BE Informed No. 7.11
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Isn’t Amateur Radio
Supposed to Be for Emergencies?
John B. Johnston W3BE
do not have a ham call sign. Suppose I am the driver of an automobile or the captain of a small sailing vessel with a licensed
ham operator and his equipment on board. My automobile/sailing vessel is not equipped with a FRS, GMRS, CB, or VHF Marine
Radio. Suddenly, some sort of accident happens and the amateur radio operator is injured to the point that he/she is unconscious,
needs immediate medical attention, and we are out of cell phone range. Our lives and property are in immediate peril. The
only means I have to call for rescue is to use my passenger's ham amateur radio and I do so. Which FCC rule authorizes this?
A. None of them do that. Refer to Section 97.105(b). It says: A station may only be operated in the manner and to the extent permitted by the privileges authorized for
the class of operator license held by the control operator. If you are not a person: (a) For whom an amateur
operator/primary station license grant appears on the ULS consolidated licensee database, or (b) Who is authorized for alien reciprocal operation by Section 97.107, then there would be no Section 97.105 control operator. In which case there is no authority for the station to transmit on amateur service spectrum.
Isn’t amateur radio supposed to be for emergencies?
A. Not regularly. Section 97.3(a)(4) says it is: A radio-communication service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations
carried out by amateurs, that is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without
Q. But Section 97.1(a) says the rules in Part 97 are designed
to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed five principles, the first of which is: (a)
Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication
service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications. That means to me that amateur radio is first
and foremost for emergencies. Marine radios are so much more expensive to buy than ham radios that will do the job just as
A. No, the principles for which Part 97 is designed are all important. Not one of them even suggests that the rules for our amateur service are designed to
make use of our spectrum allocations for communications that are supposed to take place in some other authorized radio services.
Section 97.113(a)(5), in fact, says: No amateur station shall transmit communications, on a regular basis, which could reasonably be furnished
alternatively through other radio services. This prohibition helps us to protect the legitimacy of our amateur
service, and helps its spectrum allocations from being overrun with communications that should rightfully be carried out in
other radio services.
Q. Where are those rules that do authorize hams stations
to provide emergency communications?
A. There are four of them. They are all codified
in Subpart E, Providing emergency communications. They can provide the insight as to the extent to which the spectrum allocated
to our amateur service may be occupied temporarily and deliberately with transmissions that deviate from our amateur service’s
fundamental of purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that
is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.
Firstly, there is Section 97.401 Operation during a disaster. It authorizes CW and SSB emission transmissions on one HF channel in or within 50 nautical
miles of Alaska for providing emergency communications (“EmComm”).
there is Section 97.403 which facilitates Safety of life and protection of property.
is Section 97.405 which provides for a Station in Distress.
Lastly, the rules for RACES reside in Section 97.407.
Q. So what. My hypothetical predicament seems to be covered nicely by Section 97.403
which provides for Safety of life and protection of property; It says: No provision of these rules prevents the
use by an amateur station of any means of radio-communication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in
connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems
are not available. It implies that any person – licensed or not - may activate the amateur station transmitting
apparatus and that anything goes.
A. No. Section 97.403 does not authorize any additional privileges to anyone. Section 97.7 Control operator required provides no exception for emergencies. Nor do Section 97.301 authorized frequency bands or Section 97.305 authorized emission types. So, unless and until an amateur service license grant for you appears on the ULS or you become eligible for Section 97.107 alien control operator privileges, you cannot be the Section 97.105 control operator of any Section 97.5 amateur station that transmits from any place where the FCC regulates our amateur service.
Please show more compassion for the safety of all passengers for whom
you provide transportation by installing in your vehicles and crafts the appropriate communications facilities and apparatus
for which a need could arise. Should your sailing vessel be required to have a working Part 80 maritime services radio, install one. Total reliance upon your unproven ability to cause a Section 97.5 amateur station to transmit requests for assistance might have a very long shot for success indeed. At the very least, warn your passengers
of such disregard for emergency precautions before they place their traveling safety into your care.
If I was the unconscious ham on that sailboat and needed immediate medical attention, I hope someone would use my radio to
get me the help I need.
A. So would most people in the same situation.
Some likely would do whatever they could to help you out and then face the consequences - whatever they may be. But vacating
our amateur service spectrum allocation so that non-amateur operators can solve their self-inflicted predicaments brought
upon themselves by lack of planning, poor judgment, tight-fistedness, et al, is not exactly within the limited scope
of our EmComm obligations.
Our regulator, obviously, envisions much bigger fish
for us to fry. We are to offer an alternative to the commercial communications infrastructure impacted by (an) emergency.
