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

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

ChannelFrequency (MHz)Notation
1462.5625Shared with the GMRS.
2462.5875Shared with the GMRS.
3462.6125Shared with the GMRS.
4462.6375Shared with the GMRS.
5462.6625Shared with the GMRS.
6462.6875Shared with the GMRS.
7462.7125Shared with the GMRS.
8467.5625FRS only.
9467.5875FRS only.
10467.6125FRS only.
11467.6375FRS only.
12467.6625FRS only.
13467.6875FRS only.
14467.7125FRS only.

 

Zachariah Amela

Zachariah is a writer with Disaster.com and is an Information Technology professional. He has worked with and contributed to disaster relief organizations and has a strong interest in emergency management, wireless communications, Civil Defense, and family preparedness. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and is married with children. When not working or writing, he enjoys time with the family, hiking, trap/skeet shooting, and reading.

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Discussion
  1. FRS has some advantages, including the number of different radios with extra features, such as weather radio, even with the Weather Alert Warning. But since they are UHF, the range, as stated, is quite limited. The ratings often listed in the advertising is for mountain peak to mountain peak, under ideal conditions. Practical range is more like half a mile, tops, in most real life situations. Though this can actually be a good thing, because you will not be heard from very far outside that range.

    For longer distance family communications, the MURS band is a good choice. It is in the VHF band, near the 2-meter Amateur radio band, and can use up to 2-watts of power and use external antennas. The use of antennas well up in the air can extend the range to well over the approximate limit of 2-miles handheld to handheld under good, but not necessarily ideal conditions. They tend to be just a bit more expensive, but with the better performance, are usually worth it.

    The ones I have:

    http://shop.murs-radio.com/MURS-Base-M538-BS.htm

    http://shop.murs-radio.com/MURS-Hand-Held-M538-HT.htm

    Options include:

    http://www.buytwowayradios.com/products/motorola/motorola-rmm2050.aspx

    The FRS radios I have and recommend are these:

    http://www.amazon.com/Motorola-T9680RSAME-Channel-Two-Way-Weather/dp/B0049OTFV8

    When buying anything, always shop around for better pricing and lower shipping costs.

    Just my opinion.
    I had read somewhere that GMRS (Ground Mobile Radio Service) and FMS use same frequency range.It has also been there longer than a decade or so.What exactly is the difference?
    You are correct bala. GMRS is in the UHF spectrum, the frequencies intermixed with the FRS frequencies. The difference in the two services is the amount of power allowed, the fact that external antennas can be used, and repeaters can be used. But while FRS is a no-license/no-fee service, GMRS requires a no-test license and a fee.

    And while these factors can get you further over the air, I consider the cost and aggravation well beyond the abilities. MURS will do much of what GMRS will, and Amateur Radio a great deal more for the same amount of money. Amateur Radio requires each person to be tested for a license. The tests are not that difficult. And the fees are much less than the GMRS.

    Just my opinion.
    Well said, Jerry. All things considered (time investment, cost, etc.), I consider amateur radio well worth the "bang for the buck" with respect to preparedness. It is also a fun hobby too. I do maintain a GMRS license, but candidly, it more for "more the merrier" factor than anything else.
    Thanks Jerry,got it all in a nut shell,but these radios typically work a mile or two outdoors right..? and that too its working hinges on terrain and foliage.I surely needa read more to understand about all these but thanks to you first.:)
    This is very important information. We only notice the things that could have greatly helped while stranded or after its all over. I even doubt that in the country where I am, a regular household doesn't even know about these things. Thanks very much for this post!
    Ringoberry does bring up an interesting point though.... many areas may not access to or know that these devices even exist and having a devise like this could save their families lives. To bad we could donate a bunch of these to people who need them. :p
    bala


    Got a bit more inquisitive and got to know about this


    not a function of FRS, per se, but whether the radio itself is set up for VOX. Most inexpensive radios are not, they use the Push to talk (PTT) method of activating transmit on the radio.

    There are some one off kits out there to simulate the VOX function that may work with the FRS radios.
    Guest
    We have cheap two way radio AT6666 and UV-5R on sale.http://tinyurl.com/z3deevw
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