Alcorn County Emergency Communications
Frequently Asked Questions
Questions and Answers About the accEcomms
What is the accEcomms?
accEcomms is part of a nation wide movement to encourage all
Americans to have FRS (Family Radio Service) or GMRS (General Mobile Radio
Service) radios. These radios are inexpensive, easy to use, and don't rely
on any centralized network. In an emergency, tune your FRS or GMRS radio
to channel 1.
Why was accEcomms set up?
accEcomms is used to enhance communitcation between normal citizens like yourself and others during an emergency,
plus for day-to-day neighborhood information, besides we thought it would be prudent to have a backup way for neighbors
It’s the nature of emergencies that you can’t anticipate
what may happen or what you’ll need. But it’s a good bet that
communications will play a major role in any neighborhood or city-wide
emergency. Emergencies such terrorist attacks, power failures (all too
common), cell phone system outages -- those are the kind of instances when accEcomms
would be called into action.
What happened in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina --the
complete destruction of all means of communication-- shows how unexpectedly and
quickly communications can fail.
What is FRS? Is FRS radio like CB radio? Why does accEcomms use FRS and GMRS radios?
Family Radio Service radios are just that -- portable,
battery-operated radios intended for individuals and families. FRS radios
are easy to use, inexpensive and don’t require a license. People use FRS
radios to stay in touch while on ski slopes, at sports events, at the beach, at
amusement parks, on hiking trails -- just about everywhere.
GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) radios, which have a greater ranger than FRS radios,
are often sold side-by-side with FRS radios.
FRS radios have a range of about 1/4 mile in cities; up to
2 miles over water. They are free to use: There’s no per-minute
charge, as with cell phones. GMRS radios have a range of 5 to 10 miles or
accEcomms uses FRS and GMRS radios for several reasons.
- First, many neighbors already have them.
- Second, FRS and GMRS radios are inexpensive and very portable; they’re battery operated.
- Third, these radios are reliable.
- Fourth, the FRS/GMRS channel 1, subchannel 0 has become the universal emergency channel.
For more information about FRS and GMRS radios visit:
Family Radio Service; an option for neighborhood emergency communications
The FCC's official FRS website is
Would I need a accEcomms radio if cell phones didn't work but land
line phones did work?
During an emergency, cell phone networks can fail or become
overwhelmed. Cell phone towers have backup batteries that only last a few
hours; in a crisis when everyone's trying to use their cell phone, most people's
signals won't go through. Land line phones, while more robust than cell
phones, obviously won't work when you're outside. Your accEcomms radio can
provide you with a way to communicate with your family and neighbors if you
can't use your cell phone.
If you need to evacuate your house or go outside during an
emergency --perhaps to look for food or water-- take your accEcomms radio with you.
If I don’t have an FRS or GMRS radio, where can I get one and what
kind should I get?
You can buy FRS radios at Wal-Mart, K-mart, Radio Shack, Staples, Office
Depot, Best Buy, and other area stores—and, of course, on Amazon and eBay.
Some people prefer rechargeable radios; some people like
radios that use disposable batteries. Which should you get? If you
use your FRS or GMRS radio a lot, get one that uses rechargeable batteries.
If you don’t use your radio often, or plan to use it just in emergencies, buy a
radio that uses disposable batteries. (Most FRS and GMRS radios that use
disposable batteries, AA's or AAA's, can also use rechargeable AA and AAA-sized
batteries, too.) Rechargeable batteries, whether built into the
radio or removable, have a relatively short shelf life—and when you turn on your
rechargeable FRS radio that hasn’t been charged in a few weeks, it may be dead.
FRS radios can come with various features, including
built-in GPS receivers, NOAA weather radios, call tones, vibrating alerts,
digital compasses, and thermometers. These features add to the cost of an
FRS radio (and consume power.) Consider your personal needs when shopping
for an FRS or GMRS radio.
