The Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) (purpose and function in a disaster)
"The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community. The CERT concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) in 1985." accessed 04-17-2019 https://californiavolunteers.ca.gov/community-emergency-response-team-cert/
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 sustained widespread power outage, telephone outage, cell phone texting outage, and an internet outage occurring simultaneously; yet seasoned amateur radio operators know this occurs from experience, 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 the Kensington Amateur Radio Operators/El Cerrito Ham Operators (KAROECHO) to provide FRS/GMRS (Family Radio Service/General Mobile Radio Service) communications within blocks and/or from block to CERT area Incident Command Posts (ICPs), KAROECHO offers expert FRS/GMRS radio instruction, coordination, and interface for CERT Area Coordinators (ACs), if so desired. Each CERT AC must plan how they will communicate within their own area block teams, to and from the Emergency Operating Center (EOC), and to neighboring CERT areas for mutual aid. Interoperability between the three services (FRS, GMRS, and the Amateur Radio Service (ARS) are most efficiently facilitated through a message center run by a trained message center manager. KAROECHO, upon request, also offers 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 firstname.lastname@example.org for further information on how to get this task done.
KAROECHO, being a dedicated amateur radio organization focuses on providing wide area (tier three) auxiliary communications between local neighborhood blocks, CERT area ICPs/staging areas, and the Emergency Operating Center (EOC), as well as inter-area CERT communications for mutual aid.
Critique: Pros, Cons, and Limitations of FRS/GMRS Radios Use
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 as to distance and quality. They are very useful in light Search and Rescue (SAR) and within blocks. 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 and higher power. 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 is the limited available frequencies. Only channels 1-7 and 15-22 allow FRS 2 watts. Thus interference with neighboring blocks as well distant blocks who are in line-of sight range 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 otherwise by the block captain.
Tier 2 interference with other areas will most likely be a problem because of the limitation of only fourteen 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. FRS operators therefore are suggested to use channels 1-7 for long distance and channels 8-14 (1/2 watt maximum) for light SAR and very short distances. The use of channels 15-22 will be limited by interfernec by high power local repeater usage..
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; because there are currently not enough amateur radio operators (hams) to provide block to block and block to CERT Area Incident Command Post communications. There are sufficient hams to provide communication from CERT ICPs to communicate to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and to other CERT Area ICPs. The plan is to hand off message traffic emanating from the blocks via FRS/GMRS to the CERT Area ICP message center. The message center manager (or communicator if a manager is not available) will then forward the message to the area CERT Incident Commander (IC) and/or forward the message on to the EOC and/or to neighboring areas.
Getting Started with FRS/GMRS Disaster Radio Communications
Graphic Diagram of Emergency Communications Tiers Depicting how FRS/GMRS Interoperates with Ham radio and the EOC
FRS and GMRS Channel/Frequency and Power Limitation Chart according to the most recent November 2017 FCC Rules
Quick 1 page guide for FRS/GMRS radio operations. If you read only one page, read this one.
The Three Tier System
Our Fire and Police perform an excellent job providing professional emergency services during everyday operations. However, when a disaster strikes all professional emergency services will be overloaded. That is when CERT picks up the ball.
El Cerrito and Kensington are rich in material and human resources; which can easily be shared from one area or block with an overstock to another area or block via radio. Another aspect of disaster radio communications is that it is entirely portable and self-reliant, battery powered, and independent of commercial power, internet, cell phone, or telephone services.
An essential element in disasters is disaster communications. Just imagine widespread and prolonged power and telephone outages, cell phone and internet unavailability. Yes, this happens in earthquakes, storms, fires, and other large disasters. How communications be facilitated between block light duty search and rescue teams, damage assessment teams, the CERT area coordinator, the Emergency Operations Center, shelters, urgent care centers, or the coordination of sharing resources, personnel, and the provision of mutual aid between neighboring areas? The most effective and reliable method is by radio.
CERT groups nationwide have effectively broken this down into three or four tiers. Our CERT primary responsibility is, as always, to our immediate family and neighborhood. This is effected through neighborhood area coordinators and their block leaders. They should take advantage of inexpensive FRS (Family Radio Service Radios) for search and rescue and related intra-neighborhood communications. This is the first tier; i.e., intra-block communications.
The second tier (inter-block communications) is to establish radio communications from and to neighboring blocks/neighborhoods to the CERT Area Coordinator or AREA ICP (Incident Command Post); which may be located at your CERT area staging area/gathering point. El Cerrito and Kensington are divided into 17 areas which can all be coordinated by amateur radio and provide communications to the El Cerrito Emergency Operations Center (EOC). This is accomplished through a network emanating from the block FRS radio operators, as aforementioned, to a GMRS/FRS radio operator (with a larger antenna and more radio power) located at the AREA Staging Area/ICP or nearby area communications center. It can also be more reliably effected by a GMRS hi-power operator (preferred), who is located within the block ideally.
The third tier (inter-area communications) occurs at the AREA ICP/Staging Area communications center where the windshield survey damage assessment reports (reports of gas and water main breaks, downed power lines, fires, and life threatening emergencies that can’t be handled locally are sent to the Emergency Operating Center via Ham Radio. Also evacuation orders, shelter locations, and other relevant information directed back into the neighborhoods may emanate out of the EOC and relayed to the blocks via an area communications message center staffed by trained message center managers. Since disasters, such as earthquakes, do not hit each area equally, excess nurses, doctors, medical personnel, light search and rescue teams, and numerous logistical supplies, such as cots, blankets, splints, generators, shovels, tools, etc. can be shared between CERT Areas across Kensington-El Cerrito via Ham Radio and/or high power GMRS. We envision building a high power GMRS radio system to operate alongside ham radio, so that tier three communications overload would be ameliorated.by trained GMRS operators.
