FRS Radio: Easy to use Disaster Comms

Family Radio Service (FRS) radios are the most straightforward two-way disaster communication you can get. These walkie-talkie-style handheld radios are a good starting place for building out your emergency and disaster communication.

FRS radios are the first thing I bought for my disaster communications because I wanted to test each type of radio from the least to most complex to build redundancy into my emergency communication system. I’m also working on my Amateur Technican’s license (HAM) which is the most technical of the radio systems but I can already see that many in my survival group will not have the skill-set to operate them.

Scott, Ready Squirrel
Midland X-TRA Talk LXT600

What are FRS radios?

The Family Radio Service (FRS) is a private, two-way, short-distance voice and data communications service for facilitating family and group activities. The most common use for FRS channels is short-distance, two-way voice communications using small hand-held radios that are similar to walkie-talkies.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

My radio is the Midland X-TRA talker. This radio (and others) also come equipped to scan 10 NOAA weather channels. I say in my FRS video below that I couldn’t get an NOAA signal. I just tried scanning the NOAA channels again, and a weather channel came in, so it does work.

FRS radios are the easiest to use for disaster communication

FRS radios are the most accessible two-way communication to use. They don’t require a license, anyone can use them out of the box, and channels are used instead of frequencies.

Also, FRS radios are powered by rechargeable or regular batteries you can stockpile for power outages and other emergencies like bugging out.

Chart #1 FRS Radio Frequency Chart (MHz)

Ch.NOCh. FreqCh. NoCh. Freq
1462.562513467.6875
2462.587514467.7125
3462.612515462.5500
4462.637516462.5750
5462.662517462.6000
6462.687518462.6250
7462.712519462.6500
8467.562520462.6750
9467.587521462.7000
10467.612522462.7250
11467.6375
12467.6625
FRS Radios Channels and Frequencies

Differences Between FRS and GMRS Radios

I was confused when I looked for my first radio for emergency preparedness. FRS and GMRS radios are similar, but there are some distinct differences. Some may want to jump directly to GMRS, but I concluded that I want both in my prepper arsenal. Below is the breakdown of both FRS and GMRS.

FRS

FRS has dedicated channels that aren’t interfered with by radio, tv, or mobile phones like CB radios. These radios transmit on 1/2 to 2 watts of power and have antennas that you cannot remove to improve the radio signal, and you can’t boost the signal as you can with GMRS.

FRS radios operate on the UHF band between the 462 and 467 MHz frequency range. There are 22 channels. On channels 8 through 13, you can reach out about 1/2 mile. On the other channels, you can reach out further depending on the environment.

Range

FRS radios allow for line-of-site communication within a limited distance. In less than ideal conditions, expect to get 1 mile of communication. They are best adapted for use when you are close to the others in your group. Say within 1 mile. Under perfect conditions, as in an open water environment and flat land with no obstructions, expect to get x miles.

Do you need a license to use FRS radios?

There is not a required FCC license for FRS radios. FRS is a rule-based radio: if you follow FCC rules, you are good to go.

GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service)

GMRS Radios are a more robust version of FRS. GMRS radios use the same frequencies as FRS (462 MHz to 467 MHz), but they differ in that they use repeaters to extend range. If you plan on using GMRS with repeaters, research your local area before purchasing your radios, some locations don’t have GMRS repeaters.

GMRS radios have higher wattages than FRS, and more power means stronger communication signals.

GMRS requires a license, but there is no written test like there is with amateur radio. The FCC requires a license for GMRS because they have repeater functionality, wattage, and removable antenna.

Range

With a handheld GMRS radio, expect a useful range of up to 5 miles, with a mobile station up to 20 miles.

GMRS radios broadcast up to 50 watts but most handheld GMRS broadcast at 5 watts. GMRS radios also have a removable antenna, so you can replace the antenna with a better one or hook the radio up to a rooftop antenna.

You need a license to transmit, not to listen.

Can FRS radios speak with GMRS radios?

FRS and GMRS radios can communicate with one another. All FRS and GMRS radios manufactured after 2017 use and share the same channels.

