An Introduction to the Family Radio Service (FRS) for Preparedness


Imagine for a moment your family is caught in the middle of a major disaster.  The phone lines are dead.  The cellular service is jammed.  The power is out and even with a generator there is no connection to the Internet.  Satellite phones are not available for use.  You need a way to communicate with all the members of the family as you coordinate bugging out or working to recover from the disaster.  How do you communicate in the local area with unlicensed family members?  There are a few options, but one available since 1996, is the Family Radio Service (FRS).  The following is an introductory guide to the service brought to you by Disaster.com.

The Family Radio Service is a two-way, voice and digital radio service that is designed for families and other groups to communicate over short distances.  No license is needed to operate on this service.  FRS radios have fourteen (14) channels.  The first seven are shared with the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), while the next seven are exclusive to FRS.  GMRS transmissions may not be conducted on channels eight through fourteen.*  Unlike amateur radio, FRS radios may also be used by business entities and related organizations.  It may be used by any person of any age in the United States, except for official representatives of foreign governments.  Very similar services exist in Canada and Mexico.

Benefits of Family Radio Service for Disaster Preparation:

  • Transceivers are available nearly everywhere.  The cost of the units are, generally, the lowest of two-way radios.
  • Some units recharge from recharging stations, while others are powered via standard battery sizes.  Many may be powered by a car charger.
  • Unlicensed citizens may utilize the service.  There are no age restrictions.
  • Most units are small, walkie-talkie type which are easy to carry and operate.  There are larger, base-station type units with “whip” antennas as well.
  • FRS is on the UHF band and does not suffer from the interference such as that found on citizen band.
  • The course, non-family appropriate conversations often heard on citizen band are generally not found on FRS.
  • Unlike other services, such as CB, privacy tone codes, achieved via sub-audible tone squelch, can be utilized on FRS.  This helps filter out other operator’s conversations.
  • Business-related radio traffic is permitted.
  • They can be used at other times to easily communicate during events, while hiking, on the water, skiing or just for fun

Limitations of the Family Radio Service:

  • The power output level is very low at 0.5 watts.
  • Actual communication ranges generally are much lower than those stated by transceiver manufacturers.  A range of a third of a mile to a mile is to be expected in real world operation.
  • External antennas may not be utilized on FRS radios.  Only permanently attached antennas are available.  External antennas may be used on the similar, licensed GMRS bands, however.
  • Unlike GMRS or amateur radio, duplex, repeater operation is forbidden.
  • Connecting FRS radios with the telephone network is also not allowed.
Old Walkie-Talkies were a bit larger than Family Radio Service devices

Old Walkie-Talkies were a bit larger than Family Radio Service devices

Planning

If a family, or other social unit, decides to utilize this radio service, it is important to familiarize oneself and prepare the equipment now.  Some suggestions would be:

  • Decide on a standard family frequency.  Also plan on a fall back frequency should that one not be available.
  • Choose a privacy code for your family unit.  While it will not prevent eavesdropping, it will cut down on the unnecessary interference from other operators.
  • Be sure to regularly check your radios to insure they are powered and in good working condition.  During a disaster is no time to find out a transceiver is inoperable.
  • FRS radio operations can be a fun pastime while the family is enjoying other activities, such as camping, hiking, and picnicking.  Doing so will help both adults and children become familiar with operating their radios for a possibly more stressful time.

Hopefully this introductory text will help the reader have a better grasp of the FRS service and how it may play a roll in disaster preparedness.  Should the reader wish to learn more about disaster-related communications, please consider joining the Disaster.com forum.  Sign up is quick, easy, and free.

Sources

  1. Family Radio Service (FRS). (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2014, from http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/family-radio-service-frs
  2. Jones, J. (2007). Emergency Communications. In Preparing for the Worst: A Comprehensive Guide to Protecting Your family from Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Other Catastrophes (p. 179). Westport, Conn. [u.a.: Praeger Security International.
  3. Buttars, R. (2014). General Mobile Radio and Family Radio Service Handbook.
  4. Ford, S. (2005). Emergency Communication Handbook (pp. 16-3). Newington, CT: American Radio Relay League.
  5. FRS radio privacy tone list | henryranch.net. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2014, from http://henryranch.net/radio-communication/frs-radio-privacy-tone-list/
  6. FRS/GMRS combined channel chart. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2014, from http://wiki.radioreference.com/index.php/FRS/GMRS_combined_channel_chart

* FRS Channels

Channel Frequency (MHz) Notation
1 462.5625 Shared with the GMRS.
2 462.5875 Shared with the GMRS.
3 462.6125 Shared with the GMRS.
4 462.6375 Shared with the GMRS.
5 462.6625 Shared with the GMRS.
6 462.6875 Shared with the GMRS.
7 462.7125 Shared with the GMRS.
8 467.5625 FRS only.
9 467.5875 FRS only.
10 467.6125 FRS only.
11 467.6375 FRS only.
12 467.6625 FRS only.
13 467.6875 FRS only.
14 467.7125 FRS only.

 

family radio service