Why and how GMRS and FRS Radio Services Interface with the Amateur Radio Service (ARS)

It is difficult for new disaster volunteers to imagine a widespread power outage, telephone outage, cell phone and SMS texting outage, and an internet outage occurring simultaneously; yet experienced amateur radio operators know this occurs all too well, and are prepared to act.

Because there are a limited number of FCC licensed amateur radio operators to cover emergency communications for every block in Kensington and El Cerrito, local CERT block captains will benefit by utilizing FRS/GMRS radio communications in disasters should conventional means of communications and power such as, internet, telephone, cell, and SMS texting fail or be overloaded.

Although it is not the purview of KAROECHO to provide FRS/GMRS (Family Radio Service/General Mobile Radio Service) communications within blocks and/or from block to area Incident Command Posts (ICPs), KAROECHO offers expert FRS/GMRS radio instruction and interface for CERT Area Coordinators (AC), if so desired. Each CERT AC must plan how they will communicate within their own area, to and from the Emergency Operating Center (EOC), and to neighboring CERT areas for mutual aid. Interface between the three services (FRS, GMRS, and ARS) are most efficiently facilitated through message center manager training. KAROECHO will also offer instructions on how to radio map your area and coordinate channel usage so that interference between neighboring CERT FRS/GMRS radio operations will be minimized. CERT volunteers are welcome to contact for further information on how to get the job done.

KAROECHO, being a dedicated amateur radio organization focuses on providing wide area (tier three) auxiliary communications between Area ICPs/staging areas and the Emergency Operating Center (EOC), as well as inter-area communications for mutual aid.

Critique: Pros, Cons, and Limitations of FRS/GMRS Radios Use

Since FRS radios power output has a limited range from 1/2 to 2 watts maximum, they are inherently limited in distance. They are also limited by their small lossy integral antenna and crowded channels. Hence, their communications among themselves (FRS to FRS) is severely limited. However a GMRS station with an outdoor antenna may be required to hear them further than a few blocks, as GMRS stations can employ external gain antennas. If no GMRS station is available, then relays will have to be implemented, thus increasing the possibilities of error and decreasing timeliness.

The second FRS limitation are the limited available frequencies. Only channels 1-7 allow FRS 2 watts. Thus interference with neighboring blocks as well distant blocks who are in the hills may be a hindrance. Further difficulties due to location may occur because the Kensington/El Cerrito hills are in direct line of sight to parts of Oakland, Berkeley, Marin, San Francisco, Richmond, and San Pablo; which are potential sources of interference due the lack of available channels and coordination.

Remedy: Send INTRA-Block comms off to the low power channels 8-14 using 1/2 watt, thus lowering the possibility of interference. Then after the intra-block traffic is cleared, these stations should return to the Block’s assigned main (2 watt) channel unless directed to otherwise by the block captain.

Tier 2 interference with other areas will most likely be a problem because of the limitation of only seven 2 watt FRS channels. Coordination is thus helpful to avoid interference.

It is noted that channels 15-22 allow FRS 2 watt operation; but they will be competing with 50 watt repeater outputs and/or 50 watt GMRS simplex operation, both. Therefore the effective usage of FRS channels 15-22 may be predictably poor.

Never-the-less FRS/GMRS communications are the only feasible intra and inter-block radio alternatives available at present, other than by runners or bicyclists.

There are currently not enough amateur radio operators (hams) to provide block to block and block to CERT Area Incident Command Posts, let alone communications to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC); hence, the plan is to hand off FRS/GMRS messages to the hams at our CERT area ICPs, who then can relay to the EOC and/or to neighboring areas. More ham radio operators are needed. Ham radio requires a license that is granted after passing a test. Free study courses are available in our area. See the KaroEcho GET INVOLVED page for updates.

