BE Informed No. 7.11
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Isn’t Amateur Radio
Supposed to Be for Emergencies?
John B. Johnston W3BE
Q. I do not have a ham call sign. Suppose I am the
driver of an automobile or the captain of a small sailing vessel that is not equipped with a FRS, GMRS, CB, or VHF Marine
Radio. Suddenly, some sort of accident happens and someone is injured and 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 a ham station that just happens to be onboard and I do so. Which FCC rule authorizes this?
A. There is Section 97.403 Safety of life and protection of property (“EmComm 403”). 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.
Q. So, 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
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 well.
A. No, the five principles for which the Part 97 rules are 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.
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 401”).
Secondly, there is Section 97.403 Safety of life and protection of property (“EmComm 403”).
Thirdly, there is Section 97.405 Station in Distress (“EmComm 405”).
Lastly, there is Section 97.407 RACES (“EmComm 407”).
Please show 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.
Q. If I was the unconscious person on that sailboat and needed immediate medical
attention, I hope someone would use the ham 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.
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
Would the hospital need a call sign?
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. 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.
Q. The GOTA as used in Field Day operations have
licensed amateurs as monitors to ensure correct operation.
A. Then that needs some fixing in order to comport with Section 97.7. It says a Section 97.105 control operator is required:
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 this part.
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 networks.
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.
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October 28, 2017
Supersedes all prior editions