Thank you for the excellent article by N.M. “Developing a Communications Plan for Your Group”. I too have been a Ham for 20 years and have a couple of additions to his article.
Great description on use of repeaters and simplex. When using simplex with VHF and UHF, here are some tips. Height and reducing obstructions are important. If you are using any hand-held radio and are having difficulty communicating with someone else, take a moment to think about your surroundings. If you are inside, move outside if you can. The building you are in will interfere with your transmission and reception. If you are on the ground and can move to a higher level, do it. Most hand-held radios are VHF/UHF “line of sight”. So you will have a better chance connecting if you are on the third floor than on the ground. I’ve also observed new hams holding their radio sideways, like the cops/military guys do in the movies. Hold your radio straight up and down and talk directly into the mic in front of your face. It’s a small thing, but I have seen it make a difference.
If your radio has a power setting like Low, Medium, High, always try to use the least power to communicate. Use just enough power to connect with the other person you are talking with. There are two big advantages– less power means longer battery life and using just enough power to connect means your signal radius is just what you want to communicate with your legitimate party. More power makes your radius larger with more chance of a “bad person” listening in on your position.
N.M. goes over using Ham repeaters in an emergency, but what if the repeaters are down? You can set up a smaller profile repeater using the cross-band function that some mobile radio have. I personally have experience using a Kenwood TM-V71A (http://universal-radio.com/catalog/fm_txvrs/0071a.html). Do a Google search of “Cross Band Repeater” to learn more about it. Setting up a mobile radio with cross band on the top floor of a building or a house on a hill/mountain could extend your hand-held range by 20 miles or so.
Another repeater option that I don’t have experience with but have read about is a simplex repeater. It’s a box that plugs into your hand held radio that has a recording chip. It will record an incoming radio transmission, then immediately play back and transmit that recording. It’s not as fast as true repeaters, but in a pinch it might be what you need. Some simplex repeaters even have a voicemail function where it will record your incoming transmission and retransmit only if a code is transmitted. As N.M. noted, coded transmission is not allowed for Hams but can be used on commercially licensed radios. The brand name I’ve read about is SURECOM, which is a Chinese brand. I found it on www.409shop.com under the tab “Repeaters”.