Radio Communications in Emergency Situtaions

Types of radio

There are a few choices when it comes to two way radios. Having one does you no good if there isn’t someone on the other end to talk to. If you have someone in mind you want to keep in touch with in an emergency, you can simply get one for each of you. If you don’ t have anyone in particular to keep in touch with, you can check your local city and/or county authorities for disaster preparedness guidelines. Sometimes they will suggest a type of radio for your area. Here is a rundown of the more common types.

CB

CB radios were once widely used by truck drivers and other motorists to communicate on the highway. Cell phones have reduced the use of these radios, but not eliminated them. CB radios are still widely used for professional and recreational communications across the country. In an emergency, it is possible to contact help on CB channels 9 and 19. A hand held CB will only get 1-2 miles range. A good mobile CB radio (installed in a vehicle) with a 4 foot antenna will get about 4-5 miles. This range limitation is due to the 4 watt power limit put on CB radios by the FCC. It is possible to get more range by adjusting or modifying the CB.

FRS/GMRS

Family radio service or FRS frequencies are commonly used in ‘walkie talkie’ type radios. These radios are used a lot for family activities like hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, etc. GMRS frequencies are usually included on these radios. GMRS frequencies legally require a license, but only something like.02 percent of the people operating on these frequencies actually carry one. The range on these radios is limited to 1-2 antennas. FRS and GMRS radios have a fixed antenna, so you cannot extend the range.

10 meter

10 meter radios (also known as amateur or ham radios) have long been in use by hobbyists and various organizations. The biggest drawback to a 10 meter is they require a license. This is greatly offset by the power and range they provide. I would suggest if you are going to get one to just get the license, but in an emergency, I doubt anyone is going to complain. The range on a 10 meter radio depends on the power output and antenna setup for the radio. The Magnum 1012 hand held 10 meter will get upwards of 10 miles on USB. A Galaxy DX94HP mobile 10 meter radio with a 4 foot antenna can get a 100 miles range. Many 10 meter radios can also be modified to get the same range on CB frequencies, though this technically isn’t legal.

Listening

Even if you have a good two way radio, it isn’t bad to have some kind of receive only radio to get information on. While you can’t send out a signal with them, these radios can receive information from sources hundreds of miles away, possibly guiding you to evacuation area or warning of dangerous areas and situation.

AM/FM

If you haven’t heard of AM/FM radio, you may want to get out more. AM/FM, more commonly FM, radio is a daily part of most American’s lives. They’re used in almost every vehicle, portable radios are used by joggers, alarm clocks, etc. You’ve probably heard a test of the emergency broadcast system on the radio. It comes across as an irritating buzzing noise followed by a message stating something to the effect of “This has been a test of the emergency broadcast system”. In an emergency situation, you will most likely be hearing important information on most FM stations.

Weather/alert

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) operates a collection of transmitters across the country that continually broadcast weather information and also broadcast alerts and emergency information related to various situations. A special kind of radio is required to pick up these broadcasts. A good weather/alert radio with SAME technology can be programmed for your local county so that you receive alerts whenever there is an emergency situation close by.

Scanner

If you don’t have an AM/FM radio or a weather/alert radio available a radio scanner (also known as a police scanner or race scanner) can be a good alternative to get information. Depending on the scanner’s capabilities, they can pick up a wide range of frequencies, including the NOAA frequencies. Like the AM/FM radios and weather/alert radios, they cannot transmit a signal.

So what should you get?

  • For communicating, I would recommend getting a good 10 meter radio that can be converted for CB easily. The DX94HP is a great 100 watt radio. Converting for CB frequencies is as easy as switching on solder point.
  • It would also be a good idea to have a decent set of FRS/GMRS radios for portable short range communications. The GXT1000VP4 and GXT1050VP4 are great options.
  • Finally, get a good AM/FM-weather/alert combination radio. The Midland WR300 is one of the more popular.

The Four W’s of Aviation Radio Communications

What’s the hardest part about pilot training? Almost everyone will say, “Talking on the radio.” However, even beginners can sound good on the radio if they apply some simple rules. I’ll first discuss those rules and then give some tips all pilots can use to improve their radio skills.

The Four W’s of Radio Communication

Usually the hardest radio call for a pilot to make is the first one — the “initial call up.” However, every initial call (and many subsequent calls) just need to remember the four W’s:

  • Who am I calling?
  • Who am I?
  • Where am I?
  • Where am I going, what am I doing, or what do I want to do?

Let’s take two examples of this, one for an uncontrolled field and one with a control tower.

As you get ready to enter the traffic pattern at an uncontrolled field, typically you will make an announcement such as:

“Milltown traffic (who am I calling?), Cessna 12345 (who am I?) entering 45 to downwind (where am I?), runway 22 for landing Milltown (what am I doing?).

With a control tower, you might instead say:

Ocala tower (who am I calling?), Cessna 12345 (who am I?) eight miles north at two thousand five hundred with Charlie (where am I? — and add the ATIS), landing Ocala (what do I want to do?).

Once you have established communication, you don’t need to use the four Ws for all of your communication. Instead, you will just read back critical instructions to the controller so they know you have received them. For example, if the controller asks you to enter a right downwind for runway 24, you would reply, “Cessna 12345 will enter right downwind for 24.”

Try some different scenarios with your friends or a flight instructor, and pretty soon you’ll know what to say at all times.

Tips

Even when you know what to say, talking on the radio still takes some practice. Here are some tips that will have you talking like a pro in no time.

  1. Listen to ATC communications. If you don’t have a radio that receives aviation frequencies, see if you can borrow one from another pilot or your flight school for a week. Listen to what pilots say to ATC on their initial call up and how they respond to ATC directions. Try to listen to ground, tower, approach, and center frequencies if you can.
  2. Write down what you are going to say before you make your initial radio call. You can even make up fill-in-the-blank scripts to do this. After a few weeks of this, most people can make calls on their own, but you may still want to write down complicated calls.
  3. If you’re a student pilot, be sure to say so in your initial call up so ATC will be more careful in how they handle you.
  4. Don’t be concerned if you forget something. Even experienced pilots sometimes forget to tell the controller their altitude or that they have the ATIS. Don’t worry — controllers will ask you for something if you’ve forgotten it.
  5. Study Chapter 4 and the Pilot/Controller Glossary in the Aeronautical Information Manual for recommended phraseology.

If all else fails, use plain English! Not all situations lend themselves to recommended ATC phrases or you may just forget how to say something. I was once departing an unfamiliar airport and as I called ground I suddenly realized I had no idea where I was on the airport. The call went something like this, “Littletown ground, Cessna 12345, ummm… ” (at this point I was wildly looking around me) “I’m at the Chevron sign, ready to taxi with Delta, departing to the west.” Whew — saved by the Chevron gas sign! Ground found me and let me taxi.