FRS/GMRS radio channels


Communications within your local or broader neighborhood, or city-wide, can be critical during an emergency. A powerful option is to use cheap “walkie-talkie” radios. The simplest can be good for your immediate neighborhood, and more sophisticated ones can work over greater distances. We’ll save radio details for another time, or you can do some quick internet research.
But if you’ve got a radio, or get one, you also need to communicate on a channel (frequency) that other people are using. Otherwise you’re just talking by yourself. So which channel should you use?

For Bellevue CERT, Kurt has assigned channels to each of the Bellevue 14 large neighborhoods. Specifically:

BelRed 3
Bridle Trails 1
Cougar Mountain / Lakemont 6
Crossroads 4
Downtown 2
Eastgate 4
Factoria 3
Lake Hills 2
Newport 7
NE Bellevue 6
NW Bellevue 7
Somerset 5
W Bellevue 6
West Lake Sammamish 7
Wilburton 5
Woodridge 1
That information is available at this web site under “Area Teams”. If you notice a difference between the two lists, use the Area Teams values.

As you can see, each channel 1 through 7 is used by 2 or 3 neighborhoods but they’re all comfortably far apart from each other and thus shouldn’t interfere at the powers of those channels.

Here in NE Bellevue we looked to see what a local neighborhood, Sherwood Forest, should use. They clearly shouldn’t use channel 6 (NE Bellevue CERT) or channel 4 (Crossroads) because those neighborhoods are too close and thus could interfere with Sherwood Forest’s use of those channels. It would be best for them to also avoid 1 (Bridle Trails), 3 (Belred), and 2 (Lake Hills). So 5 or 7 are the best bets. They chose lucky 7, so west NE Bellevue, including Sherwood Forest will use channel 7. Thus eastern NE Bellevue can use channel 5.

There’s lots of charts of the FRS/GMRS frequencies available on the internet. From those you will see that channels 1 to 7 are the good ones, so to speak, 8 to 14 are low power, and 15 to 22 are repeater capable. 15 to 22 are partially used by Seattle and any remaining frequencies are likely to be ‘taken’ by other jurisdictions (like Bellevue…). 15 to 22 can be used in simplex mode but the risk of noise from repeater usage is high so I would avoid using those except for repeater work (city-wide operations, for example).
Given all that, we suggest that you can use 15 to 22 as you like for tactical operations. Normally they shouldn’t be too noisy but if one is, you can have everyone switch to another channel.

Once you’ve chosen a channel for your local neighborhood, you should advertise it to your neighbors and advise them to check in on that channel if emergency communications are needed. If you get too many people on the channel, you would then ask them to take specific conversations to one of the 8 to 14 channels (you would tell them which one). If you need to coordinate with a neighboring CERT team, jump to their channel.

As to ‘privacy codes’, they’re easy to scan and so don’t guarantee any privacy. They’re more like noise reduction codes, and that only applies if other people are trying to use the same frequency at the same time and are close enough to interfere. So for simplicity you might prefer to not use them at all. But if you do use a privacy code, just choose something fairly random but easy to remember, such as 55 or 99.

Situational awareness – your broader neighborhood


Do you hear sirens go by somewhere near your home and wonder where they’re going? Are they coming to your neighborhood? You could go for a walk or drive to try to find out but that’s tricky and you don’t want to get in the way. A better alternative is to use the City of Bellevue traffic cameras:

To make it easy to pull them up whenever you like, create a shortcut or favorite for that link

When you open that link you can click on any camera and see a little video in the lower left corner. But if you right-mouse click it, select “Show all controls”. Then in the lower right corner of the video window if you click the ‘hamburger’ menu, you’ll see a “Picture in Picture” option. Select it and you’ll get a separate camera window that you resize up to one quarter of your screen’s size. So you can see what’s going on in considerable detail.

You can also click on other cameras on the map and see them using that larger window.

Note: the video will stop after about 90 seconds. You can click on the original video window to get it to start again. Or click on the camera on the map. And there’s a little Play button on the bottom of the large video window.

3 stages of preparedness?


