Three emergency-communications organizations today announced support for National SOS, a grassroots effort designed to let emergency victims call for help even when typical communications network infrastructure is unavailable.

In such situations, emergency victims are encouraged to turn their Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) radios--most notably commercial walkie-talkies found in myriad retail outlets for as little as $15, but also licensed GMRS radios--to Channel 1 and request aid, said National SOS founder Eric Knight.

Typically, the range of commercial walkie-talkie communicating with each other is little more than a mile, but amateur-radio operators with more sensitive receivers can hear signals from as much as 17 miles away when tuning to 462.5625 MHz to monitor FRS Channel 1, Knight said. Such communications could have saved many lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when flooding made many wireline and wireless communications systems useless, he said.

Knight, a ham-radio veteran of more than 30 years and CEO of Up Aerospace, created the National SOS radio network last fall after watching news footage of people being stranded on top of houses after flood waters ravaged the city of New Orleans after Katrina hit the area.

“We all just want to have something that works, given that something unfortunate eventually will happen again,” he said. “The thing is, people already have something in their house that can help them, they just don’t know it.”

Knight said the National SOS initiative hopes to improve education in this area with the help of Midland Radio, the Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams (REACT) and DC Emergency Radio Network (DCERN), all of which announced their support for the effort today.

“In an emergency, I can see people needing to have a flashlight, drinking water, batteries and these little radios,” Knight said. “In the case of a widespread blackout, people think their cell phones will be perfect. But when their cell phone batteries die and they can’t charge the batteries, what do they do? And, in many cases, the cell towers have gone down anyway.”

DCERN founder Bill Adler echoed this sentiment.

"I envision a national network of ordinary Americans with FRS and GMRS radios who can relay information in an emergency,” Adler said in a prepared statement. “When a natural or manmade disaster strikes, the only good communications system is one that will actually work. The idea behind this new emergency network is to have a simple, reliable communications system that doesn't depend on electricity or standing cell phone towers -- and that anyone of any age can use."