Amateur radio operators or “hams” use a variety of ways to communicate in emergencies and disasters, including handheld radios. After passing exams, hams receive a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license to communicate worldwide using radio frequencies the FCC reserves for them. Citizen’s Band (CB) operators do not require an FCC license–they transmit to one other person on an AM frequency in a 150-mile range. Families can use a General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) 2 way radio, or “walkie-talkie,” for short-range communication. Rules exist for all handheld emergency radios.
Handheld Ham Radios
As a licensed ham radio operator, you have the advantage of a wide range of frequencies to use in emergencies. You are automatically eligible to participate in the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), which means you can provide emergency communications to public safety organizations.
Always monitor the frequency you tuned into if you think an emergency is already in progress. Speak into the microphone of your handheld from its side rather than facing it directly. This allows the listeners to hear a clearer transmission.
If you need to interrupt a repeater conversation on your handheld because of an emergency, say “Break” several times. Ham radio clubs and individuals may place a repeater on a high mountain or tall building to extend the range for your handheld or mobile radio.
Say “Break” three times when reporting an emergency or when in an emergency situation. Do not use “Mayday” for your handheld–it’s reserved for worldwide bands only and receives the highest priority. Send “SOS” in Morse code in grave emergencies. Copy the emergency message down whenever you hear the “Breaks” or “SOS” by another ham.
Identify yourself with the call sign or name of the amateur station followed by your own call sign or name at the beginning of your transmission. Use Morse code or your voice. Repeat your call sign every 10 minutes during your communication and at the end of your transmission.
While using your radio, the FCC prohibits all obscene language, messages in code (except for Morse code), deceptive messages, playing music or communication intended to commit crimes. You cannot use your radio to broadcast a program or gather news for broadcasting unless no other way exists to immediately save a human life or protect your property. You also cannot use your handheld or any other ham radio to promote your business or sell merchandise.