(option) Ham Radio
  Neighborhood Emergency Radio Project | Ham Radio @ SAR City. | (white paper) What to Do When the Telephone, Cellphone and Internet Fails in a Disaster? | (option) Satellite Phones. | (option) MURS. | (option) FRS/GRMS Frequently Asked Questions | FRS/GMRS As Emergency Radios | FRS/GMRS Equipment. | Using FRS/GMRSs. | (option) CB. | (option) Ham Radio. | List:  Emergencies Hams Helped In | In Honor of Jerry Martin, W6TQF, and Reid Blackburn, KA7AMF | Ham Licensing. | Practice Ham Exams. | Ham Radio Classes. | Ham Exams. | Ham Radio in the Schools, Grants, and Emergency Communcations. | x | Legal Aspects of Emergency Communications | Links: Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Organizations | Volunteering, Legal Aspects and Pitfalls. | 2006, Ham Radio @ SoRo NC. | 2006, Ham Radio @ DONE Congress. | 2007, Ham Radio @ So. Central NC. | 2007, Ham Radio @ SAR City. | 2007, La Mirada Drill. | 2007, Culver City Drill. | Personal Preparedness. | Go-Kit. | Resources: Training for EmComm Operators. | Propagation.  | Antenna Restrictions and EmComm. | Understanding Antennas. | NVIS Antenna. | Unobstrusive Antennas. | Antennas Projects - HF. | Antenna Projects - VHF/UHF. | More Antenna Projects. | Safety and First Aid. | Mobile and Portable Stations. | Emergency Power. | Emergency Alerts. | Favorite Links  

What is Ham Radio? 

Another solution to the problem of emergency communications is offered by the amateur radio service (ham).   In Westside Village, a community served by Mar Vista Community Council, and Palms-Westside Village Neighborhood Watch, two families, the Josephson-Goodkin, and Procenko families, are comprised of hams.  Immediately after the Northridge Earthquake of 1994, 6.7, both families got on the air and immediately knew their family members were safe. 

To find out more about ham radio visit the website of the Neighborhood Emergency Radio Project http://nerp.myeweb.net/, click About Ham Radio. 

Communication Capability

The entry level Technician license, which is what most of the 30 hams in the Goodkin-Josephson family have, is presently structured as a VHF and UHF license.   Techs have privileges to use 17 bands, made up of a range of frequencies.  In contrast, FRS, GMRS, CB and MURS have only one band.  Techs can use up to 1,500 watts of power.  FRSs can use ½ watt.  GMRS walkie talkies are 5 watts with 50 watt mobiles.  CBs have a 5 watt limit.  MURS have 2 watts.  Hams have few antenna restrictions placed by the FCC, while the other services have severe restrictions. 

Techs can be used primarily for short ranged, line-of-sight (plus 15% over horizon) communications.  However through linking repeaters, cross-band repeaters, or the more exotic use of satellites or moon bounce - long range communication may be achieved.  Internet linking of repeaters even affords international communication.  Long range communication may be made through other hams relaying messages.   There is a proposal to give code-free Techs limited high frequency capability. 

On VHF and UHF, ham radio overcomes the limitation of line-of-sight plus 15% over horizon by the use of repeaters.  A repeater is often located on a mountain top or tall building.  (Visit: http://www.scrn.net/  and click Photos to see pictures of repeaters.  Note – these photos are of sites which contain multiple communication uses).   Its receiving antenna is within line-of-sight of hams who are walking around with their have handheld transceivers (the proper name for “walkie-talkies”), driving in their cars with their mobile transceivers or at home at their base stations.   The repeater’s receiver takes that relatively weak signal and then transmits it using a powerful amplifier and antenna thus overcoming the line-of-sight limitation. 

The Los Angeles basin has the highest concentration repeaters in the world http://rptrlist.w6jpl.ampr.org/   The basin is saturated with repeaters.  There is no room for more.  Some are “open repeaters” and may be used by any legally license amateur radio operators – for free.   Some repeaters are “closed,” meaning membership is required.  Membership dues pay for the costs to maintain and operate the repeater.  Any ham willing to pay dues can join.  Other repeaters are “private.”  These repeaters set membership criteria. 

Autopatch is a technology developed by ham radio predating the cellphone.  This technology enables a ham to make a phone call through a repeater.  Autopatch usage requires a membership fee, even on open repeaters.  Not every repeater has this feature.  It is more likely to be a feature of private and closed repeaters. 

