In the past couple of years I have become increasingly interested in emergency preparedness and emergency response. This led me to get a GMRS license from the FCC in order to be able to use higher power radios and have access to GMRS repeaters. Unfortunately, there aren't very many GMRS repeaters in my area. The ones that are available, the owners do not appreciate having too much radio traffic on them. This inspired me to set up my own repeater for my city and the surrounding areas.
If you are not familiar with GMRS, you have likely used the service without realizing. For a while, radio manufacturers were making combination FRS/GMRS bubble pack walkie-talkie radios. This created some problems because people don't read instructions and never knew if they were using FRS or GMRS. The biggest distinction is that FRS uses lower power, up to 2 Watts. GMRS, on the other hand, allows 5 Watts on the lower channels and 50 Watts on the repeater channels.
GMRS is great for family and emergency communications because one license costs $70, is good for ten years, and covers an entire family. That means that if you get a GMRS license, it extends to your spouse, children, parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, and even your in-laws. Your whole family can use the same call sign distinguished by a unit identification.
The unit identification can be whatever scheme you want. For example, you can use numbers where you can be "unit 1" and somebody else can be "unit 2". Or, you can use letters, such as your initials. In my case, I would be "sierra mike". Or, like one of the locals, you can choose names. He chose to be chicken fox. His daughters were green fox, little fox, and baby fox.
Repeaters are essential for expanding the range of your GMRS radio. For example, one local GMRS repeater covers the entire county. When our repeater is completely set up, it will cover a smaller area. Without a repeater, your radio could possibly reach up to 5 miles, although most likely two or three. With a repeater, a radio can cover twenty to thirty miles or more, depending on how high the antenna is placed. In terms of emergency communications, this can prove to be extremely useful.
There is a drawback to GMRS radios, however. The shortcoming is that radios are like any type of communications technology. You have to have experience using the equipment to know how to use it and to know its limitations. You can't just wait until there is an emergency to decide to figure it out.
I am excited to finally have our radio up and running by tomorrow morning. We will be installing the antenna up on a 100 ft tower, which will expand our coverage area tremendously. Once complete, it will be available for day to day use. More importantly, it will offer a backup emergency communication channel for the community.