NET Teams & Radio Communications

Portland’s Neighborhood Emergency Teams are volunteers in your neighborhood that assist and organize help.


In an actual emergency, NET volunteers would meet at a nearby Staging Area, scout out the neighborhood situation in teams of two, identify tasks that unaffiliated volunteers can carry out, and communicate with the Portland Fire Bureau and Portland’s Emergency Operations Center via ham radios or walkie-talkies. Everyone is welcome to participate in NET training. It’s free and very interesting.

This video illustrates what Neighborhood Emergency Teams do. Hayden Island currently has about a dozen people on your NET team. We are always looking for more. PBEM has free online video training for all current or aspiring volunteers.To communicate, they use both walkie talkies and ham radios.


Unlicensed walkie talkies allow groups and individuals to communicate around the island. Ham radios generally have more power and can relay communications to Portland’s emergency command center.


Walkie Talkies
Walkie Talkies are available at any big box store for $30-$50 a pair and don’t require a ham radio license. They use the GMRS/Family Radio Service bands, around 462 and 467 MHz. They do not suffer the interference effects found on citizens’ band (CB) at 27 MHz and have a range between 1/2 mile to 5 miles (or more). They’re handy, especially if cellular and land-lines are down.


If you’re on Hayden Island or Bridgeton, using GMRS/Family Radio Service walkie talkies, the official talk channel for emergency communications is Channel 2 (462.5875), while Kenton and Portsmouth use Channel 3 (462.6125).


Channels 1-7 can use 1/2 watt (or more with the high power switch). Channels 15-22 typically use 3-5 watts of power, but may require a $60 (GMRS) mail-in license if you want to be fully compliant. Walkie Talkie channels 08 through 14 are generally avoided because their power is limited to no more than 1/2 watt (the FRS band). The advantage of using channels 08 through 14 (FRS band), is that it requires no license whatsoever and that it IS local.


The Hayden Island NET team is mostly using Midland GXT1000VP4 & Motorola MS350R walkie talkies, which work in the 460 MHz (GRMS) band. Ham radios (using 440 MHz band) have also proven to work well, connecting the East and West sides of Hayden Island. The NET radio team suggests using these frequencies on Hayden Island:


General Communications:
Primary: CH 4. 462.6375 / FRS/GMRS
Backup: CH 6. 462.6875 / FRS/GMRS


JB and other Moorages:
Primary: CH 19. 462.65 / GMRS
Backup: CH 21. 462.7 / GMRS


Waterside and E-end apartments:
Primary: CH 20. 462.675 / GMRS
Backup: CH 22. 462.725 / GMRS


Manufactured Homes and RV Park:
Primary: CH 16. 462.575 / GMRS
Backup: CH 18. 462.625 / GMRS


Squelch (PL codes)
Turn the squelch off (0), even though it will mean you hear everyone on the channel. The privacy tone is also referred to as a Privacy Line or “PL” tone and as a Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System or “CTCSS” tone. I lets you create a “private” channel by squelching others who don’t use that PL code. Best to leave squelch off. It lets you hear interference. A good thing.


The privacy tone number 1 (67 Hz) is the same for Cobra, Cherokee, Midland, Motorola, and Radio Shack units and corresponds to 67.0 Hz. Note that there is another form of privacy tone system available on some GMRS radios called Digital-Coded Squelch (DCS). The DCS technology is not compatible with CTCSS technology – radios using DCS will not hear and will not be heard by radios using CTCSS privacy tones. In an actual emergency, all the 22 walkie talkie channels are likely to be crowded, so moving to an alternative channel may be necessary.

The FCC’s new Report and Order for Part 95 Rules looks to be a major change for FRS/GMRS radios.


1. Family Radio Service (FRS)
FRS would now have 22 channels. All 22 channels that today’s combination FRS/GMRS radios use will become part of FRS. All FRS channels are also allotted to the GMRS channels on a shared basis.