Keep in mind, ham radio may not be used for commercial communications.   There are simplex frequencies in which people may have long conversations.  Ham radio is a “party line” so there is no privacy. 

Most repeaters have a battery backup and can run on emergency power.  If they become inoperative during a disaster there are remote control links in place that in some cases will enable operations to be resume without someone physically going to the repeater site and fixing it.  There are ham radio disaster communication organizations which have emergency mobile repeaters, antenna towers on trailers and generators which will be set up in an event of an emergency – usually for use of their members only.   In most cases when there is not official emergency traffic being passed through the repeater, other hams are usually able to send short health and welfare messages.  

Since the code-free Techs license is so easy to get most code-free Techs do not feel comfortable attempting to use more sophisticated equipment.   Code-free techs typically do not buy much more than a handheld(s) transceiver (HT) and/or a mobile radio for 2 meters, the most popular VHF band and for 450mhz (70cm), the most popular UHF band.  A 2 meter handheld can be bought for $100 and up; more for a 450mhz handheld.  The mobile radios start from about $130 and upwards.  Mobile antennas start from about $30 and up.  Extra battery packs and gel cells are a must – in case of a disaster.  (A handout on buying a handheld for disaster communication is available – just email me).   While there is more sophisticated equipment available, in the hands of skilled operator, this equipment is more than adequate for most purposes. 

Getting a License

Almost everyone takes an entry level ham license test passes.  Some people go on line and take the practice exams and pass them without having studied, read a book or taken a class.  Practice exam sites are listed at the website of the Neighborhood Emergency Radio Project http://nerp.myeweb.net/, click Practice Ham Exams.  To pass all you only need to get right is 26 questions out of 35. 

The 510 question Tech test bank is broken into sections.  Each section has several question types.  If you learn the correct answer to a question type you can get several questions right.  Teachers who teach-to-the-test have come up with short cuts to all 510 questions.  On July 1, 2006, the test was made even easier.  What frequencies one may legally operate on - is no longer being asked for too many people were missing these questions. 

Many ham teachers organized their class so that you can take a review class in morning, have lunch, take the remainder of the review session, then take the actual exam and have a license by dinner time.   Some teachers break the class into two evenings with the third evening as the exam. 

Teach-to-the-test review sessions typically cost about $300.  There are free ones listed at the website of the Neighborhood Emergency Radio Project http://nerp.myeweb.net/, click Ham Radio Classes.  Note that these are not really classes in the sense that they teach only the bare minimum needed to pass-the-test.  Of course one should keep in mind with the minimal knowledge required of a code-free Tech, in an emergency or some other problem arose to make one’s radio inoperable, one will likely lack sufficient knowledge to fix the problem (more on this problem later). 

Once you have taken a class, the next step is to take the exam.  LA area Exam sites are listed at the website of the Neighborhood Emergency Radio Project http://nerp.myeweb.net/, click Ham Exams. 

After you pass the exam, you will probably need help getting on the air.  If you took a teach-to-the-test class, you were not taught how to use a radio.  You will need an “Elmer,” a ham who is a good Samaritan.   LA area Exam sites are listed at the website of the Neighborhood Emergency Radio Project http://nerp.myeweb.net/, click Elmers. 

Once you have a license, it is good for 10 years.  There are no licensing fees for amateur radio for hams are regarded as a valuable national resource which is important in time of disaster. 

Competency.

The success the two Westside Village families mentioned earlier had after the Northridge Earthquake can not be duplicated without deliberate effort.  While it is easy to get an entry level license, the serious responsibility of having the privilege to make radio frequency transmissions has not diminished.  The ever increasing sophistication of the technology has only made the responsibility greater.   In times of emergency, the privilege of making transmission is an extreme responsibility.  Ham radio will be the only surviving network.  Government networks will either be down or they will lack inoperability (people can not talk to each other if they are with different agencies).  A ham who is unskilled and inexperienced may sabotage the relief effort by tying up valuable frequencies or interfering with networks involved in the recovery. 

Merely getting a “one-day ham” license will not enable one to be as prepared for the failure in communications infrastructure as the Goodkin-Josephson and Procenko families are.  These families were successful because Norm Goodkin, K6YXH and Jay Procenko, NY6L worked hard to ensure an emergency communications links could be established for their families.  Both Norm and Jay start ham radio in junior high school.  Jay is a radio electronics professional.  They started in an era when 2/3 of test applicants failed.  Not only were the test questions and answers not published, it was a federal crime to divulge what was on the test. 

There was a Morse code requirement as well which was a very important requirement (which we will not get into in a later article).  There also was at the time an entry level license, called the Novice, which has since been eliminated. Experienced hams went out of their way to help Novices who had the purpose of and attitude that they wanted to learn.  Our research shows 37.9% (11) of respondent hams, all code-free Techs, complained that ham radio is “too hard,” “too technical.”  Some even expressed contempt towards learning how a radio works. 

Even if one takes a semester long licensing class, which is highly recommended that class will not be trained to a skill level equal to what Norm, Jay and other hams licensed in the 1970s and before were trained to.  Having published test questions and answers changes forever reduces competency.  People passing ham exams are factually passing vastly easier exams.  Most of them pass by memorizing the answers.  Even though the licenses they have say the same thing as pre-1984 licenses, no responsible emergency management executive should fail to have legitimate concerns about post-1984 hams’ ability to carry out ham radio’s emergency communications purpose. 

Our research shows that in a “Sample Neighborhood” in LA City, 55% (13) of respondents, all code-free Techs and 2 Generals, stated that they “did not know how to use their radio.”  They wanted ham radio to be “easy to use as a cell phone.”  It is very important when considering the ham radio option to know that ham radio is not a back-up 9-1-1 cell phone.  Many have made this mistake as our research indicates.  Typically, they have obtained an easy to get in one-day Tech license.  They bought a radio.  They were unable to program it.  No one taught them how top use a radio for they signed up for a teach-to-the-test class.  They passed.  Because they regard ham radio as an appliance, as some sort of cell phone, they never posses the technical aptitude that a competent and responsible radio amateur has.  They were not willing to learn what it takes to become competent and responsible.  They radio they spent $300 on sits in the drawer.  Even if the ham store salesperson programmed it for them, leaving it in the drawer will likely result in a battery malfunction and forgetting how to use the radio.  Even if these problems were overcome, such a person will not know what frequencies to use.  It is likely that if they got on a frequency being used for emergency operations, they will interfere with others.  Remember in such a scenario, ham radio is the only means of communication left. 

In an emergency, Murphy’s law is applicable, everything that can go wrong will.  It is doubtful these 13 hams can fix what goes wrong and improvise a communications solution.  In non-emergency times, these hams are dependent on ham radio store salesmen.  Not only will these stores be closed in a major disaster, they will likely be looted and burn.  They may not reopen for the ham market in LA is shrinking.  870 hams a year in LA die, move or do not renew their licenses. 

However, the clock can not be turned back.  We must rebuild with the human resources we have.  It is possible, but rare that someone will have the initiative to learn what they need to be able to independently establish a communications link when the equipment and resources they need are destroyed, damaged and in need to field repair.  The first step is to take a semester long licensing class, which can be found on the website of the Neighborhood Emergency Radio Project http://nerp.myeweb.net/, click Ham Exams.  This class is only a starting point.  After one gets a license, follow the links on the

Another solution to the problem of emergency communications is offered by the amateur radio service (ham).   In Westside Village, a community served by Mar Vista Community Council, and Palms-Westside Village Neighborhood Watch, two families, the Josephson-Goodkin, and Procenko families, are comprised of hams.  Immediately after the Northridge Earthquake of 1994, 6.7, both families got on the air and immediately knew their family members were safe. 

To find out more about ham radio visit the website of the Neighborhood Emergency Radio Project http://nerp.myeweb.net/, click About Ham Radio. 

Communication Capability

The entry level Technician license, which is what most of the 30 hams in the Goodkin-Josephson family have, is presently structured as a VHF and UHF license.   Techs have privileges to use 17 bands, made up of a range of frequencies.  In contrast, FRS, GMRS, CB and MURS have only one band.  Techs can use up to 1,500 watts of power.  FRSs can use ½ watt.  GMRS walkie talkies are 5 watts with 50 watt mobiles.  CBs have a 5 watt limit.  MURS have 2 watts.  Hams have few antenna restrictions placed by the FCC, while the other services have severe restrictions. 

Techs can be used primarily for short ranged, line-of-sight (plus 15% over horizon) communications.  However through linking repeaters, cross-band repeaters, or the more exotic use of satellites or moon bounce - long range communication may be achieved.  Internet linking of repeaters even affords international communication.  Long range communication may be made through other hams relaying messages.   There is a proposal to give code-free Techs limited high frequency capability. 

