Auxiliary Communications Services

 logos for amateur radio emergency services, white circle with red border with lighting bolt in the middle

The Auxiliary Communication Services (ACS) for the City of Palo Alto supplements emergency communications with volunteer staff. Both licensed and unlicensed can serve in one or more functions across administrative, management, technical, or operational areas in the Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES). If you live or work in Palo Alto and are a communications professional, amateur radio operator, or are interested in learning about radio communications, we welcome your involvement.

As volunteers, hams can: 

  • Supplement communications at their local neighborhood command post.
  • Support communications efforts in the City's emergency operations center or our ESV operations center.
  • Assist the operations of our logistic trailers located at our fire stations.  
  • Serve as mobile communications resources or at fixed locations depending on the needs of the city.  

Contact us if you would like to join or to learn more about this program - esv@cityofpaloalto.org.  

Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES)

ARES is a part of the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL). The ARRL deals with all aspects of amateur radio, also known as ham radio, including legislation, licensing, and contests. The ARES branch handles communications during emergencies such as search-and-rescue operations, aiding a ship in distress, providing communications services to a Red Cross shelter, and similar incidents.

ARES volunteers in Palo Alto participate in planned events such as festivals, parades, bike rides, fire watch operations, and more.

Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES)

RACES is the communications branch of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). When a government entity requests amateur radio assistance, the response is processed through RACES and usually involves a disaster or other wide-reaching emergency. RACES operators are covered with the California Disaster Services Workers insurance.

How To Become An Amateur Radio Operator

Operation of an amateur station requires an amateur operator license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Before receiving a license, you must determine your operator class and pass an examination administered by a team of volunteer examiners. US licenses are good for 10 years before renewal and anyone may hold one, except a representative of a foreign government.

In the US, there are three license classes: Technician, General, and Extra. The Technician class license is the entry-level license of choice for most new ham radio operators. The Technician license requires passing one examination totaling 35 questions on radio theory, regulations, and operating practices. The license gives access to all Amateur Radio frequencies above 30 megahertz allowing communication locally and often also within North America. It allows for some limited privileges, too, on the HF (also called "short wave") bands used for international communications.

Learn about hams and how to become a licensed ham operator. You can also get your ham license in one day when you attend a local ham cram.

Practice & Learning Opportunities

Palo Alto CERT Net

The purpose of this net is to practice communicating within and between neighborhoods in Palo Alto. This net is organized into five districts, D1 through D5. Every Monday night from 7:15 pm to 7:30 pm, the net runs with separate net control operators and frequencies for each CERT district. The CERT district numbers match the Palo Alto Fire Department station numbers. Join the net closest to you. From 7:30 pm to 8:00 pm, there is a single net for Palo Alto on the main tactical frequency. See the below Palo Alto Frequencies chart for all frequencies.

SPECS Net

The Southern Peninsula Emergency Communications System (SPECS) Net meets by radio every Monday night at 7:00 pm on 145.270 MHz, negative offset, 100 Hz PL tone (W6ASH repeater), to provide a forum for announcements and to collect data from local city nets. The purpose of the net is to train and maintain a crew of Amateur Radio Operators who are ready to furnish communication services in a time of need. This is done by providing announcements pertaining to amateur radio and emergency preparedness.

The Palo Alto and North section of the SPECS net meets at 7:30 pm for early check-ins prior to the main net at 8:00 pm, and following the main net for additional check-ins.  There is also time for brief training sessions and announcements of special interest to Palo Alto hams. Visitors are always welcome to check in to the nets. Visit SPECS for details.

  • The first Monday of the month: use the primary simplex frequency - Command A - provided in the frequency chart below. 
  • The other Monday's of the month: use the Command B repeater - W6HP. 

PAARA: Palo Alto Amateur Radio Association

PAARA runs a weekly Net and Swap session at 8:30 pm every Monday evening on the N6NFI repeater: 145.230, – offset, 100Hz PL. Visit www.PAARA.org for details.

Palo Alto Frequencies

Effective 15 August 2022, the following frequency plan is in effect.  We have changed a number of our frequencies so please update your radio programming with these changes.  