Having a built-in GPS is a handy feature. No more, “I can hear
you, but where are you?” Your radio will point toward your companion’s
All FRS radios have privacy channels (also called
subchannels or CTCSS codes.) FRS radios generally have 14 different
channels (frequencies) and 38 privacy channels. This helps ensure that you
can only hear the party you want to talk with. (In an emergency, you want
everybody to be on the same frequency, which is why we use channel 1, no
subchannel/CTCSS code.) For the technically oriented, channel 1 is
462.5625 MHz. FRS radios are very easy to use and once you have an
FRS radio in your hand, you'll be able to see and understand how it works.
In addition to FRS radios, there’s something called a GMRS
(General Mobile Radio Service) radio. FRS and GMRS radios use some of the same
frequencies --including channels-- but GMRS radios are more powerful, and have a
greater range: perhaps 5 or 10 miles or more. But you need an
FCC license to operate a GMRS radio. License applications are included
with most radios; you don't need to take a test to get a GMRS license. FRS
and GMRS radios should be able talk to each other (on channels 1 - 7); however,
because GMRS radios are more powerful, if an FRS and GMRS radio are talking to
each other, it’s possible that the distance will be such that the FRS user will
be able to hear the GMRS operator, but not vice versa. Some GMRS radios
lower their power when using FRS channels, such as channel 1.
Which should you get? While GMRS radios give you more
transmitting range, GMRS radios are slightly more expensive than FRS radios and
you do have to get a
license (which costs $75 and covers an entire family for 5 years.)
Or you can download a copy of the 605 license here
If you use a GMRS radio on the accEcomms, it is likely that people
will be able to hear you whom you cannot hear. In addition, it's possible
that on some brands of GMRS radios, or combination GMRS/FRS radios, the channel
lineup may be different than it is on FRS radios. GMRS radios may give you
that added range you want. Either will work well on the accEcomms. If you're still uncertain, buy a GMRS radio.
I have an accEcomms radio. When should I turn it on?
There’s never any harm in turning on your radio in an
emergency -- or if you suspect an emergency. One of accEcomms’s purposes is to
inform. You can just listen, if you prefer: Your neighbors or the police, if they have accEcomms
radios, may be on the air with news.
Turn your radio on if:
- There’s a power outage
- There’s a terrorist attack and you can’t access the Internet
- When you're uncertain about what's happening outside
- You and your neighbors need to evacuate your homes because of explosions, fire, floods, chemical spill or some other emergency
- When helping to search for a lost child
- When you need to communicate with neighbors and you can’t be at your computer
The first rule of surviving an emergency is to get away from the danger.
In a crisis you may need to leave your office, your home, you car. Your
family may be separated. Plan to have your accEcomms radio with you.
you turn your radio on, you can announce that you are on the air and listening.
Say, “This is Jane Doe on 16th Street near Harvard Street, NW. I’m
broadcasting on the accEcomms because I heard a loud bang and
my Internet connection went down. Is there anyone else on the air?”
Say what you need to say. Remember -- the purpose of this emergency
network is to share information.
Don’t feel constrained by formality in an emergency, but do
confine your communications to things about the emergency: Don’t tie up
the frequency with unnecessary chatting.
Leave your radio on during the entire emergency.
(Batteries willing -- it pays to have some spare batteries around.) By
leaving your radio on, you may hear things from neighbors as the situation
changes. Think of accEcomms as a place to meet your neighbors in an emergency.
Who will be on the radio during an emergency?
Your neighbors will be on the radio during an emergency.
The police may, too. And the local fire department may also be on the air,
as well as emergency workers.
One word of warning, though: Don’t rely on the accEcomms to summon the police: It is not meant to be a way
to summon emergency services, as 911 is. If you need the police, an
ambulance, or the fire department, call 911. But if your phone or cell
phone doesn’t work, then by all means, use whatever means of communication you
have, including accEcomms.
What if I can’t hear anyone?
Just because you can’t hear anyone, doesn’t mean that
nobody can hear you. If you have important information to impart, transmit
-- somebody may hear.
Get to higher ground: The top floor in your house, or
your apartment’s roof. Transmission and reception range increase
dramatically with height. In fact, the height of your radio is more
important than your radio’s power when it comes to transmission range. You
may be able to double the range of your radio by going up one story.
