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Remote Emergency Radio


#1

I have been thinking recently about emergency calls and radio. There
seems to be a great deal of interest and support for disaster
communications within the amateur radio community, e.g. during an
earthquake or flood, but I have never heard anything about personal or
smaller scale emergencies, for example breaking your leg in the
mountains. I have been asked (hypothetically) by fellow mountaineers if
I could use my radio in an emergency and I replied that anything I
could do would be entirely ad-hoc.

Amateur radio is as I see it a service for experimentation and the
hobbyist and as such officially giving it extra roles like emergency
comms is probably not a good idea. That is probably a separate debate
but it is relevant to the question of land based emergency
calls. There are marine and aeronautical emergency frequencies but as
far as I know, no land based services.

In summary, my question is: Is there a land based emergency calling
frequency or system, either on amateur radio or using a separate
service that falls within amateur bands and as such can be used with
the equipment we have available. If not, should there be?

The obvious answer is mobile phones but as we know coverage is rather
limited in remote areas.


#2

In reply to MM0HAI:
Not sure if this is what you’re asking about, but here in western Canada/ Vancouver Island, most local municipalities provide facilities (and often equipment) for amateurs to use to communicate in local or regional emergencies. I think the practice is widespread in Canada and the US.

In Victoria, B.C., the local repeater is used for net training purposes each week – and would be used in an emergency. There’s also simplex training in the event the repeater(s) are unavailable.
This is all meant as a supplement to the government emergency communications.

As for the broken leg scenario, I was monitoring our local repeater quite a few years ago, and caught a call from an amateur on a mountainside southeast of Seattle, Washington – about 130 miles away. He was calling on behalf of a group of climbers, one of whom had been injured in a fall; our repeater was the only one they could reach from there.
I was able to QSY to a Seattle repeater and bring a Seattle ham to the Victoria repeater, and he was able to arrange for a helicopter rescue through Seattle Search & Rescue. (With all the mountains in this area, and well-elevated repeaters, VHF hand-held communications over such distances are not uncommon.)

Nelson
VE7FTL
CN88


#3

In reply to MM0HAI:

This link is to the Emergency Communication Frequencies allocated in the UK bandplan, but I don’t know if they are permanently monitored.

http://www.raynet-uk.net/main/raynetfreqs.asp

Pete, M0COP


#4

In reply to MM0HAI:

As far as I know there are no continuously monitored emergency frequencies in the UK. However, I think an emergency call on either the FM or SSB calling frequencies on two metres should get a quick response unless you are very far from population centres or well below the summit. IMHO the two metre option should only be used if there is no mobile coverage as it adds extra links to the chain and this will slow the rescue process down and increase the chance of wrong information being passed in error. By similar reasoning I would avoid using HF for this purpose: 80 may suffer badly enough from D layer absorption to be less effective than two metres, and the higher bands (excepting 60 metres) will probably end up with emergency traffic being routed via another country or even continent, adding language problems to the other difficulties.

73

Brian G8ADD


#5

In reply to M0COP:
For use on events / exercises in the amin.
I don’t think they are monitored anywhere in UK.

73 Graham G4FUJ


#6

In reply to MM0HAI:

I have been thinking recently about emergency calls and radio.

In summary, my question is: Is there a land based emergency calling
frequency or system, either on amateur radio or using a separate
service that falls within amateur bands and as such can be used with
the equipment we have available. If not, should there be?

No and no.

The systems already exist, give worldwide coverage, don’t require skill to use and are traceable to the owner. Satellite EPIRB systems (emergency position indicating radio beacons) are the answer. They work as long as you have a reasonably clear view of the sky. The latest ones include GPS recievers that can send your position when you hit the help button.

The downside is the free to use systems, you pay for the beacon but once bought there are no use charges, are only supported for maritime use in the UK. If you want to use one here you need a commercial PLB (personal locator beacon). These need to be bought and a yearly subscription has to be paid. The costs are cheap if you value your well being and are going somewhere where you might not be missed for a few days.

I’ve been looking at the SPOT system. The basic spot PLB is 149Eu and 1 year’s subs is 99Eu. That gives you the ability to send emergency messages, help request messages and also a “checkin/I’m OK” message. Your position is determined from the inbuilt GPS and this is sent on an L band uplink. Your position is saved for later retrieval and an SMS/email is sent to upto 10 contacts. There’s an APRS feature as well where you can be tracked on a Google map. The next level up is 179Eu + 99Eu/year. This has the additional ability of sending custom messages as well as the other facilities.

The best SPOT model is not yet availble but will be real soon. That connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and allows you to send 41 char custom messages or select from a number of preset messages. Again uplinked via satellite.

I didn’t know that units with custom messaging existed and that the usage costs where so cheap. The 99Eu yearly sub lets you send 200 SMS messages per year but an infinite number of emails. I’m tempted to punt for one now so I can use it with my SMS SOTA spotting system. Ever since I first saw Napoleon Solo twist his pen sized radio and say “Open channel D” I’ve wanted a universal ‘works-anywhere’ radio link. About 235GBP will get me that. The only reason stopping me buying one now is the Bluetooth device is so much more useable.

