I appreciate your interest in helping Old Palo Alto up its emergency response position. One of the key areas of concern for me is that we have the ability to communicate when the phones don't work. Our main way of doing that is to use Family Radio Service (FRS) radios to communicate to my or other HAM base stations where we can pass the information on to the city. We hold quarterly drills to ensure we all know how to use our equipment and practice the reporting we need to do to the city. There are two goals involved. 1) Get a scale of any city wide damage so that the city can ask the state for disaster assistance. 2) Get our local CERT volunteers to any points of need.
There are two radios I recommend. They are both Motorola FRS radios. One is the T402 and the other is the T600. I find the T402 a bit easier to use and it is a bit cheaper. The advantage of the T600 is that it is more waterproof. It is the one to get for your Kayak trips. The T402 is IP54 should be fine in rain. We have BPCs using both and they both work fine without anyone having issues with either. I think the choice comes down to do you like a volume knob or all buttons.
There is a radio class but I prefer just to do one on one training. Basically you get your radio set up and we arrange a time to test it. It takes just a few minutes. You call me from your cell phone. We make sure we can hear each other over the FRS radios. If there is an issue, you can try a different location. I use a higher power GMRS radio (I have a license) with a large outdoor antenna so my signal gets out well and my larger antenna improves reception. I have tested this from the corner of Webster and Oregon so once everything is set up it will work.
The radios come in pairs so you will be able to do some preliminary tests yourselves. OPA uses channel 19 with privacy code 36. Because I use higher power and my signal can be heard all the way to San Antonio, the city has given us our own dedicated channel.
Really the only thing you need to verify other than actually learning to press the H button (if your radio has both a H and L button, otherwise just press the big button on the side) and hold the radio vertically a few inches from your face is where to stand. I like to say stand near a second story window that faces my house (Coleridge and Emerson). But we found that if there is a metal screen on the window that it blocks the signal. In that case, standing outside with as much open ground (street and yard) between you and my location works fine. I attached a photo showing the basic idea. Set yourself up to that the path over any buildings is more like the green one and less like the red one.
That is about all there is to it.