Above: Sandia Crest Near Sunset
Albuquerque Tea Party
Emergency Communication Team
Radio Communication Page
Organizer: Duke Winsor
Albuquerque is blessed with scenic beauty, dominated by the Sandia Crest (Crest). If you look closely at the top of it, you will see a number of antennas. Many of these are public commercial broadcast antennas, but others belong to commercial non-public and amateur radio services. These provide unique capabilities for Albuquerque residents. From the Crest, a radio signal can reach much of New Mexico. From Mount Taylor (Taylor), even more of the western part of the State can be reached from its top (known there as “Microwave Ridge”).
A licensed Amateur Radio Operator (Ham) can use a small hand-held radio, like the one on the left to communicate with a “repeater” on either the Crest or Taylor, and from there communicate with other hams around the New Mexico and beyond. The “repeater” simply receives the signal sent from that hand-held radio and repeats it on a standard frequency offset with much greater power than the hand-held radio produced. Some of these repeaters link to other repeaters. In particular, there is a Mega-Link repeater system that covers most of New Mexico “plus portions of six surrounding states.” For someone who has the time and inclination to get a Ham license, that is a lot of communication capability, available from just a basic hand-held radio, whose costs starts around $30.
For one who has neither the time nor the inclination to get a Ham license, similar radios can make use of hand-held to hand-held communication, which is good for typically a few miles, “line-of-sight.” The range of these transceivers is greater than hand-held CB radios, but less than an car-installed CB radio. There are two unlicensed “public service” bands that the FCC has allocated, the Family Radio Service (FRS) and the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS). These frequencies do not have repeaters on them. One more option is the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), which requires a license which you can apply for “if you are 18 years or older and not a representative of a foreign government.” It currently costs $90 and is good for 5 years. There is a GMRS repeater on the Crest.
OK, that’s what is available and potentially useful. Why might you want one? In any emergency, telephone circuits may be overloaded. When electricity goes out for a long time, conventional and cellular telephones may become inoperative. These transceivers can receive for a long time on built-in rechargeable batteries. The amount of transmit time depends on the battery capacity and transmit power, but is typically hours.
Which kind should you get? The FRS and MURS are most popular with extended families that live near each other. Their use is arranged by a specific small group of people. The GMRS service is more commonly used by companies, but the Albuquerque repeater is open to all GMRS licensees, according to its website. In all of these cases, you are more or less on your own to arrange your usage.
Getting a Ham license is a substantial commitment of time, but there is a lot of support around Albuquerque to help you. As of 15 May 2015, there are 2085 licensed Hams in Albuquerque, and another 410 in Rio Rancho. There are many clubs, including the Albuquerque Amateur Radio Club, the Caravan Club and the High Desert Amateur Radio Club (HDARC). The HDARC offers license tests monthly, and classes less frequencly. Most clubs have members who will mentor someone wanting to prepare for a license. There is a thorough (technician) license manual that costs about $30.
If you just want to see what Ham radio is about, contact one of the clubs to ask about Field Day. The last Saturday of June is the annual Field Day. This year it is 28 June 2015. On that day, hams all over the nation take their portable radios, antennas and portable power into a park or other location and see who they can contact by radio. They particularly welcome visitors, and will probably let you use one of their radios (under their supervision) to learn how it works. This is one small indication of the commitment Hams make to emergency preparedness.
The value of Ham radio in an emergency is best documented by one who has seen it in action. Our new Director of the Albuquerque Veteran’s Administration Hospital is Andrew Welch. When he visited the Ham station located there, he told us: I was in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. The only reliable communication we had was Ham radio. He is presently studying to get his Ham license.
Duke Winsor, radio-at-priphy-dot-com
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