 FREQUENCY  TITLE  PRINCIPAL USE COMMENTS 
147.540 MHz  Command A Primary simplex for tactical and resource nets PL 100
442.000  Command B

Primary repeater for tactical and resource nets; WW6HP Repeater

5 MHz, PL 151.4
 147.570  Command C Alternate simplex  PL 100
 443.825 Command Alternate  Alternate repeater; W6EI Repeater  5 MHz, PL 100                                          (mixed mode FM and DMR)
441.000 MHz District 1   Local tactical communications Simplex
446.600 MHz District 2  Local tactical communications Simplex
445.350 MHz  District 3 Local tactical communications Simplex
147.480 MHz  District 4 Local tactical communications Simplex
446.500 MHz  District 5 Local tactical communications
Simplex

 

Questions and Answers about these changes:

 Q: Does this change the Monday Night Net (Palo Alto & North section of the SPECSnet)?
 
No. That will still be on 147.540 simplex. Integrating WW6HP and W6EI into the weekly net will be planned separately.
 
Q: Why a new frequency plan?
 
The previous plan dates from 2011, when PANDA changed to CERT. Since then, there are lots of new repeaters in our area. We’ve been able to deal with most of them, but District 4 has active repeaters on both the primary and secondary frequencies of the old plan. With that and adding the WW6HP repeater, it was time to update the full plan, dealing with actual and potential interference.
 
Q: How will the district changeover be managed?
 
We will monitor the old and new frequencies for two weeks, letting people know about the changes. D3 does not change. Ask questions and work out problems on the WW6HP repeater during the changeover.
 
Q: Why is there no District 6?

 
There are no ARES volunteers in District 6. If we do have volunteers there in the future, they will be part of District 2 (College Terrace). District 2 is closest to the residential areas of campus.
 
Q: Why is the District 1 frequency changing?
 
The current frequency (446.000) is the national calling frequency. First, it is poor practice to have general traffic on the calling frequency. Second, that frequency will be very crowded in an emergency or if we ever have a public service event during a VHF/UHF contest. The new frequency (441.000) is dedicated to simplex use.
 
Q: Why is the District 2 frequency changing?
 
The old primary and secondary frequencies for D2 are on the input frequencies of two linked repeaters. If one is busy, the other is busy. We have not experienced interference, but those repeaters were busy just after 7:30 PM on a recent Monday. The 446.600 frequency is quiet, with the closest repeater in Vacaville.
 
Q: Why is the District 4 frequency changing?
 
We have experienced conflicts with repeaters on the D4 primary and secondary frequencies. We are moving to a 2 m frequency that Palo Alto has had in our comm plan since at least 2011.
 
Q: Why is the District 5 frequency changing?
 
The primary frequency for District 5 is in the NARCC repeater sub-band. There is no nearby repeater now, but NARCC is free to coordinate one on that frequency. The secondary frequency (446.500) is dedicated to simplex use, so is a safe long-term choice.

Q: What is the W6EI repeater?

This is a local repeater that is being prepared for use by Palo Alto ARES. It is not ready for traffic yet.  Thanks to W6EI for coordinating this with us. 
 
Q: Why is the 147.555 frequency dropped from the plan?
 
You probably didn’t notice that it was dropped, but that frequency is a primary channel for Menlo Park ARES, so it would likely be busy in an emergency.
 
Q: Why is the W6ASH repeater dropped from the plan?
 
That will almost certainly be busy during an emergency. It is the north county resource net repeater.
 
References:
 
NARCC is the Northern Amateur Relay Council of California, the coordinating body for repeaters in our area, narcc.org
 
County voice frequencies: https://www.scc-ares-races.org/freqs/freqs.html
 
NARCC band plan for 70 cm: http://www.narcc.org/Rptr_Lists/70cmchart-20070507-1.pdf
 
NARCC repeaters on 70 cm: http://narcconline.org/narcc/Repeater_List_Menu.cfm?CZONE=All&SBAND=440&SType=All&Status=All

 

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