You might have heard there are 3 simples steps to being prepared: knowing your hazards, make a plan, and build kits. Very good advice, but I suggest there should be two more: training and testing. I know we want to keep the steps simple, and 3 steps are certainly simpler than 5. But is it realistic?

An addiitoinal important step is to train appropriately, as in first aid. Or even watching videos. Preferably CERT, FEMA courses, etc. And actually trying the preparations is key! That can be as simple as camping, even in your back yard. I know I’m more serious than most, but I do that kind of testing in various ways fairly frequently and I always find room for improvement. Without it I’m sure I would find that I was nowhere clear to being prepared if something actually happened.

The inspiration for this post was a new video that is quite good:
It needs some editing (skip the first 10 minutes). And it’s quite long, so skip to parts you’re interested in. The stages discussion is around 1 hour 17 minutes into it.

Protecting your house from fire


As I’m sure you know, the wildfire season was nasty this year. Fortunately that led to a fair bit of news coverage on the topic and that includes a couple of articles I came across in The Economist that I found useful. Some internet searching confirmed their details are good guidance.

In Bellevue we might think wildfires are not an issue, and generally that’s true (except maybe a worst-case August). However, as an earthquake-concerned area, we should take fires very seriously. From your knowledge of the history of serious earthquakes around the world you might know that most of the deaths (by far) are actually from fires.

A key point I learned is that “Zone 0″ is the most important one (within 5 feet of your residence). So don’t keep flammable stuff in that area. Or move it away if fires are a concerns. Or even in the house. There are bunch of sites that support that point, but this one seemed particularly articulate on it”

The Economist also says that evidence shows that somewhere between 60% and 90% of wildfire house fires are caused by embers flying hundreds of yards. So minimizing those issues could help – use the most fire-resistant roofing materials, minimize gaps under roofs (where they could get in), vent filtering, heat-resistant windows, etc. I don’t have supporting evidence on those points but they’re consistent with the other points.

My uninformed opinion is that as CERT responders one of the most important activities we could do in a serious earthquake response is to address the above issues (reduce zone 0 risks, respond to embers, etc.). And as we educate the public, encourage those and the other points as well.

What is first aid training?


Or maybe we should ask “how much first aid training is enough?”.

I organize and take a lot of first aid training (long story) and in my opinion, we shouldn’t underestimate how much first aid training is needed. On the other hand, with luck you’ll rarely need to apply first aid and when you do it’s likely to be minor, so it could be a waste of time to take a lot of training. Ultimately we have to decide for ourselves how much is enough.

A key point I’d like to make is that no matter how much first aid training you’ve had, you could benefit from more. That’s even true if you’re an emergency room doctor with many years of experience.

There are multiple reasons I say that:
– first aid is more than just medical procedures. It’s also the process of caring for injured people and the people responding to them. Organization, planning, communications, and documentation in the course of a response are critical and yet are rarely included in first aid training
– emergency first aid is usually done in harsh and potentially dangerous circumstances
– knowledge is perishable and yet you likely don’t practice your first aid skills frequently
– the human body is complex and can be broken in innumerable ways
– practice is different from theory. In practice, serious first aid is stressful, intimate, complex, and often exhausting

And that gets us back to the original question – what is first aid training? The core training can be:
– a few hours of the basics. This is ok for around-the-house, normal-times issues
– 2 days of fairly comprehensive education and practice. This is ok for serious emergency issues
– 2 weeks of serious education and practice. This is great for serious emergency issues but it’s still just a start
– EMT training. You’re ready for almost anything but are limited in terms of how you can intervene
– Medic/paramedic training. And now you have a bunch of interventions you can do

Regardless of which of those you do, I strongly advocate that you regularly (monthly) review your training materials as a refresher. You really should re-take the training every couple of years (maybe in a compressed form).

Also, there are a LOT of resources available. Books, of course, but also quite a variety on the internet. Web sites, blogs, videos, apps, etc. They can be very handy for reviewing and even testing your knowledge. And you’ll never finish learning.

In a future post I’ll share some of my favorite places to get first aid training. What are your favorites?