The El Dorado County Amateur Radio Club (EDCARC), has established a Neighborhood Radio Watch for our community. Its purpose is to relay important local information so that individuals can make appropriate decisions for themselves.
The Neighborhood Radio Watch does not take the place of dialing 911 nor does it originate evacuation orders or emergency services. The radio net comes into play for less formal communications and can help when the usual communication systems fail. The radio net repeats emergency warnings after they have been verified and it provides a means for neighbors to share information with other neighbors in a manner that is far more efficient than other means.
The Neighborhood Radio Watch is organized and coordinated by the EDCARC and while the Oak Hill Area Fire Safe Council (OHAFSC) is sharing information about this important alternate means of communication, the OHAFSC is not a direct sponsor and is not responsible for the program.
The radio net uses hand-held, high quality radios. These were originally very expensive radios used by fire, police, delivery services, large high school and college campuses. EDCARC makes them available at low cost by purchasing them used, refurbishing them, and selling them nearly at cost for use in the Neighborhood Radio Watch network. They are sturdy and reliable.
The radios currently use the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) frequencies but EDCARC plans to move the program over to more secure Business Band frequencies in the future. You will be able to continue using your GMRS license and EDCARC will manage the Business Band licensing without cost to you.
GMRS is an ultra high frequency (UHF) radio band unrelated to Ham radio. Only EDCARC recommended radios for use in the current GMRS band are capable of operating on the future Business Band frequencies. It should be noted that most radios sold for use in the GMRS band will not be legal in the Business Band so do not purchase a radio without checking with us in advance.
These radios contain an additional feature that is not commonly available in newer radios -- a paging channel. The paging channel is triggered by the Net Controller (a trained volunteer assigned to the Oak Hill Neighborhood Radio Watch) once an event in the neighborhood has been identified, responded to by local officials and verified. The Paging channel can be left on all night without disturbing us because it does not pick up miscellaneous chit chat. When triggered, however, it will produce a very loud tone that WILL continue until you wake up and switch to the Oak Hill 1 channel that will inform you of the VERIFIED event information.
Depending on the situation, the paging channel can perform a very important service to the community. But it bears repeating that the Neighborhood Radio Watch does NOT take the place of calling 911, does NOT originate evacuation orders, and does NOT manage any rescue services.
During the day, you should monitor another special channel: the Oak Hill 1 channel which you will read more about in the next paragraph.
The radios in our area are programmed to send a special “tone” that unlocks a repeater station located in the Oak Hill area. Unless a radio is programmed with that specific tone, it cannot operate on the radio net. Communication is available only to those authorized to use the radio net.
The special channel you will monitor most often, as mentioned above, is the Oak Hill 1 channel. It is called a DUPLEX channel because it uses one frequency to transmit, another frequency to receive. It also uses a special tone to unlock the repeater station. When you speak with the Net Controller on Oak Hill 1, all the neighbors who are monitoring that channel with radios programmed to use the repeater station will hear what you say and be able to respond. All conversation on the Oak Hill 1 channel is directed by the Net Controller. The Oak Hill 1 channel is only to be used in specific situations and is not to be used for sharing general information with neighbors unless you are participating in the weekly radio net practice sessions (more about that later in this article.)
For talking with family and friends your radio will also be programmed with 7 SIMPLEX channels that broadcast and receive on just one frequency and so do not use the repeater station. In general, it is good practice to use the simplex channels for short-range, informal conversations so that the repeater station does not become overtaxed. There are also 7 more DUPLEX channels that operate through the repeater if you need longer range -- but please remember to use the Simplex channels 1-7 first. And again, use the special Oak Hill 1 channel only when giving or receiving important information about an important event in the neighborhood such as loss of electrical power, loss of telephone service, a wild fire, etc..