FRS would now have higher wattage. Previously, FRS was limited to one-half of one watt. The new rules allow FRS radios to transmit at up to 2 watts of power. According to the FCC’s new rules, “Each FRS transmitter type must be designed such that the effective radiated power (ERP) on channels 8 through 14 does not exceed 0.5 Watts and the ERP on channels 1 through 7 and 15 through 22 does not exceed 2.0 Watts.”

FRS radios may transmit digital data Previously, FRS transmissions were limited to voice conversations. Now, these units may also transmit and receive digital data as well. This includes location information or brief text messages to and from other FRS or GMRS stations.

2. General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
GMRS would have 30 channels. The GMRS is allotted 30 total channels consisting of 16 main channels and 14 interstitial channels. The GMRS operators may use their GMRS station for two-way plain language voice communications with other GMRS stations and with FRS units for personal or business activities.

GMRS can still be used with repeaters. The rules allow for use of GMRS with repeaters on specified channels. GMRS repeater, base and fixed stations may be operated by remote control.

GMRS radios may transmit digital data. As with FRS, digital location information, requests for location information, and brief text messages to another specific unit is now allowed to be transmitted over GMRS. Previously this was allowed to Garmin through a special waiver.

GMRS still requires a license but for a longer term. Previously, a GMRS license was valid for 5 years. Licenses are now valid for 10 years. As for current FRS/GMRS radios, If it transmits above 2 watts, it’s a GMRS radio and needs a license.


Portland NETs
Portland’s Neighborhood Emergency Teams (PBEM, Facebook page & Map), are community volunteers. Their mission is to respond and report the current situation for professional responders and provide help as best they can. Portland NET training is guided by Portland Fire and Rescue personnel to do the greatest good for the greatest number.

Here’s a map of currently active Neighborhood Emergency Teams and social media links on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and Tumblr. NET volunteers are your neighbors and may be the first on scene.


Each neighborhood has its own NET Operations & Communications Plan that describes what to do and how it will be done.


A NET staging area is intended as a rally point for NET members to gather after an earthquake (or other disaster) before going out into the community to provide assistance. In some cases the NET staging area and a Basic Earthquake Emergency Communication Node (BEECN) are co-located.

NET volunteers provide immediate response, while Basic Earthquake Emergency Communication Nodes enable public outreach and communications. Those are stood up 24 to 48 hours following an earthquake.


Basic Earthquake Emergency Communication Node (BEECN)
The City of Portland supplies special VHF radios to every Fire Station that can also be used by NET radio operators. BEECN radios are similar to FRS/GRMS walkie-talkies except they use the VHF band (rather then the 450 MHz UHF band) and generally have longer range with less interference then ordinary walkie talkies.


A BEECN (Basic Earthquake Emergency Communication Node) is the place to go in Portland after a big earthquake to ask for emergency assistance if phone service is down, or to report severe damage or injury. BEECN radios are VHF radios that are generally included in a special container of emergency communications and other supplies that are stored in each Portland neighborhood. They can be utilized and activated in an emergency like an earthquake. Those radios will connect to local fire stations or regionally to keep each neighborhood informed and pass emergency message traffic.


On Hayden Island, the Basic Earthquake Emergency Communication Node (BEECN) would likely be located on the Sleep Country parking lot, on the west side of the Jantzen Beach shopping center. BEECNs are located under a clearly marked red and white tent.

The BEECN Map shows that the Hayden Island’s BEECN site at Sleep Country is at 1840 N Hayden Island Drive (N-7), while the Bridgeton BEECN assembles at the Columbia Site Field, 716 NE Marine Drive (NE-10), and Kenton assembles at Arbor Lodge Park, N Dekum Street and N Greeley Avenue (N-8). There are 48 locations throughout Portland.


BEECNs are primarily intended for communication purposes. They are places for the public to go after a major earthquake to call for help.