Leave your radio on. Not everyone will be part of an
emergency net throughout an emergency. If you can’t hear somebody now, you
may be able to in another five minutes.
Make sure you have the privacy channels turned off; if it's
on, that will prevent you from hearing others on the emergency radio net.
For many models of FRS radios --but not all-- the display will show a large "1"
and a smaller "0" when set to channel 1, no privacy channel. Depending on
your radio it may look something like this:
If you want to use your FRS radio specifically to talk with
a particular neighbor or your family in an emergency, pick a specific
channel/subchannel in advance and know how to tune your radios to that
channel. You can always go back to channel 1, the emergency channel.
accEcomms works like a relay, but not a straight line relay. The emergency channel
may be busy, or quiet, depending on the nature of the emergency and on how many
people in your neck of the woods have FRS radios.
Who runs the radio net during an emergency?
The accEcomms isn’t run by any specific
individual or agency, partly because in an emergency we never know who will be
around. BecauseFRS radios are FM, they will capture the strongest signal, so
you'll only hear the person who's talking at that moment and who has the most
powerful signal at any given moment.
Wait for a pause in communications before talking.
It’s possible that you’ll “step” on somebody else’s transmission now and then,
but that’s expected. Don’t worry, and if you think that your transmission
hasn’t gone through, transmit again.
Sometimes it’s useful to establish communications with
somebody else before transmitting specific information. But if you’re not
sure if anybody is listening and you have something important to say, say it
anyway. Chances are that a neighbor will pick up your transmission.
Okay. I understand all that. But what I don’t understand is exactly
how the accEcomms will be run during an emergency.
The short answer is that nobody knows. The nature of
emergencies is that they are unpredictable: A tornado and a terrorist
attack are two very different events, for example, and may affect Alcorn County
in different ways. Nobody expected all forms of communication --the
Internet, land line phones and cell phones-- to fail in New Orleans when
Hurricane Katrina hit. In the Northeast blackout of 2003, nobody expected
the cell phone system to collapse after a few hours.
Traditional emergency nets --amateur radio emergency nets
for instance-- are run by somebody who assumes the position of net control, and
who helps organize the radio traffic. A accEcomms emergency radio
network isn't run by any one person -- it is run by everyone on the network.
The accEcomms is the only emergency communications system that
is for ordinary citizens.
Unlike traditional emergency radio nets that use a
centralized repeater (control station), accEcomms is decentralized, making it robust
and nearly invulnerable. Like the Internet itself, if parts of accEcomms fail
--that is, if some of your neighbors' radios aren't working-- other people will
be able to transmit a message. Remove one part of the accEcomms, and the network itself still continues to work.
In an emergency, accEcomms will self-activate. In other words, when you hear a
boom and the lights go out, turn your radio on.
Channel 1 is very busy and I’m having trouble communicating with
my neighbor. I really need to discuss something with him that doesn't
have to do with the emergency.
It’s okay to leave channel 1 and have a direct one-to-one
conversation with somebody else. In fact, if you want to talk with somebody else
about something that does not pertain to the emergency at hand, you should
select another frequency to do that.
If you leave the net, there are three things you should keep in mind:
- If you can, announce that you are temporarily leaving the emergency net to go to channel (or whatever channel).
- It’s standard procedure for emergency communication nets to let everyone know if you
are going to be off the air for a while or are leaving permanently (but only if you have been actively talking on the net.)
- Make sure that you and the person you want to talk
with both arrive at the same new frequency. If you don’t, then return to
channel 1 and try to coordinate a new frequency again.
- Return to channel 1 when you are finished with your off-net conversation.
How can I use my FRS/GMRS radio for emergency and non-emergency
communications with my family?
It's a good idea to have a pre-planned channel, other than channel 1, that your
family will use in an emergency. In a crisis, the accEcomms emergency channel,
1, will be busy. But if your family has pre-selected, say, channel
4/subchannel 8, you'll have a way to communicate. Write the channel/subchannel combination on your radio
or on your accEcomms wallet card. In fact, the more you use your radio, the more comfortable you'll be in an emergency.
