Spring 2009 Issue

FM

VHF FM Equipment for Emergency Communications

By Bob Witte, KØNR

Photo 1. The Yaesu FT-60R is a typical 2m/70cm handheld transceiver for emergency use. (Photo via rigpix.com)

The subtitle of this column refers to FM as the Amateur Radio Utility Mode. This applies to everyday radio operating as well as emergency communications (EmComm). The combination of compact, portable transceivers and wide-area FM repeaters is very effective for supporting both short-term and long-term disaster communications.
This column discusses preparing your FM VHF/UHF radio equipment so you are ready for emergencies. It does not cover the all of the items you should have in your “Go Kit,” which can include everything from food and clothing to reference documents and identification. (See the sidebar “What About My Go Kit?” for more ideas on that.)

Check in Locally

This is a general discussion of radio equipment, so it is important for you to connect with your local emergency communications group to understand its specific requirements. Of course, if you intend to be useful during a real emergency, you’ll need to be working with these EmComm groups anyway well before an incident occurs. The most common emergency communications groups are the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES). For more information on these organizations, see the ARRL Public Service Communications web page listed in the references section at the end of this column.

Some EmComm groups insist on having multiple bands available, usually 2 meters and 70 cm, while others just stick with 2 meters FM. Some groups make extensive use of digital modes such as APRS, Winlink and D-STAR, while others are focused only on voice. You’ll want to make sure you have the right equipment and have the specific frequencies that your local group uses programmed into your rig. An emergency is a poor time to start fiddling with the memory in your radio.

Handheld Radios

Handheld transceivers (HTs) are just great little rigs with a ton of capabilities jammed into them (photos 1 and 2). Their excellent portability makes them an important tool for EmComm use. What other ham shack can you wear on your belt? However, while HTs excel at portability, they tend to have some significant limitations: low output power, poor antennas, and easily overloaded receivers. Other than that they are great!

The typical “full power” handheld transceiver has about 5 watts of output power. For EmComm use, I would generally avoid the smaller mini-HTs that only run 1 to 2 watts unless you intend to use them only for short-range communication within a building or around a camp site. Of course, we can increase the transmit power by using an external amplifier, but that will reduce portability and make the HT function more like a mobile rig.

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