One of the more useful applications of ham radio (beyond the obvious enjoyment of the hobby) is for emergency communications (EmComm). In times of man-made or natural disaster, mobile phones and internet may be inoperative or unreliable. In such times ham radio may be the only way to communicate.
Extend this idea to your loved ones with a family communications plan. This would involve you, a spouse and/or children. For it to be practical all would need to be hams with at least a Technician class license.
A family communications plan would be established and written down for all family members to have near their radios. This would include primary, secondary, and tertiary repeaters in your area. Also include a simplex frequency and the national call (simplex) frequency in case the repeaters aren’t working or are tied up.
Make sure to test all frequencies between expected locations (home, work, school) with a dry run to discover any interference or lack of coverage.
To help visualize how this might work, let’s say there is a major tornado outbreak that wipes out a large chunk of a mid-sized city one weekday afternoon. Dad is at work, Mom is at home, and daughter is at school. Cell phones (voice & text) and internet are not working so none of these people can let each other know where and how they are. All three members know that the situation is bad so all get on their radios. Primary and secondary repeaters are busy with dozens of other local hams reporting in damage and trying to reach their families. Tertiary repeater is open so all three move there. From his mobile rig Dad reports that he is fine and will make his way home ASAP. With the base radio Mom reports minor damage with a fence section down. With her HT Daughter reports that the college is unaffected but has to wait for clearance to leave campus. All can share updates as needed, and may have to wait their turn on the repeater.
Great idea, but you may have objections. Let’s address a couple of these:
- Getting everybody licensed. The necessary Tech license is actually pretty easy to obtain. Five year olds can do it with a little study and coaching. Not a good excuse.
- Cost. License exam fee is $15 or less. Many hams already have at least one VHF/UHF FM radio. Cheap HTs (minimal requirement) can be had for less than $50 each. Money should not be an excuse.
The licensed family member can train/coach the others to get a license and work on getting more radios. It may be that they already have multiple radios (base at home, mobile in car, one or two HTs) so all that is needed is establishing the plan and testing it.
Local comms using VHF/UHF is most important in disaster situations but you could extend this beyond line of sight to more regional or national distances using HF equipment. It gets more complex in this case and practically speaking a General class license would be needed. Here also non-voice messaging using WinLink may be useful.
An interesting article on a surge in US licensees for EmComm purposes including family members is found here.