Old Palo Alto
Emergency Services Volunteers
May 18, 2024, 7:05 am pacific
 

FRS Radio

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 series I recommend. They are both Motorola FRS radios. One is the T400 series and the latest model as of this writing is the T460. The other is the T600 series (T605). I do not recommend the T100 or T200 as they don't have the range to cover all of OPA. I find the T460 a bit easier to use and it is a bit cheaper. It has a volume control that also serves as the on off switch. The T600 is all buttons. The advantage of the T600 is that it is waterproof. It is the one to get for your Kayak trips. The T400 series is water resistant. 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 and price. As always, be careful of Amazon pricing. Be sure it is Prime or you may get a vendor with outrageous pricing. These radios should be between $80 and $100. Be careful if you search and think you found one for under $50. It is likely at T200 and has less range. You want one that claims a 35 mile range and not a 20 mile range. By the way, that range is from the top of a mountain down to the unobstructed valley below but it still makes a difference in our large neighborhood. You can see the difference. The better radios have larger antennas.

There is a radio class but I prefer just to do one on one training. It takes just a few minutes. We just set up a time to meet and I will go over all you need to know. We will test it and then you go home and call me to verify everything is working from your home 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 if you wish but it is not necessary. 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.




Summary

  • Stand with as much open land between you and the ICC (about Coleridge and Emerson)
  • Turn on the radio, hold it about 8 inches in front of your face with the antenna pointing straight up
  • WAIT until nobody else is talking
  • Press the big black transmit button on the left side
  • Say your call sign
  • Release the big black button
  • Wait for your acknowledgment or instructions from the ICC
  • If you don't get an acknowledgment after 15 seconds, try again
  • If you still don't get an acknowledgment try again but this time say "Relay" instead of your call sign.
  • More instructions are HERE

Where to buy FRS Radio

Racommended
T460 radio (Rain proof)


Amazon

Also consider
T605 radio (Water proof)


Amazon

Batteries

  1. Rechargeable batteries.
    • Come with the radio
    • They lose up to half their charge in 6 months
    • If you leave them on the charger, it will destroy them
    • If you are going to use them, charge them just after every quarterly drill.
  2. Common alkaline batteries
    • Don't need charging
    • They leak eventually so don't leave them in the radio.
    • Not an ideal choice but OK if not left in radio and most people have several around
  3. Lithium batteries.
    • New type of AA batteries
    • 20 year shelf life
    • Don't leak. You can leave them in the radio in your Go Bag
    • More capacity (will last longer)
    • About 50% more transmit power than with rechargable batteries (higher voltage)
    • They are more expensive
    • Best choice for Go Bag
  4. Recommendation
    • Use the rechargable in the radio you use for testing and recharge it after each drill
    • Get a set of AA Lithium batteries for your second radio and save it for emergency use.





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