Updated: Dec 28, 2020
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) Radio Operators - Key Partners in Success.
PHOTO - Bill Leaming, N4GIX, Assistant Emergency Coordinator for Net Operations of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service in Lake County, Ind. and the ARES District 1 liaison to the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) Radio Operators in Northwest Indiana explains the design of his deployable emergency communications high frequency (HF) radio antenna to a General Mobile Radio Service radio enthusiast during the Simulated Emergency Test (SET) field exercise on October 3, 2020. Leaming was part of a team that worked together with GMRS radio operators and repeater owners to establish voice and data (email) communications from a park in Hobart, Ind., using two dedicated HF stations, operating on battery power and using different antennas. (Photo by Joseph P. Cirone)
GMRS and Ham Radio Operators Demonstrate Emergency Communications Capabilities
HOBART, Ind. (Oct. 4, 2020) - General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) radio enthusiasts and Ham radio operators explored their ability to work together and provide emergency communications for public safety, hospital and emergency management authorities during a major disaster or extreme weather event from a simulated disaster scene.
Hams representing Indiana's Amateur radio Emergency Service (ARES) Indiana District 1, which covers Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Jasper and Newton counties deployed to a park in Hobart on October 3, 2020 to establish communications from the inaugural Midwest GMRS Repeater Network’s Meet N’ Greet event.
The Hams, also known as Amateur radio operators because they are volunteers, not paid, established voice and data communications, using one antenna made of ordinary 14-gage (thin) wire, stretched horizontally between tripods and another antenna made of 17-feet of one-inch diameter aluminum tent pole held together by a bungee cord, mounted vertically on a camera tripod. Each antenna was connected to a different High-Frequency (HF) two-way radio.
One of the radios was connected to a tablet computer, enabling the sending and receiving of email and other data messaging, without using any internet, WiFi, satellite or cellular connection. Both radios and the computer were powered by a small, lithium battery, able to supply the equipment with power for at least 18 hours. Solar power and portable generators are used to recharge the batteries or supply power directly to the equipment.
Demonstrating cooperation between the two groups, GMRS repeater owner Robert Baldyga provided one battery and Bill Leaming, a Ham, ARES District 1 member and GMRS radio operator provided the other. Leaming is the ARES Assistant Emergency Coordinator in charge of Network Operations for Lake County and the liaison to the GMRS group.
“GMRS operators can send and receive emergency and extreme weather messages from the neighborhood and local community level to and from the Ham operators who can send and receive emergency and extreme weather messages from the local, state and federal levels,” Leaming stated. “We can accomplish so much more and provide much more value to the public working together.”
The ARES members pretended the GMRS event was a disaster scene, although the event was far from being a disaster, it was a hugely successful event by all accounts, with plenty to eat and great fellowship. From the event, the ARES members and GMRS personnel participated in the annual Simulated Emergency Test, a nationwide test designed to evaluate the strengths and areas needing further improvement of the participating ARES groups and to demonstrate ARES and other Ham radio capabilities to the public when all other forms of normal communications are overloaded, unreliable or unavailable.
GMRS radio operators are welcomed to affiliate with the ARES District 1 group. Some GMRS personnel are also Ham radio operators, allowing a built-in connection between the radio systems. Together, the team brings emergency communications and weather spotting capability from the neighborhoods throughout the District's five county area of operations.
To add realism to the exercise, GMRS personnel provided the email addresses and message text to send email messages to, and the ARES members sent them by radio. The ARES members were not forewarned what email addresses or message content was coming their way.
Once the emails arrived at their intended destinations, GMRS personnel replied to them via the internet and their cell phone enabled email. Then the ARES members received the replies by two-way radio, demonstrating the two-way radio email capability and interoperability with the customary email system used by people worldwide.
“ARES volunteers specialize in being able to provide emergency communications for public safety (Police, Fire, Emergency Medical Services, Search and Rescue and Emergency Management), hospital and disaster relief organizations including the American Red Cross and Salvation Army Disaster Services, plus critical infrastructure, like power, internet and cellular telephone providers while they are working to restore those services,” said Joe Cirone, the coordinator of Indiana's ARES District 1.
“ARES is officially recognized, nationally, by local, state and federal emergency and public safety organizations as the ‘go to’ provider of emergency communications during a disaster response and its recovery. It is also relied upon by the National Weather Service to help provide the ‘ground truth’ and conditions during extreme weather events, such as blizzards and tornados, and in other parts of the county, hurricanes,” Cirone said.
Leaming and Cirone recognize that by working closely with GMRS and other community-based radio operators, the value to public safety and other agencies using ARES and the officially affiliated GMRS and other groups, increases significantly.
“GMRS operators can send and receive emergency and extreme weather messages from the neighborhood and local community level to and from the Ham operators who can send and receive emergency and extreme weather messages from the local, state and federal levels,” Leaming stated. “We can accomplish so much more and provide much more value to the public working together,” he added.
Interoperability Between Communications Systems
ARES, working with its affiliated GMRS and other radio operator volunteers as one interoperable network can be utilized to establish communication and communications networks between a disaster scene and an emergency operations center, relay email and critical information to and from state and federal agencies including the National Guard from fixed, mobile, portable and field locations and even provide auxiliary or supplemental communications during parades, marathons, and other special events.
Cirone said, “Interoperability between our systems and those of other communications systems is high on our list of accomplishments. For ARES District 1, gone are the days of using Morse Code and antiquated data systems. We use high-speed, robust data, supplemented by tactical voice capabilities, all of which are aligned with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Incident Management System, which ARES volunteers get trained and certified in.
The Ham radio equipment used is able to communicate with voice and data, including email with photos, spreadsheets, Word and other attachments locally, regionally, statewide, nationwide and even worldwide, depending on the needs of the agency or agencies being supported. Hams are long known as the innovators of many technological advances, including cellular telephone and the internet. They are often described as the people who know how to make an antenna out of a wire coat hanger and communicate worldwide with it stuck on a tree limb, Cirone added.
During the test and demonstration, all 10 messages to and from the GMRS radio operators and the ARES members were exchanged without a glitch. In addition, communications and email messages were exchanged with the State Emergency Operations Centers in Columbus, Ohio and Nashville, Tenn., the Williamson County, Tenn. Emergency Management Agency, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security radio email message system gateway facility in Birmingham, Ala., and a radio email message system gateway in St. Louis, Mo.
Voice communications from as far away as Canada and Mexico were loud and clear. Being able to communicate beyond local and state borders is vital in an emergency if internet and cellular services are down, Cirone added.
ARES, like most volunteer groups, is always in need of additional volunteers. Free training is provided, and obligations are minimal. Volunteers can attend meetings virtually and even volunteer without leaving home, if desired. Affiliation is open to any Ham or other radio operator willing and able to affiliate with Indiana ARES District 1 and is without a criminal conviction, Cirone said.
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