Q. In the aftermath of a disaster where all communications between local hospitals, fire departments,
and power companies are totally or partially interrupted, is special FCC authority necessary to install a ham radio repeater
for one year or less?
A. No. Any amateur station licensed to a holder
of a Technician, General, Advanced, or Amateur Extra Class operator license may be a Section 97.205 repeater station. Section 97.3(a)(22) frequency coordination, however, is recommended.
Q. The maximum power will be 300 watts.
A. Careful! Consult a VE-certified amateur operator on this matter of transmitting power. Section 97.13(c) says: Before causing or allowing an amateur station to transmit from any place where the operation of the station could
cause human exposure to RF electromagnetic field levels in excess of those allowed under §1.1310 of this chapter, the
licensee is required to take certain actions. (1) The licensee must perform the routine RF environmental evaluation prescribed
by §1.1307(b) of this chapter, if the power of the licensee's station exceeds the limits. Assuming the contemplated
repeater station would transmit on a VHF band, the limit is 50 watts ERP.
(2) If the routine environmental
evaluation indicates that the RF electromagnetic fields could exceed the limits contained in §1.1310 of this chapter
in accessible areas, the licensee must take action to prevent human exposure to such RF electromagnetic fields. Further information
on evaluating compliance with these limits can be found in the FCC's OET Bulletin Number 65, “Evaluating Compliance
with FCC Guidelines for Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields.”
Q. Would the hospital need a
A. No, but the repeater station and user stations would have
to make Section 97.119 station identification announcements: each amateur station, except a space station or telecommand station, must transmit its assigned call sign on its transmitting
channel at the end of each communication, and at least every 10 minutes during a communication, for the purpose of clearly
making the source of the transmissions from the station known to those receiving the transmissions. No station may transmit
unidentified communications or signals, or transmit as the station call sign, any call sign not authorized to the station.
If for some other reason, the call sign assigned to the Section 97.5(b)(1) primary station of the licensee is unsatisfactory to you, you might consider having a VE-certified amateur operator obtain a Section 97.5(b)(2) club station license grant.
Q. If we didn’t have enough hams to provide 24/7 communications, could we use unlicensed operators?
We would do a basic training.
A. Yes, under the Section 97.403 safety of life and protection of property (“EmComm 403”) priority situation. It says: No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station
of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate
safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.
Our amateur service field day participants utilize a protocol as an alternate to VE-certification
as a way for persons to “get on the air” with stations occupying radio spectrum allocated to our amateur service.
It popularity seems to have spread to other endeavors: contesting, networks, DXing, and rag-chewing.
GOTA as used in Field Day operations have licensed amateurs as monitors to ensure correct operation.
Then that needs some fixing in order to comport with Section 97.7. It says a Section 97.105 control operator is required:
When transmitting, each amateur station must have a control operator. The control
operator must be a person:
(a) For whom an amateur operator/primary station license grant appears on the ULS
consolidated licensee database, or
(b) Who is authorized for alien reciprocal operation by §97.107 of
There are no codified provisions for non-VE certified persons to carry out the duties of
the Section 97.105 control operator.
(a) The control operator must ensure the immediate proper operation of the station, regardless of the type of control.
(b) A station may only be operated in the manner and to the extent permitted by the privileges authorized for the class of
operator license held by the control operator.
Q. I don't know that EmComm 403 would allow health and wellbeing traffic, if there
was no "immediate" threat to life or property.
A. So you need
a definition of the term immediate. Until that is forthcoming, one clue that we can look to is that our regulator
has informed Congress that it expects us to provide an alternative to the commercial communications infrastructure impacted
by an emergency. This alternative infrastructure is the network of amateur radio operators and their stations that relay messages,
build and maintain repeater stations and repeater networks, operate HF message networks to send messages greater distances
than are practical with mobile or transportable transmitters, and develop new technologies to improve the reliability of these
Another clue is codified in Section 97.113(a)(3)(i). It says a station licensee or station control operator may participate on behalf of an employer in an emergency
preparedness or disaster readiness test or drill, limited to the duration and scope of such test or drill, and operational
testing immediately prior to such test or drill. Tests or drills that are not government-sponsored are limited to a total
time of one hour per week; except that no more than twice in any calendar year, they may be conducted for a period not to
exceed 72 hours. Should the scope of an EmComm 403 come into question, the system could carry on as operational testing immediately prior to a Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) test or drill. For Q/A on this protocol, read Commercial Communications and Section 97.113(a)(3)(i) Operational Testing BE Informed No. 7.3.
For more Q/A on this topic, read Isn’t Amateur Radio Supposed to Be for Emergencies?
BE Informed No. 7.11.
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Supersedes all prior editions