Radio Communications in Public Volunteer Groups
Len Over surveys the use of radio communications in the day-to-day work of voluntary public organisations
Len Over surveys the use of radio communications in the day-to-day work of voluntary public organisations and in event marshalling and offers suggestions for a future cooperation among disparate groups.
After nearly twelve years, during which I have not published a word, I have decided to take up the keyboard again, to share some information with fellow radio users in this magazine.
I have previously contributed to CB Magazine and my interest in radio communications is unlimited.
I have used most forms of radio communications that can be used without taking any examinations.
However, my roots are in Citizens Band (CB) radio and I must have spent thousands of hours on the 27MHz band from 1981 onwards.
Nowadays, I also have PMR446 transceivers and mobile phones, alongside my faithful old CB Radios. One of the latter CB stalwarts is still operating after more than thirty years of use.
Finally, I also have use of business radio PMR sets for certain job-related tasks.
Help and Safety
Arguably, one of the most valuable uses of radio communication is that of providing safety and help to the public. We can see this every day with the emergency services, local authorities, utility companies and motor breakdown services.
In addition to this, numerous organisations are using radio communications to monitor the movements of their staff. I have been personally caught out ‘having a nap’ by the roadside, through the use of an internet and satellite monitoring system in a lorry, only to get a ‘roasting’, on my return to base!
Therefore, radio can, at times, be used for ‘unwanted’ purposes as well as for the advancement of progress.
My main interest in radio lies with all the people who provide their own time – and often their own hard-earned money too – to provide a service to others in various situations.
In the 1980s, when there were hardly any mobile phones in use, the CB Band was full of clubs and societies that operated help on the most of the nation’s highways. Leicester Control, Corley M6 Control, and many others besides, provided a service to assist lost drivers or people in broken-down vehicles.
These groups also disseminated warnings of hold-ups, traffic queues and major accidents.
Most of these assistance bodies were allied to wider monitoring organisations, which offered general marshalling services at events such as town carnivals and other community events.
These groups included Radio Emergency Voluntary Communications (REVCOM), Monitoring Services of Great Britain (MSGB) and around four or five others.
With the introduction of mobile phones – almost everyone now has a phone in their pocket – the need for monitoring CB radio has, arguably, declined sharply. This has left many voluntary groups with the task of event marshalling and people movement coordination in its various forms.
REVCOM was often considered to be the only ‘national-level’ group in this field, but it never seemed to build any teams in Northern Ireland or Scotland. REVCOM was originally a breakaway organisation from Radio Emergency Associated Communication Teams (REACT/ REACT International), based in the United States.
By seceding from the larger American association, REVCOM finances were eventually kept within the UK (Fig. 1).
A Short History of Assistance Groups
The UK has had a very good service provided by RAYNET, a radio amateur group formed after the flooding of Canvey Island Essex in 1953, an event during which many lost their lives.
There’s no question that RAYNET offers a great service; it now also welcomes non-amateur radio operators in their group. However, it seems that some people want to get into something less formal, but still well-organised. This is where the various volunteer groups around the country are filling a gap.
Outside of traditional CB radio, these groups can offer a very professional service. Many of them operate using high-quality PMR446 transceivers with a range of up to about three-quarters of a mile
This can be quite enough for organising cover of an onsite event such as a school fête or a sports gathering.
Some groups have used PMR446 transceivers for carnivals around the streets and the range achievable with a power of 0.5W has been more than sufficient for these operations.
From enquiries I have made, it appears that many of the volunteer groups around the UK appear to operate on the same type of mobile radio licence. However, this is where any similarities end.
A Question of Attitude
In the early 1980s, I was called upon to help out in a number of searches for missing children. Looking back to those days, there were a number of people who thought that having a CB transceiver installed in their car was, somehow, making them ‘specially qualified people’. The problems that this attitude could cause were often, in fact, dangerous for those missing or in distress.
One massive search I remember focused on a missing little girl in Epping Forest, which, for those that do not know the area, is a very large forest stretching over large areas of East London and Essex.
The missing child was from Dagenham in London, so there were many volunteers from that area, plus around eight hundred adult CB operators from all over London, Essex and Hertfordshire.
This was in an area of the forest known as High Beach. This site was located high up in the hills and was ideal for wide radio coverage, with a large open space for people to congregate.