Andy
MM0FMF


#7

In reply to M0COP:
I had my handheld on and tuned to 145.500 FM on 10 April 2009 whilst sitting on a hillside with a broken leg and could hear stations that might have come back to my CQD call. My mobile phone worked instead but of course you need to tell the ambulance service the post code of the hillside on which you have collapsed [groan].
I can’t remember on which joint activation I was told of a UK amateur radio station taking a distress call and ringing the emergency services who didn’t believe him that there was a casualty out there only contactable on amateur radio and took some convincing before they acted. Was it a G4OIG story?
In Lakeland I’m greatly comforted to know that there are SOTA & WOTA chasers monitoring S20 -thank you Rob, Sue, John, Geoff and others.
Regret I can’t answer the original question but have been in the situation on my own.
73
David


#8

In reply to MM0HAI:

In summary, my question is: Is there a land based emergency calling
frequency or system, either on amateur radio or using a separate
service that falls within amateur bands and as such can be used with
the equipment we have available. If not, should there be?

I guess you need to organize the “base camp” yourself. Agree with some other ham to listen your emergency signals. In Yaesu VX7R this kind of alert can be given by pressing the EMG button for 0.5 s. The other ham will get the alarm and can talk to you on the agreed FM channel.

73, Jaakko OH7BF/F5VGL


#9

In reply to G8ADD:
I have used radio twice in emergencies with good results both times.
Car accident (womman missed bend in snow!) where mobile phone coverage was nil (this is Scotland, our phone service has not left the 20th century yet). Used the local repeater and a local amateur called an ambulance via 999. They responded well to that scenario. Second was in Lairig Ghru for a walker with broken ankle where VHF would have had no chance and mobile phones were only of use to hammer in the pegs of my HF antenna. 5MHz worked then and we got a paraffin budgie to that call.

So, you are carrying a means of communication, use it; most licensed amateurs will respond sensibly and even if they are in another country there are quite a number of records of the emergency services responding from an overseas alert. (The German pilot that crashed on Mount Keen, used his mobile to call the German police and UK Police & Mountain Rescue responded, for example)

Barry GM4TOE


#10

In reply to MM0HAI:

E.g.: http://www.qsl.net/rw3ah/eng/e_rares.htm
(+ links at bottom of this page)
But AFAIK, they not as active as it was few years ago.


#11

@G8ADD
Agreed on minimizing number of humans in the communication chain.

@MM0FMF
Satellite systems like Cospas-Sarsat and the private system used by
the SPOT devices certainly look like the best thing for getting the
job done. I would not invest in one though unless I was going to do
something particularly serious. At the moment I am just interested in
making the best use of equipment I have anyway.

@UT4FJ
That looks interesting but also rather dead. The website has not been
updated for a long time anyway.

Some other things I have come across that may be helpful:

Maritime Mobile Nets: These should be monitored at least for some
known periods of the day.

Winlink: HF email system. Mostly intended for maritime use. Perhaps a
small terminal could be made for it.

APRS: Over HF or Satellite. http://www.aprs.org/astars.html This could
also be used for spotting.

Data modes have the advantage of avoiding another person in the
chain. A gateway to SMS could be used with them.


#12

In reply to MM0FMF:

The next level up is
179Eu + 99Eu/year. This has the additional ability of sending custom
messages as well as the other facilities.

That would be handy if you ran out of soup.

Many years ago I met some French yachtsmen in Antarctica. They carried no radio at all. Their rationale was that they felt they should take full responsibility for their own actions and that no-one else should be put at risk as a result of their mishaps. I rather like that approach.

73

Richard
G3CWI


#13

In reply to G3CWI:

You’re going to start doing some SOTA expeditions without taking a radio with you? That should be interesting.

BTW, Nick Wright on Canalside Radio 102.8 was reporting that there were a couple of mountain rescue callouts onto Kinder at the weekend.

Tom M1EYP


#14

In reply to G3CWI:

The trouble with that approach, Richard, is that if they disappeared nobody would know when or where it happened and probably a lot of time and expense would be wasted in searches.

Apropos, I notice that it is the in thing for skiers to carry radio beacons now in case they are buried in an avalanche, and these beacons are remarkably expensive - which I suppose should be no surprise given the cost of ski gear nowadays!

73

Brian G8ADD


#15

In reply to G3CWI:

That would be handy if you ran out of soup.

Well the SPOT has an SOS feature which goes to their emergency centre for handling and a HELP feature which goes to your contacts. The CHECKIN and CUSTOM messages are in addition. That gives you 3 messages plus SOS. Certainly the HELP message could be used to summon emergency Lobster Bisque or Scotch Broth deliveries leaving the other 2 messages to be used with my spot gateway. :wink:

The French yachtsmen’s mindset is laudable, if you get yourself into a mess then it’s your fault. But I wonder if it was more down to the fact they couldn’t find a French manufacturer of suitable distress equipment and weren’t going to buy British, US or German beacons! :wink: Still it’s something that would help many of today’s outdoor types to consider. There are far too many badly equipped people ringing 999 because their phone works on the hills and they’re simply tired and want a lift down.

Somewhere between the two extremes is the correct approach.

Andy
MM0FMF


#16

In reply to MM0FMF:

Well the SPOT has an SOS feature which goes to their emergency centre

Why not if you think that you need one. Does not work in Antarctica or North Pole however.

73, Jaakko OH7BF/F5VGL


#17

In reply to F5VGL:

I only want one because it’s shiny, it talks to satellites and I could use it as another input to my SMS spotting gateway. However, I’d rather have the next model up that can send arbitary messages rather than a message you prepared via a website. But that doesn’t appear to be available yet and I can’t find out how much 1 year’s subscription is. The current SPOT 2 Messenger would cost £7.20 a month which is not outrageous.

Andy
MM0FMF