Published October 19th, 2016
Home Radios Make Lamorinda Communication Safe
By Cathy Dausman
First responders and volunteer communicators in Lamorinda now have a standardized communication plan for Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) use, says Lamorinda emergency preparedness coordinator Dennis Rein.
The plan was a collaboration between Rein and the Lamorinda Area Radio Interest Group technical committee and is for use by Lamorinda CERT and the general public. The plan assigns one radio frequency to generalized neighborhood zones (as designated by police and fire) in Lamorinda. Lafayette has 17 zones; Moraga has 23, Orinda 25. LARIG has already developed a more complex standardized radio plan for use on amateur frequencies.
FRS radios, or walkie-talkies as they are more familiarly known, and their big brother GMRS radios, are used for short distance, two-way communications.
CERT members rely on FRS and GMRS frequencies to relay information in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.
"Every neighborhood in Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda has been assigned a certain FRS radio channel, which should minimize confusion and cross-talk on the radios," said Lamorinda CERT Program Manager Duncan Seibert. Seibert said each nine-week CERT training course includes emergency radio communications training. Rein said several Lamorinda neighborhoods already hold monthly "radio nets" during a set time and night and check in to stay in practice.
While FRS radio operators are unlicensed, GMRS operators are required to obtain a license from the Federal Communications Commission. One licensed family member over 18 insures that all other family members, regardless of age, can operate on the GMRS band. Licenses are good for five years and are renewable.
FRS and GMRS signals travel a straight path until an obstacle (hill or building) blocks signal reception. With the use of a strategically placed repeater, GMRS radio signals can skip over obstacles and relay the signal even farther.
LARIG volunteers recently completed the construction of three GMRS radio repeaters - one each in Lafayette, Moraga and on the hills above Orinda. "We paid attention to the hill and valley nature of Lamorinda when the (channel) assignments were made. However, we are open to modifying the assignments if they prove unworkable," said Fred Lothrop of Lafayette.
Lothrop, Lafayette Emergency Preparedness Commission chair, is also on the LARIG technical committee. He said the Lafayette GMRS repeater was put to a major test when it was used for radio dispatch during September's Lafayette Art & Wine Festival. Lothrop calls the GMRS repeaters "mirrors in the sky," and said "operation was flawless to all parts of the festival, and throughout the city."
The Great California Shakeout (10:20 a.m. Oct. 20.; is the perfect time to test your neighborhood's emergency communications plan, said Dennis Rein. "But don't just use your (Family Radio Service/General Mobile Radio Service) radio once and put it away; keep it handy - and charged-all the time."

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