In summary, the Kensington Amateur Radio Operators – El Cerrito Ham Operators (KARO-ECHO) will offer free training and guidance in helping CERT trainees to obtain, maintain, and operate FRS and GMRS radios. KARO-ECHO will also provide information and training on how to become licensed amateur radio operators (hams) and/or GMRS operators; which will enhance our communications abilities. Come join and help us help each other! Just think, when internet, cell phones, SMS texting, power, and telephone are down, or at best severely overloaded, we then can communicate effectively by radio!
Your CERT block neighborhood leads and CERT Area Coordinators need your active participation. Disaster preparation is essential for an effective disaster relief operation where we are aiming to maximize our self-reliance.
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 heard 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 beeps, transmit beeps, vox, lock, and other bells and whistles OFF, as well.
Useful Nets and Links on How CERT Utilizes FRS, GMRS, and ARS During Disasters
CERT FRS/GMRS Nets
BEcertainn a dedicated CERT GMRS repeater group that meets on GMRS Ch.22 repeater (transmit up 5MHz) with a PL tone of 88.5 on the first Tuesday of the month at 1930. Join their forum BECertainn HERE. Webpage at https://www.becertainn.org/. BECERTAINN Covers Berkeley and Albany
BeCERTAINN Website: A volunteer neighborhood Berkeley disaster radio communications organization
El Cerrito EC9 FRS/GMRS Net First Wednesdays at 1900 ch. 15
El Cerrito EC4 FRS/GMRS Net First Wednesdays at 1845 ch. 2
El Cerrito EC5 FRS/GMRS staging ch. 5
Kensington K6 FRS/GMRS Net First Wednesdays at 1830 ch6
First Wednesday of the Month West Contra Costa CERT, GMRS, and FRS Disaster Readiness Net (First Wed. each month on channel 15)
Richmond Heights (R2R) 1st Wednesday of each month at 1930 -- FRS/GMRS Ch. 7
West County Ham CERT Net 1845 Richmond Heights, 1st Wednesday of each month, WA6DUR/R 442.150 +5MHz, pl tone 107.2
Bay Area CERT Ham EMCOMM Net, Evey Saturday 0930 444.275MHz (+5 MHz) WA6KQB/R PL 82.5 (Richmond and West Co Co Cty CERT)
Berkeley Disaster Preparedness Neighborhood Network (BDPNN) webpage. A volunteer non-profit community organization that picks up where CERT leaves off.
Point Richmond CERT Webpage
LAMORINDA CERT: Serving Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda (very active, operational, with excellent on-line resources)
Further CERT and GMRS/FRS Resources
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)
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)
A CERT Comm Plan by FEMA (PPT) (Note this is not very well presented and is based on outdated FCC rules which have been superseded in 2018)
Sample Disaster Communications Plan graphic (Contra Costa County CERT) (Note that this is terribly ut of date based on pre-2018 FCC regulations which are no longer valis).
A list of Radios and features of various GMRS radios that are repeater capable (provided by BeCERTAINN )
How Butte County Established a GMRS Radio Communications System after the Camp Fire Disaster (an excellent how to youtube video)
How to obtain your GMRS License
FRS does not require a license; however, severe, power, antenna, and channel limitations apply alongside of disallowing repeater use. A GMRS license will greatly improve your communication capabilities for a one time application fee of $70 for your entire household with no charge for renewing.
The FCC web pages allow for on-line GMRS licensing.
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 . To use GMRS frequencies, the FCC requires you to obtain a license. To get a GMRS license you don’t have to take an exam, but you will need to fill out the required forms and send your payment.
Obtaining an FRN: [Note licensed hams already have a FRN and can skip this step.]
First you must obtain an FRN number (FCC Registration Number). There is no charge to obtain an FRN. To obtain your FRN go to FCC Registration Page https://www.fcc.gov/wireless/systems-utilities/universal-licensing-system
CLICK ON NEW USER registration. You will be taken to https://apps.fcc.gov/cores/userLogin.do [Note skip this step if you already have a FCC license and FRN number]
Select "Register" complete the online questionnaire (it is very simple and takes less than 1 minute) . You will receive your FRN immediately upon completing the one page online form. Make a note of your FRN. Then you can move to the next steps below.
GMRS License Application Process
The process to obtain a GMRS license is fairly easy. You can apply for a license on-line by following the steps below.
Once you have your FRN (see "Obtaining an FRN" above) then proceed to the main FCC screen ( http://wireless.fcc.gov/uls/index.htm?job=home ) Then choose Online Filing, Log In. [Login using your FRN and password]. Select NEW (NE) for a New License.
Select license class ZA (bottom of list on drop down menu). [Note ZA is the GMRS license classification]
Request Type: No
Fee Status: both No – Continue
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. Continue and Pay [after certifying that the information you provided is correct].
You can pay on-line via credit card if you wish or mail in a check within a specified deadline period. The current fee is $70 (as of 03-01-2019) and there is no additional renewable fees. Your license is valid for 10 years and permits you to transmit on GMRS frequencies (see list below). Your equipment must be Part 90 and/or Part 95 type-accepted. GMRS is for individuals, their household, and entire family. For non-commercial use only. You should become familiar with the rules and etiquette of two-way radio and GMRS (PART 95 FCC Rules) . You should memorize your GMRS call sign and be able to provide it when asked by other users.
GMRS Mail-in Form 605 (registering by snail mail and check). Again select NE for New and ZA for GMRS.
El Cerrito Kensington CERT Disaster Staging/Gathering Areas (This list is not current and will be updated, hopefully in the near future.