Initially, all went well. The groups that turned up were REACT, THAMES, a few RAYNET operators and around a dozen well-organised CB radio clubs.
Everyone was up for a hard, long, day of searching. A Chief Inspector from the Metropolitan Police (this Police force no longer covers parts of Essex) provided some basic instructions, and a few junior ranking police explained how to react to ‘potentially distressing’ sights, such as deceased persons.
The search began at around 8 am, with groups covering dedicated sections of the forest to search. A few volunteers were equipped with handheld CB radios. Many of these were low-powered, two-channel transceivers. The radios were often all but identical, but sold under different brands, such as Harvard, Amstrad, and Binatone, to name a few.
However, by 9.30 am, some trouble erupted. A few CB operators, it seemed, were ignoring the sound advice previously provided; others did not like someone making suggestions, and the fights started.
Someone later found the remains of a dead deer, and the word ‘body’ was mentioned over the air; with this misinformation being given out on a radio channel, many of the searchers subsequently packed up and walked off home, believing that the search was all but over.
If the groups had had some sort of basic training, the search might have been undertaken in a more complete and coordinated manner.
The really sad news was that the body of the lost child was eventually found in the forest, about 3m north of where it had been searched, five days later. The forensic evidence stated that she had been murdered more than ten days earlier (Fig. 2).
Streets of London
On another occasion involving rescue volunteers, I was called out of bed to search the streets of London. On this occasion, the local THAMES group had loaned the local police force three mobile CB radios and magnetic-mount (mag-mount) antennas, so that the police could communicate with searchers.
This search resulted in a much more pleasant result, with an eleven-year-old boy found at 2 am the following morning, hiding to avoid school.
Current Volunteer Groups: EVOS
During my research for this article, I started to look at other communications assistance services around the country.
In order to witness a relatively new group offering an excellent service, I visited the county of Kent, often referred to as the ‘Garden of England’. Kent is an area, where, on a number of occasions, I have attended to help marshal some carnivals and similar events, during my days with REVCOM.
As a member of that group, it was quite common to help another team out with personnel. The key locations in those days were Dover and Sheerness. However, my recent visit was to Faversham.
In this little town straddling the old London to Dover road (A2), you will find the Abbey School. This is where I met up with the ‘Event Volunteers of Swale’ (EVOS), based in Sittingbourne.
Although EVOS has only been operating for around two years, they are so efficient at what they are asked to do, that their diary of events is filling up quite fast.
There can be no better advertisement than good recommendations, and recommendations are being made so frequently about EVOS, that they now need extra members.
On the occasion of my visit, EVOS members were given the responsibility to control a massive car park, which is normally a very large school playing field (Fig. 3).
The number of vehicles arriving was connected to a fayre for enthusiasts of all types of motor vehicles, the Kent Chrome & Cruisers Show, which took place on 27th August 2018.
I would have thought that this might seem like an easy event to marshal. Nevertheless, with long queues of about one mile long in both directions on the A2 trunk road, and with cars leaving the site, the event volunteers on hand definitely had their hands full.
Helping the Community
The key person in the group was Karl Hudson. Karl is the main director of EVOS operations; in fact, he controls most of the day-to-day work to get the team into operation.
It was a pleasure to see this group of volunteers ‘in action’, as it were, and to witness such a well-run outfit. As a reflection of their activities, the local Council for the Swale area has just awarded them the title of Voluntary Team of the Year 2018.
In our conversation, the topic of membership recruitment featured prominently. Karl told me of a young lady who – by joining the EVOS – was able to put her previous life of personal abuse and minor crime behind her. She has now become one of the group’s most active and helpful members.
I suggested to Karl that he might be able to help the community of Swale and Kent on a somewhat larger scale, in connection with the potential re-integration of minor offenders. The idea was that, in conjunction with the local Probation Service, former offenders could help to marshal carnivals. Such events could then become part of a wider programme of rehabilitation. In this way, a former offender might even enjoy his or her community service and carry on as a full member after their legal commitments were spent.
During my visit, Karl showed me that they were operating with the UHF radio facility of the event organiser. Under normal circumstances, the group operates on the Business Radio Simple UK Licence. Volunteer members have found that this licence meets most of their communications.
