Truth and misconceptions about out-of-band emergency radio operation

Some truth and misconceptions about out-of-band Emergency Communications during emergency situations:

Amateur Radio operations do have the equipment, and often the knowledge, to assist in providing emergency communication within the band frequencies that they are licensed to operate on. However, there is a huge misconception about out-of-band operation.

According to the FCC, “§97.403 Safety of life and protection of property. 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.” and “§97.405 Station in distress. (a) No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station in distress of any means at its disposal to attract attention, make known its condition and location, and obtain assistance. (b) No provision of these rules prevents the use by a station, in the exceptional circumstances described in paragraph (a), of any means of radiocommunications at its disposal to assist a station in distress.”

The above rules are in place so that in the event of a distress situation, an Amateur Radio operator (or anyone for that matter), may transmit on any frequency and using any mode, any communication or call for help, and anyone may respond to those calls.

Many people interpret these rules as stating that no enforcement action can be taken against someone transmitting on local police, fire, dispatch, or other commercial or military emergency frequencies in order to transmit or respond to a distress call. This is not correct. While the FCC may not take an enforcement action against you, local governments, municipalities, or businesses may choose whether or not to take enforcement action against you based on the situation. You are, after all, interfering with their licensed operations, and you may be interrupting a call for another, more serious situation.

In some situations, Amateur Radio operators have legitimately called for, and responded to, calls for help. And there have been rare situations where out-of-band transmission was justified and used. But these situations are rare indeed.

However, do not expect to use “it was an emergency” as a wildcard to transmit out-of-band whenever you want. Use discretion, common sense, and take advantage of other methods of communication first, if available. If the situation warrants, and other forms of communication are not available, then out-of-band transmission may be justified.

Situations which warrant out-of-band transmissions are extremely rare. Some people choose to modify and program radios for out-of-band operation as if it would be a regular occurrence. While having the capability to to transmit out-of-band will prepare you for such an emergency, the odds of being able to justify such operation is remote. That’s not to say not to prepare, that’s just to say don’t expect you will ever make justifiable use of it.