Why We Set Privacy Codes (Interference Filters) OFF

Privacy codes are not private; it's a misnomer. So-called privacy codes limit what your receiver hears from radios who transmit the privacy code (usually a sub-audible tone). Radios that have their privacy codes set to off will hear all transmissions on the channel regardless of privacy code settings on other radios. Setting privacy codes to "off" will allow you to hear transmissions from radios who do not have sub-audible transmitting tone capabilities, radios that have incorrect privacy tones set, and stations that have their transmit privacy tones off. But the most important reason to set privacy tones off, is to not interfere with other stations who may be transmitting; but you do not hear them if your receive privacy tones are set "on". Granted there will be more unwanted conversations on your channel when privacy tones are set "off"; but you will be guaranteed to hear the station that is trying to call you.

Also set emergency alerts, roger tones, transmit beeps, and other bells and whistles OFF, as well.

Useful Outside Links of How CERT Utilizes FRS, GMRS, and ARS During Disasters

BEcertainn a dedicated CERT GMRS repeater group that meets on GMRS Ch.22 (Old GMRS Ch.8) with a PL tone of 88.5 on Tues evenings at 1930. More information about BECertainn HERE.

A very basic outline/overview for rote beginners in CERT radio disaster communications (youtube video)

Very basic instructions on how to operate a FRS/GMRS radio utilizing the Motorola 300/350 series "Talkabout" radios Please note, we do NOT recommend utilizing any privacy codes. (youtube video)

Compatibility of GMRS/FRS Radios are no problem as long as you are on the same channel and do not use privacy codes (youtube video)

Using FRS/GMRS Radios in Local Disasters by Marty Woll, N6VI (LA CERT PDF)

How to Use Family Radio Service (FRS) Radios for LAFD–CERT Tactical Communications (PDF) Again we recommend never to use privacy tones; rather, set privacy codes "off".

LAFD CERT Communications Plan, rev. 2016 PDF (advanced)

City of Berkeley CERT FRS/GMRS Disaster Comm Plan PDF (A bit out of date as it does not account for the new FRS/GMRS rule changes that occurred in November 2017)

CERT Fundamentals of Radio Comms by W4AVA (MS Word .Doc format)

The Role of CERT in Emergency Comms by FEMA (PDF)

An overview by FEMA on CERT Emergency Comms entailing all possibilities including Two-Way radio comms (PPT/PDF)

A CERT Comm Plan by FEMA (PPT)

Contra Costa County CERT Communications Using FRS radios while interfacing with Hams and the EOC (PDF)

A very nice power point presentation by LAMORINDA (Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda) CERT (CoCo County) on CERT Disaster Comms

CERT radio communications (FRS and Ham) by Walnut Creek (CoCo County) CERT (pptx)

In most cases hams can effectively counsel FRS/GMRS operators on the local level (FCC MS Word .DOC)

Basic CERT Disaster Communications graphic (Contra Costa County CERT)

Sample Disaster Communications Plan graphic (Contra Costa County CERT)

Berkeley Disaster Preparedness Neighborhood Network (BDPNN) Sometimes dedicated citizens are needed to get together to go the extra nine yards.

How to obtain your GMRS License

FRS does not require a license; however, severe, power, antenna, and channel restrictions apply alongside of disallowing repeater use. A GEMRS license will greatly improve your communication capabilities for a one time fee of $70.

The FCC web pages allow for on-line GMRS licensing. The application fee is presently $70 for 10 years with no charge for renewing. See: . On-line filing is the more pain-free method, albeit somewhat convolouted. Go to

  1. You will need an FCC Registration Number (FRN) and password. If you don't have an FRN and password, you can obtain them by registering online with the FCC Commission Registration System (CORES) HERE
  2. For Purpose of Application, select New (NE) and click Continue.
  3. Select the GMRS radio service code (ZA) from the drop down menu.
  4. Complete the application.
  5. Sign your application by typing your name in the appropriate boxes at the bottom of the page.
  6. Click Submit to file your application with the Commission. (If there are errors in your application, you will be prompted to return and correct the errors).

After submitting the application form, you will receive an Application Confirmation page, which displays your file number and filing fee. Print this page for your records. Then, click on the Form 159 button at the bottom of the Confirmation page. Login to Form 159 with the FRN and password of the party paying for the application. Finally, click the Pay Online by Credit Card link.

GMRS Mail-in Form 605 (registering by snail mail and check). Again select NE for New and (ZA) for GMRS.