Most mobile GMRS units cannot transmit on channels 8 through 14 and some of the mobile radios don’t have those channels on the unit, so you can’t even listen. Why? The FCC says so.

If your radio has privacy tones, codes, or subchannels programmed, both radios have to be on that privacy sub-channel, or both have to be off. Otherwise, the radios will not communicate.

Chart #2 GMRS Frequencies (MHz)

CH. NOCH. FreqCH. NoCH. Freq
1462.562513467.6875
2462.587514467.7125
3462.612515 (Repeater)462.5500
4462.637516 (Repeater)462.5750
5462.662517 (Repeater)462.6000
6462.687518 (Repeater)462.6250
7462.712519 (Repeater)462.6500
8467.562520 (Repeater)462.6750
9467.587521 (Repeater)462.7000
10467.612522 (Repeater)462.7250
11467.6375
12467.6625
GMRS Frequencies and Channels

6 Alternatives To FRS Radios

You can use other communication types to round out your emergency communication plan. After you get comfortable with your FRS radios, start building redundancy into your comms by incorporating these forms of communication into your emergency plan.

#1 Smartphones

Pros

  • Cell phones are outstanding means of communication and information in a disaster.

Cons

  • Cell Phone Networks have many moving parts and are easily damaged or rendered useless in an emergency.
  • During 9/11, the internet and mobile phone networks went down. In a nationwide situation like a tactical nuclear strike or some form of terrorism, it is likely they will go down again.

GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service)

Pros

  • GMRS radios allow you to use repeaters, and the dedicated channels/frequencies aren’t used as much as FRS so that you won’t be walking over other people’s radio traffic in an emergency.
  • Some are battery-operated.

Cons

  • You need a license to transmit on a GMRS radio
  • Inexpensive
  • Mobile stations need alternate power sources in a Grid Down scenario

CB Radio

CB radios are a solid alternative to FRS radios. They are mobile or base radios, but handheld versions are available. When I put a mobile radio in my bug-out Jeep, it will be either a CB or an Amateur radio. Maybe both. Following are the pros and cons of CB radios for disaster communication.

Pros

  • No license required
  • Affordable
  • Good distance
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Signal interference from radios, mobile phones, and TVs
  • Need alternate power source in Grid Down scenario

Satellite Phone

Satellite phones are for particular types of disaster communication. The phone and service costs are astronomical compared to other types of emergency communication. That said, somebody out there might need what they offer.

Pros

  • Work just about anywhere there is a line of communication with the satellite constellation.

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Satellite phones will not work in a grid-down scenario

Satellite Messenger

Satellite Messengers were made popular by outdoorsmen. Think of any situation where you are in a remote location, be it a sailboat in the south pacific or the jungles of Panama. A satellite messenger might be the only means of communication. So what are the pros and cons of satellite messenger? Let’s take a look.

Pros

  • GPS tracks your location
  • Two-way text messaging
  • Way Points
  • Weather Report
  • Battery Powered
  • Blue-tooth to cell phone information transfer

Cons

  • Subscription fee
  • Expensive
  • Short battery life
  • Need clear skies to get messages out
Ham Radio

Amateur Radio (HAM)

Ham radio is arguably the best means of emergency communication (it probably is). Still, it’s also something you can dig deep into by tinkering with antennas, radio builds, and participating in emergency organizations like the Amateur Emergency Radio Services (ARES) or Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES). Let’s look at the pros and cons of Amateur radio.

Pros

  • Most Capable Radio
  • Send and receive globally
  • Amateur radios are not limited by line of sight; signal bounces off the Ionosphere.
  • Excellent Hobby

Cons

  • Require licensing
  • Complex (there is a learning curve)
  • Need alternate power source in Grid Down scenario

Can You Communicate between a Ham Radio and an FRS Radio?

Ham Radios have all of the FRS channels fully unlocked and can communicate with FRS radios, but it is against FCC regulations to do so. Ham radios exceed the maximum power output for FRS of 1/2 to 2 watts, and they have a detachable antenna which is not allowed on the FRS frequencies.

To learn more about these communication types, read Ready Squirrel’s article, Disaster Communication: Prepper’s Guide.

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