Amateur Radio
Amateur Radio is used to relay messages directly to the Emergency Coordination Center in SE Portland or elsewhere. This list of amateur radio operators in the 97217 zip (pdf) shows 100 or so licensed hams.


Amateur Radio Operators move through three stages of NET training (with an optional fourth stage) in order to receive an ARO badge: (1) an initial training in Basic NET, (2) FCC amateur radio licensing, and (3) NET radio operations training. If an ARO would like to progress further, s/he can receive training on running a radio net.


The ARRL RadioGram is the format that ham radio users use to send and receive messages between stations. The National Traffic System (NTS) is a structure that allows for rapid movement of traffic from origin to destination and training amateur operators to handle written traffic and participate in directed nets. The ARES/RACES Radio Operator (ARRO) certification for Multnomah County covers traffic handling and logging.


The Baefeng UV-5R, for about $30, is an inexpensive, handheld ham radio.


The primary (emergency) frequency for the ECC is the Multnomah County Secondary Repeater (MC-2), at 147.280 MHz. It uses a repeater frequency offset of + 0.600 MHz and a Tone of 167.9. The fallback channel for ECC ham communications is (MC 5), a simplex channel with a Frequency of 146.460.


All Amateur Radio Operators (AROs) need to be aware of the operations of the Multnomah County Amateur Radio Emergency Service, to work together effectively. Multnomah County ARES has regular meeting at the Portland Fire & Rescue Training Station, 4800 NE 122nd Ave Portland, Oregon 97230 at 7:00 PM (Calendar). Multnomah County’s ARES Standard Operating Procedure describes how all Multnomah ARES members and other hams will provide emergency communications.



FEMA’s on-line courses are generally free and include, IS-100 (Introduction to Incident Command System), IS-200 ( Initial Action Incidents), and IS-700.A (National Incident Management System). They are designed to enable personnel to operate efficiently using the standardized Incident Command System.


Hayden Island’s Fire Station
Portland Fire & Rescue provides emergency response through 30 fire stations throughout Portland. Hayden Island has its own Fire station (just east of Safeway) which has communications and rescue gear. Rescue Boat 17, and Fire Boat 17.


Hayden Island’s on-duty fire personnel include one company officer, one Harbor pilot, one engineer, and one firefighter paramedic. Local firefighters will likely be overwhelmed and away responding to the worst incidents.


Each station has a red Pelican case with ham and BEECN radios to contact Portland’s Emergency Command Center, which is co-located at the 911 center in SE Portland. The ham radios at firestation are intended to communicate situation reports and other official communications when regular channels are down.


Each firestation has a ham radio and a large antenna that communicates many miles. The ham radio is available for firestation personnel as well as for NET volunteers who are licensed amateur radio operators.


Walkie-talkies can be purchased at Walmart, Costco and Target for $20-$40 each. You don’t need a license to use FRS/GMRS walkie-talkies. Both ham and walkie talkie radios may be used at staging areas around the city. Walkie talkies are generally used locally, while ham radios are used to communicate over longer distances.

The Oregon eFOG app (Android) compiles communications information for public safety users. Here are the Incident Command Forms with instructions on how to use them.



Satellite Phones
Walkie talkies and ham radios are free and excel at local communications. Satellite phones might be the ideal solution…if you need to communicate over long distances. But the $500-$1000 cost of a GlobalStar or Iridium phone may be dwarfed by the $2/minute talk time fees. And data is usually slower than 1.2Kbps speeds (note, that’s NOT 1.2 Mbps). Inmarsat and Intelsat also offer satphone terminals but they use geosynch satellites which require the use of non-handheld antennas for operation.


In a large-scale emergency, the usage costs on Globalstar would tend to significantly exceed the usage costs of Iridium or Inmarsat GSPS. Inmarsat I-4 is at 98° West, which is pretty good.


