General Mobile Radio Service
Echo Lake Communication for Non-Hams
February 28, 2001 - The magnitude 6.8 Nisqually earthquake shook the Puget Sound causing $2 billion in damages, 1 death and 407 injuries. Cellular phone systems were overloaded and failed. Incoming long-distance telephone communications were cut. Many government buildings were evacuated and closed. Emergency Operations Centers were activated all over Western Washington.
March 22, 2014 a hillside outside Oso slid across the valley, covering Hwy 530 and severing phone and internet connections to the Darrington area.
Disasters happen without warning. We may experience something similar here. One thing is sure to happen; cell service will cease to function. Ham radio is our first defense, however for those folks that do not operate a Ham radio; we have developed a system for you. It is not as robust, but still allows you to connect with neighbors in the Echo Lake area and even into Monroe.
The Echo Lake Community extends well beyond the lakes area. This brief is intended for anyone in the area desiring to communicate with others following a disaster. The time to prepare is now. If you wish to communicate with our extended community during a disaster and do not have a Ham License, this system is for you. If you are a ham, your radio might also be able to use this system.
What system do we have
We have developed a robust GMRS communication system, allowing anyone to stay in touch with neighbors and those beyond our community following a disaster. The system is currently operational, and available for your use. This system is free to use. The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) system that has been deployed near Echo and Lost Lakes was designed for our community to use.
How the system works
Due to the terrain, trees and size of our area, most simple walkie-talkie’s do not provide the capability to communicate over much of our community. For this reason, a system was developed that allows small handheld walkie-talkie’s to communicate with each other through a repeater. This repeater receives the signal from each handheld radio and re-transmits at much greater power to all other radios. For example radios that would normally communicate over ½ mile, can now do the same over 15 or more miles. This allows virtually anyone in the area to communicate from home with anyone else, even if they are in Monroe.
Finding Your Radio
There are many handheld, mobile, or base station radios compatible with this system. Not all GMRS radios will work with a repeater system. The reason is they must transmit on one frequency and receive on a different frequency. This is referred as duplex communication. So when selecting a radio it must have this duplex offset frequency capability. The following are a few choices. There are other radios that may be capable, but these are recommended.
There may be other radios that will function with this system; however one needs to be aware that they meet the Technical Stuff section below. Radios marketed with range in miles, should be avoided, as that parameter is meaningless.
Regardless which radio you choose it would be good to have a power output of 2 watts or greater. More power provides more range, but consumes the battery faster.
Inexpensive radios are provided with a poor quality antenna. If you want to significantly improve the radio performance, get a better quality antenna. An antenna upgrade will be well worth the additional cost.
A good choice for a handheld radio is Wouxun KG-UV6X Dual Band VHF/UHF 200 Channel Handheld Commercial Radio. This radio costs about $190 and has many optional accessories. It has 200 channels, which is more than you could possibly use. This radio is popular with many non-trunked emergency responders as they are rugged and function quite well. There are many accessories available for this radio that increases its utility. Click photo for link to seller.
Baofeng UV-5R Plus
This is a fair choice for a handheld radio. It is consumer grade with a history of diminished consistency between radios and it generates spurious signals outside its intended frequency. They do however seem to exhibit good performance beyond that. These are the least expensive radios available at around $40. The batteries are rechargeable only. Click photo for link to seller.
If you are interested in a stationary base station that remains in your home, a good choice would be the PowerWerx DB-750. These are being installed at cities and fire departments around the county. It’s an example of a versatile, and powerful radio capable of Ham, GMRS, commercial, and many other bands. The radio costs about $400. In addition you will need an outside antenna, power supply and/or 12 volt car battery. The investment is much higher than a handheld, but the radio is much more capable. This would be a good choice for someone with a Ham license.
Another handheld radio that would work for this system is the Btech GMRS-V1 GMRS Portable Radio. This radio is essentially a Baofeng with limited frequencies. This radio costs about $55. Construction is lower quality than the Wouxun and it only works with GMRS radios. This radio would be for someone that did not want to program a radio and only wanted limited utility.
How to Get Started
Once you have a radio, it will most likely require programming. The one exception is the Btech GMRS-V1. If you need assistance programming your radio, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the radio programmed, set the frequency to Echo Lake or 462.575 MHz depending on your display options. You are now listening to the repeater output. If anyone transmits, you will hear them. If you press the button on the side of the radio you will be transmitting your voice. If anyone is listening, they will hear you. It’s that simple.
With most radios there is an option to change your output power level. To conserve battery life (between charges) use the minimum power setting that still connects to the repeater.
You will notice that immediately after you release your finger from the side button, the speaker output will output a hiss for about a second. This is normal, as the repeater continues to transmit during that last second. This provides a good indication that the repeater heard your signal.
Most radios will provide other features and frequencies that may be useful to your family.
Keeping your battery charged or having backup batteries is important for a radio that will be used in an emergency. If you don’t plan to use the radio for an extended time, it would be good to remove the battery. If you plan to monitor the Echo Lake system, leaving the radio on the charger while on, might be a good option.
We will be providing opportunities to use your new radio as time goes by. To have effective communication for the community, we will be developing a method to assure everyone knows how to connect with emergency services.
Most radios require programming to communicate with this system and other systems in the area. This is not difficult, but the capabilities of the radio can’t be exceeded. For any radio to be compatible with this repeater system it must be able to do the following;
Transmit on 467.5750 MHz with DPL Code of 172 (sometimes referred to as DSC)
Receive on 462.5750 MHz with DPL Code of 172 (sometimes referred to as DSC)
The repeater is transmitting from a tower at 35 watts ERP.
Once setup, the radio will automatically switch between these two frequencies.
The Legal Stuff
There is no class or exam required to operate the radios. The FCC does ask each household to purchase a license. The process is easy and provides a license quickly. The license cost is $70 paid to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
While operating they ask for you to identify your family every 15 minutes while operating using the call sign issued on your license. Interestingly, I have never heard anyone do this on GMRS. The Echo Lake group does not directly require you to have a license, that is an FCC function.
If you are interested in participating or need assistance, please contact us at email@example.com. If there are changes, training or other information of interest we will be able to keep you informed, via Email.