There are 14 FRS channels and 38 privacy channels (also called subchannels or
CTCSS frequencies) -- that a total of 532 discrete channel/subchannel
combinations, more enough to give you and your own family a personal
channel/subchannel in all but the most crowded environments. On your
radio, the channel may appear as a large number and the subchannel as a smaller
number: Perhaps something like:
This would mean you're on channel 7, subchannel/privacy channel 12.
What these 532 different channel configurations do is they let you talk without
being interfered by somebody else on the radio. (The privacy channels do
not make your conversation secure.) GMRS radios offer 7 different
frequency channels and 38 privacy channels -- a total of 266 different
channel configurations. Different brands of radios may have different
subchannels (CTCSS frequencies), so it's best to stick with the same brand of
radio if you plan on using a privacy/subchannel.
This is all easier to do than to describe.
Why not use your FRS or GMRS radio on your family's channel when you're at the
mall, skiing, at the beach, when one of you walks down to the video store, when
you're driving somewhere in two cars, to communicate between home and office --
in other words on a regular basis. FRS and GMRS radios are extraordinary
easy and fun to use.
A tip for parents: If you can convince you son or daughter, have them keep
a accEcomms radio at school. It's valuable for emergencies. But there's
another use as well: You kids can call you (if they don't have a cell
phone or their cell phone's battery is dead), if you leave your radio on your
family's personal channel. If there's a widespread emergency all
area schools will be locked down -- nobody goes in and nobody goes out. A
accEcomms radio may be your only way to communicate with your son or daughter at
Remember, if cell phone networks fail, land line phones won't
do you any good if you're outside. accEcomms radios can be used in cars -- they're meant to be portable.
Please take the time to fill out your own National SOS Wallet card
Why would I use an FRS radio and not a cell phone?
You should use both.
But there are times when a handheld two-way radio is better
than a cell phone. In an emergency, such as a terrorist attack, odds are
that cell phone networks will be jammed and you may not be able to make or
receive calls. (On 9/11 cell phone towers and switching centers were
destroyed in New York City, too.) In in blackout lasting more than a
few hours, many cell towers will stop working. And how are you going to
recharge your cell phone during a prolonged power outage? (GMRS radios can
run indefinitely with an ample supply of batteries.) If you want to find out
what is happening in your neighborhood, an FRS/GMRS/accEcomms radio is a better tool
than a cell phone, because it connects you instantly with your neighbors.
You can’t talk into your cell phone and say, “Can anybody tell me why the power
is out?” But if you transmit that question on a accEcomms radio, you’re likely
to get an answer.
A accEcomms radio may help you evaluate whether or not it's
safe to go outside. With a accEcomms radio you may be able to receive
information about what's happening down the block or across town.
Think about how vital your cell phone has become and how
difficult it would be to live and work without one. Now think about a 6
hour to six day period without any way to communicate while you're outside.
And during that period there's been a terrorist attack, major power outage,
hurricane, earthquake, the start of a flu pandemic, flooding, or some other
disaster. Being able to communicate while outdoors is essential.
Will using an FRS radio on channel 1 in my neighborhood interfere
with other neighborhood emergency communications?
Not only will your using an FRS radio not interfere with other neighborhood communications,
but we encourage people around Alcorn County to use FRS channel 1 during an
emergency. It’s possible that emergency information can be relayed around
the city this way.
Is there anything I need to do to join accEcomms?
No. There's no membership fee or membership roster. All you need to
do is tune your FRS/GMRS radio to channel 1 during an emergency.
Can I volunteer to help accEcomms?
Yes. Among other things, we're looking for volunteers to help encourage
more people to get FRS and GMRS radios. We're also looking for volunteers
to help local police and fire stations acquire GMRS radios that they can
use in emergencies. if you can help. send us email
I work in a hospital and would like to be able to make us of accEcomms
volunteers for emergencies. Is this something I can do?
Yes. accEcomms can provide a backup means of communication.