The volunteers operate a variety of radios manufactured in the UK or imported for use with this type of licence. We spoke about the interesting new facility of network radios for groups providing essential communications during community events and voluntary searches.
With this new use of radio using a dedicated radio transceiver a smartphone and a couple of small cables, an event could be controlled from many miles away. In addition to this, there is, of course, no limit to the range of operation.
Two years ago, I spoke to a friend in the UK, using a network radio from Eastern Turkey. By and large, our communications were loud and clear, although there was sometimes a delay of under a second on receiving the incoming signal.
I came away from my EVOS visit feeling that I had just seen a worthwhile group; it was well-organised and ready to take on any event that involves safety control or marshalling of people and vehicles (Fig. 4).
More Communications Groups
Having seen the Event Volunteers of Swale in action, I immediately thought, what else is there, in the same vein, around the UK – the small country with a big heart?
Therefore, I started to look around. Although it is nearly twelve years since I wrote for a communications magazine, I still receive calls to my mobile phone from readers of those days, often asking, what kind of groups and organisations there are now, and how people can get involved with them.
Consequently, I often give out details of some of the groups I have been in contact with, although I have not been in a position to get involved myself so far, due to overriding personal commitments.
However, now that I have a much clearer diary, I am ready to get involved again.
I wonder whether some kind of an informal meeting of all the groups involved could be arranged. Such an assistance group summit could include the St. John Ambulance, The British Red Cross and The Boys Scouts Organisation, along with any other active communications teams and volunteer associations.
Since nearly all the groups mentioned share the same type of licence could they not work ‘as one’, when needs arise? I think that RAYNET could be also involved, although I have heard in the past that other organisations often fear RAYNET would try and ‘dominate’. I personally don’t feel that this would be the case.
Having been interested in these types of groups for over thirty years, I have found that most of the successful volunteer helpers have had some sort of callsign procedure. One group, which was based in London, was called the Association of Independent Monitors.
It held a training evening some time ago, and yours truly was invited to attend. The person giving the lecture was lucky, it seems to me, that no member of the local Constabulary was present, as the communications procedure being ‘preached’ did seem much too formal for volunteers to remember and use.
Having returned home from that meeting, I switched on my radio equipment. Not long after, a friend of mine telephoned me, suggesting I listen to a certain security frequency on my scanner. This I did, and the radio procedure was completely identical to the one recommended at the earlier training evening.
Maybe the lesson of this is that – since licences, procedures and communications formats of both official and voluntary groups are often so similar – it would make sense for everyone to have an agreed callsign plan.
This would have two main advantages: First, in the case that the Dover Monitors were to assist the Canterbury Marshals (to use two entirely fictitious examples) to help on a fun-run around Canterbury, having callsigns could help with clearer identification. Normal forenames are fine for a small event with everyone from the same group. In the context of a larger event, having identifiable callsigns could be very helpful too. That said, maybe things should not go as far as adopting full police or military callsign procedures, as this might put off prospective members.
Second, callsigns might also help where radios are moved to different locations and assistance is needed.
Perhaps a wider association, such as the United Kingdom and Ireland Radio Assistance Forum could eventually be formed? Just an idea of mine, what do you think? (Fig. 5).
Starting a Group
I am currently in the process of contacting existing radio assistance groups, including REVCOM.
Moreover, I am forming a new volunteer assistance group in my area and I will be looking for new members from all walks of life. I live in the sleepy Hertfordshire town of Bishop’s Stortford, right on the edge of Essex. It is so close to that county, that many organisations believe we are, in fact, in Essex. For that reason, I am starting a group named Hertfordshire Essex Area Radio Team. It will probably be known as the HEART.
The radio equipment to be used will include Business Radio licence and PMR446 transceivers, CB transceivers, mobile phones and network radios. The new group might most likely attract members from the other side of Hertfordshire, along with some interested Essex residents. Two channels have been set on an international internet-based network radio service Zello, one for each county.
It is, of course, ‘early days’ as yet for this group. If anyone else is planning or in the process of starting a group like this, I am available if you want any ideas to help you get one set up.
There is a wealth of free (or very cheap) facilities like telephone numbers and email services for groups, to help you publicise your efforts.
I am not just interested in British radio assistance services, but also in overseas groups, clubs and associations. So please get in touch with me, my e-mail address is in the head of this article.
This article was featured in the November 2018 issue of Radio User