From: Bill Talanian, Trustee K6TZ
It is a fact that in recent years our SBARC repeaters have gone
fallow. The reasons vary and are not limited to SBARC as this has
become a nationwide reality. Many believe the advent of cellular
phones and the Internet has taken away the clientele from the once
active repeater systems. Perhaps it is time to rethink how we may
better use this asset for the general good in the event of a natural
or man-made disaster.
The below article suggests that Amateurs could monitor the Family
Radio Service (FRS) channels during emergencies and assist the
general public. But it also points out the limitations of the FRS
HT's. Looking at this in a different light we know that repeaters
are generally located on high places and oversee large urban
areas. Rather than have Amateurs monitor FRS channels and repeat the
traffic there is a case for repeating these distress signals over
repeater systems during emergencies. The infrastructure to monitor
the FRS channels is relatively in place. Integration of the FRS
channels is similar to what we now do with the 2 and 6 meter remote
base systems. Total reciprocity using an FRS HT may not always be
there but it is far better to use an existing repeater system than to
have Amateurs listening from their home locations.
If a National SOS system ever becomes a reality we need to have this
process vetted through the ARES and Club leadership. All I am
suggestion is the machinery to accomplish this task is pretty much in place.
Mobile Radio Technology
National SOS initiative sounds good -- at least in theory
By Glenn Bischoff
May 5, 2006
A grassroots initiative -- dubbed the National SOS Radio Network --
that announced new support this week (see story below) proposes
leveraging FRS radios to create a de facto emergency communications
network that the public could use when traditional wireline and
wireless communications networks have been rendered inoperable.
On the surface, the idea has some merit. According to National SOS,
about 100 million FRS-compatible radios already are in the hands of
the public nationwide, a figure that's expected to grow by about 12
million radios each year. The idea is that users could transmit
mayday messages that would be received by ham operators and GMRS
users monitoring FRS Channel 1. Given that there are about 700,000
licensed hams in the U.S. -- who already provide invaluable lifeline
communications during crises -- and another 70,000 licensed GMRS
users, it seems the infrastructure is in place to make the proposal a reality.
However, there are a few problems that need to be addressed before
the National SOS Radio Network comes to fruition -- chief among them
is that the national organization that represents amateur radio
operators seemingly is unaware of the initiative. ARRL Chief
Executive Officer David Sumner told me that my call to him seeking
comment was the first he'd heard of it. "ARRL is a big organization
-- we have 148,000 members -- so I can't swear the conversation
hasn't occurred somewhere, but it's not anything I'm aware of," Sumner said.
That struck me as odd, given that the entire success of the
initiative depends on the involvement of the hams. Sumner agreed. "In
principle, in a particular area where there was a concerted effort to
organize amateurs to do this, something might come of it," he said.
"But just saying there's a program doesn't make it so."
There are other pressing challenges. Eric Knight, founder of National
SOS, claims that amateur radio operators will be able to receive FRS
signals from as far as 17 miles away. But an ARRL spokesman told me
that range depends on nearly perfect line-of-sight conditions and
that a more typical range is about 4 miles -- a lot depends on
terrain and the sensitivity of the receiving equipment.
Also, to optimize performance, a ham would use an outdoor antenna
designed for the FRS frequencies. Unfortunately, such antennas don't
exist, according to Sumner. "FRS radios were deliberately designed so
that you can't hook an outdoor antenna to them [because] they're not
intended for longer-distance communications," he said. "[Hams] using
what they have lying around isn't going to provide an optimum result."
Another challenge that will have to be overcome, according to Sumner,
is that a ham typically wouldn't monitor FRS Channel 1 unless he or
she was coached to do so. "There would need to be an organized effort
to encourage hams to dedicate equipment to that purpose," he said.
"There hasn't been such an effort to this point." Without that
effort, National SOS is pointless.
Nevertheless, Sumner believes the National SOS initiative represents
an idea worth discussing.
"There have been some outstanding examples of FRS radios being used
to call for help," he said. "There was an incident -- I think it was
on Mount Hood (in Oregon) -- a couple of years ago where a pair of
FRS radios were able to communicate over probably 40 to 50 miles. ...
It might be fertile ground for discussion, but up to this point, I
haven't heard the discussion."
I agree with Sumner that National SOS deserves a thorough
examination. Frankly, I'm surprised Knight hasn't already placed a
call to ARRL headquarters. Promoting an initiative -- which was
announced last fall -- that relies so heavily on amateur radio
operators without first talking with Sumner seems the epitome of
placing the proverbial cart before the horse.