The KVH V-3 TracPhone terminal is the world’s smallest maritime VSAT antenna system. Phone calls cost $0.49 per minute worldwide. KVH uses a super small dish on a gimbal, but the high power signals needed to complete the satellite link would splash over and interfere with satellites positioned just 2 degrees away from the target GEO satellite.


To overcome this problem, KVH uses CDMA and dedicated satellite transponders on a variety of satellites, that spreads the signal over several frequencies (and using more bandwidth), thus requiring much less power density at any given frequency, and therefore insignificant interference to the adjacent satellites. On Hayden Island, Rodgers Marine Electronics, at 3445 NE Marine Drive, might be a good contact.


Kymeta’s KyWay terminals are flat panels with no moving parts for easy (mobile) connection to Intelsat or SES.


Broadband Satellites
Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) is comprised of four (I-4) satellites owned by Inmarsat, using wide area and spot beams at lower frequencies. Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (I-5) satellite constellation is now made up of four Ka-band (20/30 GHz), for true broadband speeds, up to 50Mbps, although it’s low on the western horizon.


The four Intelsat’s EpicNG high throughput satellites incorporate C, Ku and Ka spot beams.


Consumer satellite internet providers using High Throughput satellites are far cheaper than Inmarsat (marine) or Intelsat (international fixed satellite links). Hughes Jupiter2 and ViaSat’s ViaSat2 are designed to deliver broadband internet to consumers across the United States. They can deliver 25 Mbps speeds to consumers at $100/month or less. By 2020, OneWeb may enable broadband-enabled satellite handhelds.


Need broadband access? YOu might look for grounded aircraft at PDX. The current fleet of 8000 Gogo-equipped planes is dominated by their AirToGround and ATG-4 service in the US, which is useless between the ground and 10,000 ft. But grounded jets might be very useful for WiFi access if they used Gogo’s new 2Ku satellite service based on Intelsat service. Gogo buys Ku service from different satellite providers and is offered on Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines which plans to begin its conversion to the faster satellite system in the first half of 2018, with hopes of expanding the service to all Alaska Airlines planes and those of Virgin America by early 2020. Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America last year.

ViaSat and Hughes own the Ka band space with ViaSat 2-3 and Jupiter 2-3 promising fast, inexpensive service to airlines as well. Florida’s cruise ships using Gee’s satellite service could also be re-positioned to the West Coast for earthquake relief.


Satellite AIS
Satellite Automatic Identification Systems track vessels or things (utilizing GPS). Satellite AIS through Orbcomm and Iridium may track assets even if local VHF radio for terrestrial backhaul is down. They work over the ocean.


Iridium Certus provides global coverage and speeds reaching up to 1.4 Mbps, on Iridium NEXT. Certus terminals are being designed by Cobham, L3, Rockwell Collins and Thales and are expected to be in commercial use in 2018. Iridium Next’s onboard ADS-B transponder , commercialized by Aireon, is like AIS for aircraft.


Iridium Next utilizes ExactEarth for AIS while the GlobalStar network offers the SPOT Gen3 GPS tracker. Both Iridium and GlobalStar are LEO satellite phone constellations. Orbcomm, on the other hand, is store and forward (no voice) data only LEO constellation. It began its Satellite Automatic Identification System service in 2009 and can combines terrestrial AIS, satellite AIS, and satellite M2M.


Summary:
Neighbors helping neighbors, via the Neighborhood Emergency Teams, will likely be the first line of defense after a subduction zone earthquake. Communications is vital and may be disrupted and congested, particularly cellular communications which rely on grid electricity and may have less than 8 hrs of generator power (and gas) available. Emergency communications may then depend on walkie talkies and ham radio operators, using repeaters that run off batteries and solar panels.


It’s important to be informed about radio procedures and protocols to provide effective message passing in the event of an emergency. The statewide VHF/UHF network for first responders and satellite phones will also be vital elements. GPS tracking may need to rely on satellite-based (ocean-tracking) systems that utilize satellite links rather than terrestrial networks for connections.

NEXT: Hunkering Down

BACK: Home