On VHF and UHF, ham radio overcomes the limitation of line-of-sight plus 15% over horizon by the use of repeaters.  A repeater is often located on a mountain top or tall building.  (Visit: http://www.scrn.net/  and click Photos to see pictures of repeaters.  Note – these photos are of sites which contain multiple communication uses).   Its receiving antenna is within line-of-sight of hams who are walking around with their have handheld transceivers (the proper name for “walkie-talkies”), driving in their cars with their mobile transceivers or at home at their base stations.   The repeater’s receiver takes that relatively weak signal and then transmits it using a powerful amplifier and antenna thus overcoming the line-of-sight limitation. 

The Los Angeles basin has the highest concentration repeaters in the world http://rptrlist.w6jpl.ampr.org/   The basin is saturated with repeaters.  There is no room for more.  Some are “open repeaters” and may be used by any legally license amateur radio operators – for free.   Some repeaters are “closed,” meaning membership is required.  Membership dues pay for the costs to maintain and operate the repeater.  Any ham willing to pay dues can join.  Other repeaters are “private.”  These repeaters set membership criteria. 

Autopatch is a technology developed by ham radio predating the cellphone.  This technology enables a ham to make a phone call through a repeater.  Autopatch usage requires a membership fee, even on open repeaters.  Not every repeater has this feature.  It is more likely to be a feature of private and closed repeaters. 

Keep in mind, ham radio may not be used for commercial communications.   There are simplex frequencies in which people may have long conversations.  Ham radio is a “party line” so there is no privacy. 

Most repeaters have a battery backup and can run on emergency power.  If they become inoperative during a disaster there are remote control links in place that in some cases will enable operations to be resume without someone physically going to the repeater site and fixing it.  There are ham radio disaster communication organizations which have emergency mobile repeaters, antenna towers on trailers and generators which will be set up in an event of an emergency – usually for use of their members only.   In most cases when there is not official emergency traffic being passed through the repeater, other hams are usually able to send short health and welfare messages.  

Since the code-free Techs license is so easy to get most code-free Techs do not feel comfortable attempting to use more sophisticated equipment.   Code-free techs typically do not buy much more than a handheld(s) transceiver (HT) and/or a mobile radio for 2 meters, the most popular VHF band and for 450mhz (70cm), the most popular UHF band.  A 2 meter handheld can be bought for $100 and up; more for a 450mhz handheld.  The mobile radios start from about $130 and upwards.  Mobile antennas start from about $30 and up.  Extra battery packs and gel cells are a must – in case of a disaster.  (A handout on buying a handheld for disaster communication is available – just email me).   While there is more sophisticated equipment available, in the hands of skilled operator, this equipment is more than adequate for most purposes. 

Getting a License

Almost everyone takes an entry level ham license test passes.  Some people go on line and take the practice exams and pass them without having studied, read a book or taken a class.  Practice exam sites are listed at the website of the Neighborhood Emergency Radio Project http://nerp.myeweb.net/, click Practice Ham Exams.  To pass all you only need to get right is 26 questions out of 35. 

The 510 question Tech test bank is broken into sections.  Each section has several question types.  If you learn the correct answer to a question type you can get several questions right.  Teachers who teach-to-the-test have come up with short cuts to all 510 questions.  On July 1, 2006, the test was made even easier.  What frequencies one may legally operate on - is no longer being asked for too many people were missing these questions. 

Many ham teachers organized their class so that you can take a review class in morning, have lunch, take the remainder of the review session, then take the actual exam and have a license by dinner time.   Some teachers break the class into two evenings with the third evening as the exam. 

Teach-to-the-test review sessions typically cost about $300.  There are free ones listed at the website of the Neighborhood Emergency Radio Project http://nerp.myeweb.net/, click Ham Radio Classes.  Note that these are not really classes in the sense that they teach only the bare minimum needed to pass-the-test.  Of course one should keep in mind with the minimal knowledge required of a code-free Tech, in an emergency or some other problem arose to make one’s radio inoperable, one will likely lack sufficient knowledge to fix the problem (more on this problem later). 

Once you have taken a class, the next step is to take the exam.  LA area Exam sites are listed at the website of the Neighborhood Emergency Radio Project http://nerp.myeweb.net/, click Ham Exams. 

After you pass the exam, you will probably need help getting on the air.  If you took a teach-to-the-test class, you were not taught how to use a radio.  You will need an “Elmer,” a ham who is a good Samaritan.   LA area Exam sites are listed at the website of the Neighborhood Emergency Radio Project http://nerp.myeweb.net/, click Elmers. 

