WASHINGTON – What happens when the television signal goes dark, when the electrical grid fails, when regular and cellular phone service won’t work and even the Internet is not accessible?
Communication is one of the critical components of disaster-planning scenarios, as anyone who watches the hit CBS series “Jericho,” about the isolation of a small Kansas town after a nuclear attack, can tell you.
‘Jericho’ on CBS depicts how Americans deal with aftermath of nuclear detonation
Apparently, they never heard of Family Radio Service in the town of Jericho.
Family Radio Service is a very low power, short-range UHF citizens band in the 460 MHz band that some civil-defense activists believe offers great promise in worst-case communications disaster scenarios.
The hand-held two-way radios sell for as little as $20 and a rapidly developing National SOS Radio Network is aiming to plug in approximately 100 million U.S. users with direct communication with about 700,000 ham operators.
It’s the brainchild of Eric Knight, a ham radio veteran of 32 years. He says training is essential to the success of the program and statewide and nationwide drills are being prepared to help bring the network to life.
The DC Emergency Radio Network is an example of what could be in place soon for much of the nation. If there’s a power, telephone, cell-phone or Internet failure, the DC Emergency Radio Network can keep Washington-area residents in touch with neighbors, family and official announcements.
DC Emergency Radio Network uses Family Radio Service and General Mobile Radio Service, or GMRS, radios on channel 1, no privacy channel (subchannel 0).
Many people in the Washington area already have FRS and GMRS radios. They are the same small handheld walkie-talkie radios that people use to keep in touch at parks and on ski slopes. They’re sold at Radio Shack, Best Buy, Staples and elsewhere. FRS radios are license-free and have a range of 1/4 to 1 mile; GMRS radios have a range of 5 to 10 miles.
“If normal modes of communication go down or become unreliable – because of a terrorist attack, power outage, cell-phone network congestion, storm or other problem – the DC Emergency Radio Network is a pre-planned way of communicating and relaying vital information,” explains the cooperative.
Earlier this year, the Midland Radio Corporation, REACT International, the DC Emergency Radio Network, and NationalSOS.com jointly announced their support for the National SOS Radio Network – a free communications network based on the estimated 100 million FRS-compatible radios already in the hands of the public, a number growing by up to 12 million radios per year.
Born in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, organizers recognized that a major contributing factor to the tragic loss of life was the near total breakdown of communication systems. Once electricity, telephone, and cell-phone services failed, people were unable to let rescuers know of their dire situation – and died as a result.
The National SOS Radio Network doesn’t require new laws or any new legislation, organizers say. It could be effective immediately. Once the ham and GMRS radio communities are made aware to listen for the public’s emergency FRS broadcasts, the national network will be up and running.
“We are honored to be teaming up with three fantastic organizations in the field of communications,” Knight said. “Midland Radio is a long-time pioneer in innovative radio technology. REACT International, Inc. has been at the forefront of an all-citizen emergency communications network for nearly 50 years and introduced FRS radio as an important public communications tool in 2000. And the DC Emergency Radio Network is a brilliant example of using FRS radios to connect people and neighborhoods in an emergency.”
Bill Adler, the founder of the DC Emergency Radio Network, DCERN, said he wants to see every household in America with an FRS or GMRS radio.
“As we’ve learned from 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, without communications nothing else operates effectively,” Adler said. “I envision a national network of ordinary Americans with FRS and GMRS radios who can relay information in an emergency. When a natural or manmade disaster strikes, the only good communications system is one that will actually work. The idea behind this new emergency network is to have a simple, reliable communications system that doesn’t depend on electricity or standing cell-phone towers – and that anyone of any age can use.”
In addition to these private efforts to equip Americans with the communications devices they need for civil defense emergencies, the Department of Homeland Security also recently moved to spend $5 million to supply all 97,000 public schools with hazard-warning radios activated with a broadcast signal. Originally conceived to deliver weather warnings, the system now covers all hazards, including terrorism and abducted children.