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Regional Ham Radio Network Progress Report

 

Last year, we announced that the region was starting a ham radio network for emergency communications. We would like to take this opportunity to provide an update on the project and to ask for your continued support.  First, let's take a few moments to review why ham radio is so important.

 

During major disasters, routine forms of communication, such as cell phones, the Internet, and telephone landlines, can quickly become congested or even fail. While many government agencies have access to other forms of communication (satellite phones, priority telephones, etc.), private citizens and faith-based groups are often left without any means of communicating with each other or the outside world.

A ham radio network will allow the centers to communicate at a local, regional, and worldwide level if a disaster knocks out regular communications. Although there are other radio services open to the general public, ham radio has proven to be the most successful emergency communications tool when other forms of communications are unavailable.

 

How ham radio works in a disaster is best summarized by the following three illustrations. 

 

 

Most people use cell phone and landline phones. These phones depend heavily on our infrastructure of communication cables and electrical power distribution.

 

 

 

 

After a disaster, the communications infrastructure may be damaged. For example, cell phone networks may not work or could be limited to simple functions such as text messaging.  

 

 

 

 

 


 

Mountaintop repeaters extend the range of hand-held radios hundreds of miles. Since ham radio repeaters often have some means of back-up power, they will usually continue to function in an emergency. 

 

 

 

A Complete Emergency Network

 

Eventually we will have a communication network including multiple services, such as satellite phones, ham, GMRS and FRS, which will allow members and staff of Sukyo Mahikari to communicate with each other and with local and regional disaster agencies during an emergency. [GMRS, or General Mobile Radio Service, is used by businesses and families needing medium-range communication (up to 300 miles). FRS (Family Radio Service) is used by most modern walkie-talkies for short-range communication.]

 

An illustration of this planned network is shown below.

 

 


 

 

 

What the Region Has Accomplished So Far

 

The region started organizing a ham radio team back in October 2008. Since then, the team has been advising the region and providing training to interested members.

 

Our goal has been to create a radio network in which anyone, regardless of native language or educational background, can participate. After careful consideration, we developed the following requirements for the network:   

 

 

1)      The network shall not interfere with or distract from the spiritual goals of the organization. 

2)      Centers and staff members will be the center of the communication tree, but not used as communication "hubs."

3)      The network shall not put members at risk of excessive Radio Frequency (RF) exposure.

4)      The basic radio cost shall be under $300 per family.

5)      Members who prefer not to get a "ham" license can get limited connection using a "no-exam" radio service like GMRS or FRS. 

6)      The network shall enable members to communicate with other nearby members and with a communication coordinator who will report to the local center.

7)      Center and HQ staff members will use communication methods which do not require them to take FCC (Federal Communications Commission) tests.

 

The ham radio team has been supporting members located throughout the United States and Canada. After two years of preparation, we now have over 25 ham radio operators in the western United States.  Most are located in the San Francisco Bay area. However, there are 4 in the Reno, Nevada, area; one in Boise, Idaho; one in Portland, Oregon; one in Rancho Santa Margarita, California; and two in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Of these licensed operators, 20 have ham licenses and 14 have GMRS licenses. In the San Francisco area, members hold a radio practice every month.

 

In the other parts of the region, the regional team has also been working with members in Montreal, Phoenix, New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC to identify and train members interested in supporting the ham radio network. There are 2 licensed ham radio operators, along with a number of others preparing to take the ham radio exam.

 

As we continue to build the network, we're always looking for members willing to lend a hand. Technical experience is helpful, but is certainly not a requirement!

 

Choosing a "Radio Service" and a Radio

 

There are many radio services. Some require paying a small licensing fee to the FCC, but there are no usage charges. Some of the more common ones are "Citizens' Band" (CB), used by truckers for short-range communication, FRS, GMRS,  and "Amateur Radio" (ham) which is best known for world-wide communication but also has an elaborate network of VHF/UHF repeaters which allow medium range communication. 

 

Medium-range communication is achieved through mountaintop "repeaters." As just one example, the map below shows how a member in Saratoga, California, used a mountaintop repeater in Vacaville to communicate with other radio operators in Elk Grove and El Dorado Hills. 

 

 

Other Options

 

In addition to radio services, there are communication devices such as satellite mobile phones, which communicate directly with orbiting satellites.  Satellite phones are not generally limited by failures of local infrastructure. They can communicate with other satellite phones or with any operating telephone worldwide.

 

We recommend having a satellite phone at each center. For individual members, ham radio is the best medium-range emergency communication service, since it is inexpensive and it also connects members to a network of emergency service providers as well as those in need.  To get a ham license, one needs to pass a test on the principles of electronics and radio rules. Using the "ham-cram" one-day test preparation, most people can get a short-range ham license.

 

 

The Radio

 

After studying all of the requirements and options, we found an easy-to-use medium-range radio shown in Figure 1. Different models of this ICOM radio can be programmed to operate in "ham," GMRS, or FRS radio service. This radio allows anyone who can afford $225 to participate. There are many compact radios with greater compatibility; however, those radios are difficult to operate especially during an emergency.

 

Figure 1. ICOM F3011/4011 HF radio.

 


Licensing

 

For FRS, there is no license needed. For GMRS, there is no test and the license can be purchased for $85. For ham, there is a test with 36 multiple-choice questions and a fee of $14. We discovered that it was possible for most Sukyo Mahikari members to pass the ham radio test after a one-day "ham-cram" session on the question pool of 350 multiple-choice questions. Although this method of study did not leave the members with the knowledge and ability to perform international communications, it was sufficient for them to be able to perform medium-range communication. 

 

 

Training

 

Getting a ham license does not teach one how to use a radio. The ham test mostly covers theory and regulations. New radio operators need mentoring or classes to prepare them to be able to help in an emergency. The emergency coordinator at the San Francisco center developed a three-class program to prepare newly licensed ham operators to use the basic ICOM 3011/4011 radio shown above. Each class is two hours and involves both PowerPoint presentation and hands-on training. This class could be used at any center that chooses to use the ICOM 3011/4011 radio. The PowerPoint slides are so thorough that this presentation could be presented remotely via webcast. Interested members should contact NARHamRadio@gmail.com for more details.

 

 

 

Future Plans

If you are interested in helping the region develop a radio network or want to learn how to become an amateur radio operator, please send your name and contact information to NARHamRadio@gmail.com. We have assembled a committed group of members who are available to train other members in person as well as over the Internet. No experience is necessary, and all ages are welcome.

 

 

 

 



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