Once you have a license, it is good for 10 years.  There are no licensing fees for amateur radio for hams are regarded as a valuable national resource which is important in time of disaster. 

Competency.

The success the two Westside Village families mentioned earlier had after the Northridge Earthquake can not be duplicated without deliberate effort.  While it is easy to get an entry level license, the serious responsibility of having the privilege to make radio frequency transmissions has not diminished.  The ever increasing sophistication of the technology has only made the responsibility greater.   In times of emergency, the privilege of making transmission is an extreme responsibility.  Ham radio will be the only surviving network.  Government networks will either be down or they will lack inoperability (people can not talk to each other if they are with different agencies).  A ham who is unskilled and inexperienced may sabotage the relief effort by tying up valuable frequencies or interfering with networks involved in the recovery. 

Merely getting a “one-day ham” license will not enable one to be as prepared for the failure in communications infrastructure as the Goodkin-Josephson and Procenko families are.  These families were successful because Norm Goodkin, K6YXH and Jay Procenko, NY6L worked hard to ensure an emergency communications links could be established for their families.  Both Norm and Jay start ham radio in junior high school.  Jay is a radio electronics professional.  They started in an era when 2/3 of test applicants failed.  Not only were the test questions and answers not published, it was a federal crime to divulge what was on the test. 

There was a Morse code requirement as well which was a very important requirement (which we will not get into in a later article).  There also was at the time an entry level license, called the Novice, which has since been eliminated. Experienced hams went out of their way to help Novices who had the purpose of and attitude that they wanted to learn.  Our research shows 37.9% (11) of respondent hams, all code-free Techs, complained that ham radio is “too hard,” “too technical.”  Some even expressed contempt towards learning how a radio works. 

Even if one takes a semester long licensing class, which is highly recommended that class will not be trained to a skill level equal to what Norm, Jay and other hams licensed in the 1970s and before were trained to.  Having published test questions and answers changes forever reduces competency.  People passing ham exams are factually passing vastly easier exams.  Most of them pass by memorizing the answers.  Even though the licenses they have say the same thing as pre-1984 licenses, no responsible emergency management executive should fail to have legitimate concerns about post-1984 hams’ ability to carry out ham radio’s emergency communications purpose. 

Our research shows that in a “Sample Neighborhood” in LA City, 55% (13) of respondents, all code-free Techs and 2 Generals, stated that they “did not know how to use their radio.”  They wanted ham radio to be “easy to use as a cell phone.”  It is very important when considering the ham radio option to know that ham radio is not a back-up 9-1-1 cell phone.  Many have made this mistake as our research indicates.  Typically, they have obtained an easy to get in one-day Tech license.  They bought a radio.  They were unable to program it.  No one taught them how top use a radio for they signed up for a teach-to-the-test class.  They passed.  Because they regard ham radio as an appliance, as some sort of cell phone, they never posses the technical aptitude that a competent and responsible radio amateur has.  They were not willing to learn what it takes to become competent and responsible.  They radio they spent $300 on sits in the drawer.  Even if the ham store salesperson programmed it for them, leaving it in the drawer will likely result in a battery malfunction and forgetting how to use the radio.  Even if these problems were overcome, such a person will not know what frequencies to use.  It is likely that if they got on a frequency being used for emergency operations, they will interfere with others.  Remember in such a scenario, ham radio is the only means of communication left. 

In an emergency, Murphy’s law is applicable, everything that can go wrong will.  It is doubtful these 13 hams can fix what goes wrong and improvise a communications solution.  In non-emergency times, these hams are dependent on ham radio store salesmen.  Not only will these stores be closed in a major disaster, they will likely be looted and burn.  They may not reopen for the ham market in LA is shrinking.  870 hams a year in LA die, move or do not renew their licenses. 

However, the clock can not be turned back.  We must rebuild with the human resources we have.  It is possible, but rare that someone will have the initiative to learn what they need to be able to independently establish a communications link when the equipment and resources they need are destroyed, damaged and in need to field repair.  The first step is to take a semester long licensing class, which can be found on the website of the Neighborhood Emergency Radio Project http://nerp.myeweb.net/, click Ham Exams.  This class is only a starting point.  After one gets a license, follow the links on the

Click on http://www.hello-radio.org/ to learn more about amateur radio from its national organization, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), or http://www.irony.com/ham-howto.html , or