Our repeater station is located atop the highest ridge in the Oak Hill area and provides very good coverage. Where a home is heavily shadowed by nearby ridges or unusually dense forest, a radio may require something more to get its signal to the repeater station. EDCARC can suggest a range of solutions to increase the transmission power of individual radios: a larger whip antenna, a car-top antenna, a roof-mounted antenna or even setting up a more powerful base station at your home. But in most cases, the hand-held radio with its small antenna will be all that is needed. So long as the signal from your radio can reach the repeater station, it will be able to communicate with others through the more powerful repeater station.
EDCARC is in the process of establishing many repeater stations along the western slope of the Sierra. These stations can be used by local communities to share information and communicate when there is an important event such as a wildfire. For instance, there are other Neighborhood Radio Watch programs serving the Lotus/Coloma and Cosumnes River areas including Grizzly Flats, Somerset, Fairplay, Omo Ranch and Mosquito with more stations at various levels of development in other communities like Logtown, Mt. Aukum, Placerville, Gold Ridge, Sierra Springs, Pleasant Valley, Pollock Pines, Camino and Rancho Del Sol.
HOW TO JOIN
To become part of the Oak Hill Neighborhood Radio Watch you will need the following things:
1. A GMRS radio license. It costs $70 (soon to be reduced to $35), is good for 10 years, it covers you and all members of your household. There is no test for this license. You can apply for the license on line and will get it in about 2 days. Use the following link to see a step-by-step tutorialHow to Apply for a GMRS License.pdf
2. A Radio. There are small, inexpensive non-commercial radios available that are not recommended by EDCARC. The non-commercial radios are inexpensive but often do not use the right frequencies, do not broadcast with enough power, cannot be programmed, cannot link to the repeater station, have construction-quality problems or will not be legal to operate on future Business Band frequencies.
To meet the need for high-quality, low-cost radios, volunteers in our neighborhood purchase used, high-quality radios in large numbers, refurbish them, and resell them to neighbors nearly at cost. The price placed on the radios is enough to return the investment in parts made by the volunteers and also provides a small donation to the Oak Hill Area Fire Safe Council, as a fund raiser, that supports Fire Safe activities in our neighborhood.
It is not practical to provide any guarantee with the radios other than they have been tested and are performing to specifications at the time they are supplied to you. There will be scratches on these radios because they have been used, but purchasers are often surprised by their good condition.
An EDCARC volunteer will program the radio, without charge, so that it works with the Oak Hill repeater station, the paging channel and has plenty of other channels that you, your family, and your neighbors can use. Our present batch of GMRS radios sell for $60 apiece. The price for these radios has been steadily going down as our volunteers become more skilled.
New radios are available at significantly higher costs. EDCARC personnel can recommend new models to those interested.
USING THE NEIGHBORHOOD RADIO WATCH
Once you have your license and radio, you are ready to look over the flyer that comes with each radio before you make your first call -- Click this link to see a copy of it. Then it is important that you participate in the Oak Hill Safety Net each Tuesday evening at 6:30 pm on the Oak Hill 1 channel.
NOTE: Each net on Tuesday night begins with a test of the paging alert on the Paging channel. You should tune into the Paging channel just before 6:25 pm in order to test the paging function on your radio. You will hear 3 loud tones repeating over and over and that signifies that your paging alert is working correctly, then switch to the Oak Hill 1 channel.
You will hear the Net Controller call each of the current members with their Call Sign. After the Controller has spoken with each current member, he/she will ask if there are any new members who have not been called. At that point you should press the transmit button (the PTT key) and hold it down to speak. Give your call sign, followed by your first name and the street you live on, like this: "WRFS-722, this is Steve on Metate Trail." and from there, follow the direction of the Net Controller. When finished talking with the Controller, repeat your call sign followed by "back to the net." Remember to hold the transmit button down while you are speaking and to let go of the button to listen. The Net Controller will record your call number and use it next week to call on you, in turn, along with the rest of the current members.
You can read more about how to speak on your radio by clicking the following link:
The following links give more information or reinforce the previous information in a different way:
If you have a question or want to order a radio: