license is actually $85 for 5 years. There is an interesting movement since late last year at the FCC and that is they are looking at eliminating the license requirements for the GMRS frequencies. It is currently tabled but that would change a few decisions on what equipment to use. The idea of everyone being on the GMRS frequencies during an actual emergency is very real. That occurred many times years ago on the old CB band at 27 MHz. If we can just get more people in the stake to get interested in Ham radio then this would not be an issue at all. Thanks for all the input....

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Postby russellhltn » Thu Sep 22, 2011 2:13 pm

retiredtech wrote:There is an interesting movement since late last year at the FCC and that is they are looking at eliminating the license requirements for the GMRS frequencies.


Long term, I suspect that's what will happen. Or at least greatly reduce the fee. It's happened before with CB.

But, I doubt if you can wait for that.

retiredtech wrote:If we can just get more people in the stake to get interested in Ham radio then this would not be an issue at all.


That's the route that the stakes in my area have done. (Does the "Bandwagon effect" help?) Now if we can just wean them off repeaters....
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Postby Mikerowaved » Thu Sep 22, 2011 2:39 pm

Sorry this is a bit long, but this is a very common question and I wanted others reading to know of some alternatives they might not have considered. Every situation is different, so some of my answers might not apply to wards/stakes outside of the Wasatch Front area of Utah.

retiredtech wrote:I have 60 years experience in RF communications with an extra class amateur radio license and a 1st class FCC license with Radar endorsement so am full aware of the technology in the FRS/GMRS world.

That's for clearing that up. When someone tosses a rather vague question out to the forum, we have no idea the background of the person asking. I'm also a retired RF/Microwave engineer with an Extra Class. For the past several years I've been volunteering as an AEC for ARES with responsibility for the city of Layton. I work closely with the 13 stakes here to try to help each develop an emergency communication plan, that can also tie into the city, county, and/or church communication plans, and I can safely say, it not easy.

retiredtech wrote:The problem is that my stake uses the FRS/GMRS radios purchased from Costco/Walmart for emergency communication tests each month. Every ward and the stake are assigned GMRS channels but there are no GMRS licenses for any of the users (I do have a license). So basically the stake is in violation of the FCC rules by using these GMRS channels. The 500mw FRS channels provide insufficient coverage through out the stake.

To comply with the FCC rules, all of these radios are designed to throttle back their power to 500mW on channels 8-14, which are the non-shared FRS frequencies. Without any other adjustments to the radios, these are the ONLY frequencies users are allowed to transmit on without a license. (If a user voluntarily sets the power to the lowest setting, they can "technically" also use channels 1-7, but getting people to do this is not easy.) No, they probably won't cover the whole stake, but they should cover most of the small-sized wards found in many areas around Utah.

Something not understood by others is that radios that operate on FRS channels 8-14 are not only manufactured to only put out 500mW, but they also must have non-removable antennas. Since channels 1-7 are also shared with the GMRS service, a user can easily be "stepped on" by someone operating their radio at the full 5W, or even someone with a commercial GMRS radio putting out 50W with a gain antenna. Besides the legal issue, that's why I strongly encourage only using channels 8-14. They should have the least amount of QRM during a wide spread emergency, maximizing their chances of getting a message through. Of course, this won't protect users from someone who has illegally modified their ham (or commercial) radios to operate on these frequencies, but that can't be avoided. (Oh, and good luck trying to explain to non-techies that sub-channels are nothing more than CTCSS and does NOT give them access to additional frequencies. :rolleyes:)

Stakes should also be aware that many families in the area have also purchased these types of radios for hunting, skiing, and other family activities, and may want to use them in an emergency. There may also be CERT teams in the area using FRS/GMRS radios to keep in touch with each other. You can't rule out malicious users either. As many hunters have found out, it only takes one knucklehead out there somewhere to screw up the frequency for a whole bunch of others. It's important to let your stake know that while these radios may work during their weekly or monthly drills, having them work successfully during a real event might be a whole different story.

So what are the alternatives? You mentioned recommending ham radios. The problem is, unless you get off the 2m/70cm bands, looking at the Utah VHF Society Simplex Frequency Usage page for the Wasatch Front quickly shows you're going to have a very difficult time finding any simplex frequencies to use that have not already been pre-assigned to others. All of these simplex frequencies are generally open for regular amateur use, except when an emergency arises. Good or bad, the assignments the VHF Society have issued are to help prevent confusion when we absolutely have to make the most of the amateur airwaves and they should be respected.

MURS is a possibility, but only having 5 frequencies available severely limits it's usefulness. It might be acceptable for communicating between ward and stake buildings, but probably not for general stake-wide usage.

CB radio is often overlooked as a viable means of communication. Used hand-held units are available for pretty cheap, and except for some occasional chatter on channel 19, CB airwaves around here are surprisingly quiet.

TriSquare's EXtreme Radio Service (eXRS) is a promising possibility some are looking at for ward/stake use. It's an unlicensed digital 900MHz spread spectrum service with great privacy and frequency sharing claims. The radios are similarly priced to full-featured FRS/GMRS radios and are available at many Walmart stores, as well as Amazon.com and other retailers. Some reviewers don't think the range is quite as good as a 5W GMRS HT radio, but then again, they are comparing a licensed to unlicensed service too. Compared with FRS, they absolutely outperform. The reviewer's test conditions probably don't take into consideration the differences in the 70cm to 33cm bands either. The latter being attenuated a bit more by walls, trees, and other obstacles in the pathway. Lastly, as we know from D-STAR, digital communications don't degrade as gracefully as analog in poor conditions either, so there's that to consider. All in all, not a bad choice.

So what do you recommend to the stake? Here's an interesting story. You're probably familiar with Mel Parkes (NM7P), who is the ARRL Section Manager for the state of Utah, he also wears the hat of Stake Communications Specialist in his home stake in Layton. As involved as he is in the airwaves, should telephones and/or cell phones become unusable, the primary means of communications he's implemented for his stake is called "BOB", or "Boy On Bike". While boys on bikes may not always be used, this is his term for ANY hand-carried message. Radios will be used only as a backup, or in cases where time of delivery can't wait. I can't argue with his logic that sometimes the simplest means could be the most effective, especially for the large amount of "routine" messages that would otherwise crowd the airwaves.
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