Saturday, March 9, 2013

Radio communications in widespread disasters

Below are some notes on radio communications in "SHTF" style disasters for a new class I am running on informatics in disasters and emergency response. I'm posting it here both in case it's useful for others, and also to solicit comments and feedback, and anything that might be missing?


Equipment

To receive local VHF, UHF and 800MHz frequencies directly, you will need a scanner. Many public safety entities are now on digital P25 networks, which means you need a more expensive digital scanner. Recommended scanners include the Uniden Home PatrolBCD396XTand BCD996XT, and the GRE PSR500. A much cheaper option, when the internet is working, is to use one of the online scanner feeds, especially those from Broadcastify. These feeds are also available through a variety of iPhone and Android apps, such as Scanner911. Some agencies are also making feeds available through walkie talkie apps such as Zello.

Most commercial medium and short wave radio stations broadcast using regular AM. However most of the government, NGO and amateur frequencies active in disasters use Single Side Band (SSB - USB or LSB). To receive all of these frequencies you will need a radio that is capable of receiving medium wave, and short wave SSB. One of the best is the Grundig Satellit 750

VHF, UHF and 800MHz local frequencies

You can find lots of information on active local emergency service VHF, UHF and 800MHz frequencies that will likely be active in disasters, on the RadioReference website. Note in particular that many counties have amateur radio users active on VHF and UHF in emergencies, operating under the ARES and RACES organizational frameworks. Many nationally used emergency and public safety interoperability frequencies are described in the National Interoperability Field Operations Guide (NIFOG). Another important source of information are theNOAA All Hazards radio frequencies. Weather alert radios monitor these frequencies for alert tones, or they can be monitored directly. Under normal circumstances, they broadcast weather forecasts, alerts and conditions, but they will also transmit a variety of general emergency alert messages. A list of frequencies used in your area and alert tone codes can be found on the NOAA All Hazards website
NOAA 1, 162.400
NOAA 2, 162.425
NOAA 3, 162.450
NOAA 4, 162.475
NOAA 5, 162.500
NOAA 6, 162.525
NOAA 7, 162.550

Medium Wave PEP Radio Stations

PEP (Primary Entry Point) radio stations are battle-hardened commercial radio stations, usually in the medium wave (AM) band, that serve as initial entry points for national Emergency Alert System traffic.They must have a backup generator for 30 days on the air, along with various other stringent requirements, so in a widespread disaster situation they could be vital information sources if local infrastructure is down. Find your nearest Primary Entry Point Medium Wave radio stations on the PEP Map. For reference, the 33 PEP stations are:
KALL 700 Herriman UT (50,000 W day/1000 W night)
KBOI 670 Kuna ID (50,000 W)
KCBS 740 Novato CA (50,000 W)
KERR 750 Polson MT (50,000 day/1000 night) 
KFLT 830 Tucson AZ (50,000 day/1000 night)
KFQD 750 Anchorage AK (50,000 W)
KFWB 980 Los Angeles CA (5000 W)
KFYR 550 Meneken ND (5000 W)
KIRO 710 Vashon WA (50,000 W)
KKOB 770 Albuquerque NM (50,000 W)
KKOH 780 Reno NV (50,000 W)
KOA 850 Parker CO (50,000 W)
KTRH 740 Dayton TX (50,000 W)
KTWO 1030 Casper WY (50,000 W)
WABC 770 New York NY (50,000 W)
WBAP 820 Mansfield TX (50,000 W)
WBAL 1090 Baltimore MD (50,000 W)
WBZ 1030 Boston MA (50,000 W)
WCCO 830 Minneapolis/St Paul MN (50,000 W)
WCOS FM 97.5 Columbia SC (100,000 W)
WHAM 1180 Rochester NY (50,000 W)
WHB 810 Kansas City KS (50,000 day/5000 night)
WKAQ 580 Catano PR (10,000 W)
WLS 890 Chicago IL (50,000 W)
WLW 700 Cincinnati OH (50,000 W)
WMAC 940 Macon GA (50,000 day/10,000 night)
WQDR FM 94.7 Raleigh NC (100,000 W)
WRXL FM 102.1 Richmond VA (20,000 W)
WSM 650 Nashville TN (50,000 W)
WSTA 1340 St Thomas VI (1000 W)
WTAM 1100 Cleveland OH (50,000 W)
WWL 870 New Orleans LA (50,000 W)
WYGM 740 Clermont FL (50,000 W)

Short Wave Government, NGO and Amateur Stations


NIST time stations. NIST stations (our nearest is WWV in Colorado) broadcast 24 hours a day with a voice announcement of the time, on the minute, and "pips" for every second. They are a good way to test propagation in different bands, as well as seeing if the stations are "alive" in a very widespread disaster:
NIST WWV AM 2500, 5000, 10000, 15000, 20000
ARRL amateur radio emergency frequencies. The American Amateur Radio League (ARRL) runs emergency bulletins on the hour during widespread disaster events, from its W1AW station. At other times, general interest bulletins are broadcast daily at 02:45 UT (9.45pm Eastern Time).
ARRL 80M, 3990 LSB
ARRL 40M, 7290 LSB
ARRL 20M, 14290 USB
ARRL 17M, 18160 USB
ARRL 15M, 21390 USB
ARRL 10M, 28590 USB
The amateur radio band plan defines how parts of the shortwave spectrum assigned for amateur radio use can be used. The following ranges of frequencies can be used for voice conversations, and may be utilized in emergencies
80M BAND, 3600-4000 LSB
40M BAND, 7125-7300 LSB
20M BAND, 14150-14350 USB
17M BAND, 18110-18168 USB
15M BAND, 21200-21450 USB
10M BAND, 28300-29700 USB
FEMA. FEMA runs disaster nets in emergencies for use by state and regional emergency managers. The primary frequencies are:
FEMA-1 NIGHTTIME PRIMARY, 5211 USB
FEMA-2 DAYTIME PRIMARY, 10493 USB
FEMA-3 SECONDARY, 14567 USB
FEMA-4 SECONDARY, 13956 USB
SHARESSHARES is a loose network of critical organizations and government agencies to share information in a disaster. SHARES is tested every Wednesday at 16:00 UT (11am Eastern Time)
SHARES NIGHTTIME PRIMARY, 5236 USB
SHARES DAYTIME PRIMARY, 14396.5 USB
SHARES NORTH CENTRAL, 6765 USB
SHARES CENTRAL, 6910 USB
SHARES SOUTH WEST, 7320 USB
SHARES SOUTH EAST, 7632 USB
Other Frequencies. The following other shortwave frequencies are also often used in disasters:
SATERN PRIMARY - SALVATION ARMY EMERGENCY NET, 14265 USB
HURRICANE WATCH NET, 14325 USB
MARS DISASTER OPERATIONS, 14390 USB

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