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Family Radio Service (FRS)

Overview and Basic Instructions
FRS use by Individuals in Topanga Neighborhood Networks

There is no communication system that works well under all circumstances or to/from all locations. If your cell phone has ever dropped a call or a caller’s voice has distorted beyond understanding, then you know what we are talking about. Having different types of communication equipment that you own and are familiar with, makes it more likely you will find something that works best for a particular application during an emergency in Topanga Canyon.

The single most important thing we each must do prior to any emergency is to “Be Prepared”!

FRS radios are not perfect, particularly in terrain as diverse as Topanga.
FRS radios will never replace a good telephone in an emergency.
FRS radios can do things that a phone cannot or is impractical for and vice-versa.
FRS radios are just one of many good tools that you might find useful in an emergency situation.

First a little background on what FRS is:

  • The Family Radio Service is an unlicensed, low power radio service established by the Federal Communications Commission
  • FRS radios are very affordable. They can be purchased for as little as $20 or less per pair and are as easy to operate as the walkie-talkie you may have used as a child.
  • FRS radios offer lots of different options. The following three options are the most basic:
         1. Range – 1 to 2 Mile vs. 5 Mile – A 1 to 2 Mile radio is perfect for          short-range, house-to-house, neighborhood communications.
         2. Privacy codes or sub-channels – These are not needed and will          not be used for Topanga NN purposes.
         3. Number of Channels – 7, 14, 22, or more Channels – You will          need a 22-channel FRS radio. The FCC requires you to          purchase a license to use channels GMRS channels 15 - 22. Few          casual users get the license though it is only $85 for 5 years with          no test required.

T-CEP’s DRT has undertaken an evaluation of FRS communication for use by Topanga’s neighborhoods in the event of an emergency in Topanga Canyon.

The DRT demonstrated that FRS radios could be a useful tool to keep Topanga residents informed during an emergency in several important ways:

  1. Neighbors can keep each other informed, in many cases without leaving home or tying up phone lines. Think of it as an old fashioned party line. You have the added benefit of safety in numbers.
  2. The “Top of the Hour Report” allows T-CEP to quickly information most neighborhoods of the conditions. This should reduce the number of non-emergency calls to 455 – 3000 and our reliance on cell-phones or “landlines” (which may not work or be overwhelmed).
  3. Timely information. One of the most important things for all of us to consider and remember is NOT to put ourselves or our loved ones in harm’s way and NOT to hamper emergency responders by being in the WRONG place during an emergency. Access to current and correct information is key to the safety of all in Topanga during an emergency.

Important things to know (and remember) about FRS radios:

  • FRS radios operate “line of sight” from one radio location to another!
    Where you are located in relation to whomever you are trying to reach is absolutely critical. A small change in your location can yield a significant improvement in signal strength and/or intelligibility.
  • Turn off any sub-channel codes or tones!
    Some FRS radios have the ability to filter/screen out other traffic on the selected channel using special tones/codes. This is a great feature for family outings and non-emergency “personal” use but will hamper your
    ability to hear other traffic in an emergency situation. Others may hear your transmission but you will most likely never hear them respond to you.
  • Do not use the call button!
    This is a major nuisance in an emergency and will make the channel/frequency much less useable.
  • Turn off the end of transmission “bee-doop” on your radio if that option exists.
  • Listen, Listen, and Listen - to each other’s conversations!
    You may have a question that has been asked / answered already!
    You may be needed to relay information to someone who cannot hear!
  • Listen to and copy word for word T-CEP’s “Top of the Hour Report” on FRS 15
  • At the conclusion of T-CEP’s “Top of the Hour Report” switch to your neighborhood’s assigned channel.
  • Three words - Batteries, Batteries, Batteries! Talking (transmitting) will use up batteries quickly. They will die when you need them the most.
    Expect this to happen and ALWAYS HAVE EXTRA BATTERIES ON HAND!!! A combination of rechargeable and disposable batteries is probably the best solution

Radio Etiquette and Procedures

  • In a life or property-threatening emergency, CALL 911, and then notify your NN Radio Contact. Do not rely on FRS radio communications for life or death situations!
  • Orderly communication is absolutely CRITICAL in any emergency situation!
  • If more than one person transmits at the same time, neither one may be heard!
  • When someone transmits a message directly to you, repeat what was said briefly (quickly) when they are finished. (This is an informal version of a “radio relay”) It serves to confirm the message was received accurately, and let’s those who can only hear one of the radio operators know what the complete radio transmission was, and that the
    other party has finished transmitting.
  • Please do not transmit while someone else is talking on the channel!
    Wait for them to finish and transmit one of the following:
        1. Non-emergency:
            “Calling any station, this is <your name>” and wait to be         recognized before continuing.
        2. Life or Property-Threatening Emergency:
            “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, this is <your name>” and wait to be         recognized before continuing.
  • Each neighborhood should have one primary and at least one secondary “NN Radio Contact ”
  • Your NN Radio Contact is always the lead operator on your neighborhood’s assigned channel. You must follow the leadership of your NN Radio Contact for this system to work. Let them lead and manage the channel!
  • NN Radio Contacts must be level headed and located where they can contact most everyone in their neighborhood radio area. Their location should allow them to listen to T-CEP’s “Top of the Hour Report”.
    (i.e. Their location is in “line of sight” with T-CEP’s EOC)
  • If the usual NN Radio Contacts are not available during an emergency, your location and ability to hear T-CEP’s “Top of the Hour Report” may oblige you to take over as the NN Radio Contact. This is just one of the reasons that EVERYONE should listen to and copy word for word
    T-CEP’s “Top of the Hour Report”.

At 15 minutes after each hour (or shortly thereafter), your NN Radio Contact should re-transmit/repeat word for word all information received during
T-CEP’s “Top of the Hour Report” for those who could not hear the message directly

Assigned FRS Channels by Neighborhood

FRS channel assignments were updated in 2014 to minimize overlapping between neighborhoods. Some of the channels below may be different than what is listed in the Topanga Disaster Survival Guide. This updated list will appear in the next edition of the Survival Guide.

Area FRS Channel
Top O' Topanga 8
Upper Skyline, Marquette 8
Cheney, Callon, Paradise 9
East Hillside 9
Greenleaf 9
Arteique 10
Corral Neighborhood & Santa Maria Rd. 10
Lower Fernwood, Valley View Dr. 10
West Hillside, Summit, Mesa 11
Lower Skyline, Oak, Valley & Old Canyon 12
Robinson Rd. 12
Viewridge Estates 12
Entrada, Encina, Colina 13
Entrado 14
Tuna Canyon Rd. & Saddle Peak Rd. 14
Upper Fernwood 14


Contact T-CEP:    310-455-3000   email:
P.O. Box 1708    Topanga, CA 90290