How do you know that real information and not rumors will be transmitted
It is possible that rumors rather than facts will permeate accEcomms during an
emergency. But it's also true that rumors can cross the television airwaves, too
-- witness the rumor on 9/11 that the State Department had been bombed. With
email lists, it's the same thing: Is that fact or rumor? Many times
you don't know if something is correct until you receive confirmation from
another source -- and that's the case for the media, email lists and accEcomms.
accEcomms is not a substitute for normal sources of information, such as television,
radio, the Internet, and email and pager alerts. But during a crisis these
sources may be unavailable for a variety of predictable and unpredictable
reasons; accEcomms is meant to be a redundant means of communicating.
One of accEcomms's purposes is to communicate information. But accEcomms also has as its
purpose to foster a sense of community during a crisis. When we're literally in
the dark, it will be comforting to be able to hear our neighbors' voices.
I’m a police officer/fire fighter/paramedic. Should I be involved in accEcomms?
Yes. When there’s an emergency --a terrorist attack,
chemical spill, tornado, power outage-- normal modes of communication may fail.
accEcomms is fail-safe means for people, including residents and emergency
responders, to be able to communicate in an urgent situation.
accEcomms is not meant to replace 911, cell phones, or official
radio communications -- people should use regular emergency communications
systems first. But when normal communications falter, accEcomms can fill in the
Alcorn County residents will be glad that local police officers,
paramedics, firefighters and other officials are on the emergency network
during a crisis. And you may find that reports from local residents are
helpful, too. Have your FRS/GMRS radio charged and handy. It
What should I be doing with my GMRS radio in the meanwhile?
Always keep your FRS/GMRS radio charged. If your
radio also uses AA batteries, a supply of fresh batteries is a good idea.
It's helpful to use your radio regularly to "keep in shape." While FRS and
GMRS radios are easy to use, the more practice you have, the better.
Take a radio with you to the video store to confer with family members about
what movie to select; take your radios to the mall, the park, the beach and on
bike rides. Use your radios when you're traveling with friends and family
in two different cars. Remember, unlike cell phones, you don't pay minute
changes with FRS and GMRS radios.
Our neighborhood would like to utilize this emergency communications
network even more. Can we use accEcomms as a 24/7 emergency radio call
Some neighborhoods may elect to monitor FRS channel 1 all
the time, in case somebody needs help. That is a perfectly acceptable use
for the accEcomms, and is in fact what REACT
(Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams) suggests.
What other radio communications should I be thinking about?
You might want to get a NOAA weather radio.
NOAA weather radios will alert you if there's a severe storm, tornado or other
disaster heading your way.
NOAA weather radios
now can be tuned into specific counties, so that you will only be alerted for
emergencies in your specific area.
There are several free internet-based emergency alert
services that can send a message to your email address, cellular telephone or
pager in the event of an emergency. One that works well is the
Emergency Email and
If you want to take communications to the next level,
consider getting an
amateur radio license. Like FRS radios, amateur radios are free to
use, but you do need to be licensed (and take a test) to use ham radios. A
satellite telephone is
another option. Satellite phones use satellites in low earth orbit rather
than terrestrial towers, as cell phones do. Satellite phones are a bigger and much more expensive to use than cell phones.
accEcomms is a temporary emergency communications system.
It's not meant to replace the Internet, cell phones or land line phones for the
long haul-- it's meant to stand in until normal modes of communication can be
accEcomms -- connecting
people and neighborhoods in an emergency. Through word-of-mouth, accEcomms has
spread throughout the area, A number of Alcorn County-area
email lists, community groups, citizens associations and unaffiliated
individuals are participating in the region-wide emergency radio network.
The nature of FRS radios makes it possible for information to be relayed
throughout Alcorn County and vicinity by FRS radio in an emergency. You
do not need to be a member of an email list to use accEcomms.
Contact your local neighborhood list moderator or citizens
association for more information about your local emergency radio network.
Or create your own local accEcomms group. One way to spread the word about the
accEcomms is through neighborhood block captains. As well as
other materials on this website.
There isn’t an emergency radio network in my neighborhood. How do
I start one?
You can contact the moderator of your local email list and suggest starting
a neighborhood emergency radio network. If you neighborhood
does not have an email list, just set up a local accEcomms group yourself.
Feel free to borrow from this website.
Back to accEcomms page