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Can you pick up police signals with ham radio? Secondly, are you able to contact emergency services with ham radio. For example: In the middle of a hurricane, with no power, can you technically use a battery-powered radio to contact the police in an emergency (like for flooding or injuries), or is it illegal/impossible. Thanks.

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  • $\begingroup$ You might elaborate a little in your title, as your second question is actually more important than your first, IMO. $\endgroup$ – MoTLD May 3 at 3:35
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Some ham radios are capable of receiving many signals outside of the ham bands, including in some cases police or emergency services. Some are even capable of transmitting on those frequencies. And there is one and only one circumstance in which it's legal for a ham to transmit on any frequency, licensed or not: during an immediate emergency when no other communication method is available and attempts to get help via proper ham bands have failed.

Specifically, the FCC's FAQ on the topic says:

Section 97.403 states that no provision of the Rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communications in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.

Section 97.405 states that no provision of the Rules prevents the use by an amateur station in distress of any means at its disposal to attract attention, make known its condition and location, and obtain assistance. A sinking ship is a good example. It further states that no provision of the Rules prevents the use by a station, in that exceptional circumstance, of any means of radiocommunications at its disposal to assist a station in distress.

So, in your example, in the middle of a hurricane your ham license would allow you to use your radio on any frequency it can transmit on, to talk to anybody who can help, only if there is an immediate danger and you've exhausted all other means of communication. If everyone's phones have washed away and you're on the roof with flood waters lapping at your feet and you've gotten no response on your local repeaters and the calling frequencies, by all means call the police on their own frequency if you can - but be prepared for some serious questions as they don't generally tolerate that sort of thing.

And if it isn't an absolute emergency, you not only risk your license but you may disrupt the very services others are relying on who are in such an emergency!

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Can a ham radio pick up police signals?

Yes and no -- many ham radios are "wide band receive" capable, meaning they can receive outside of the ham bands. These extra receive frequencies sometimes include police frequencies. In some states, it is illegal to listen on those frequencies, but an exception is made for amateur radio operators and some others. However, many police frequencies are now encrypted, and there is no way to decrypt them without the encryption key. All of this varies wildly based on your location and what the local police do with their radios.

Can a ham radio contact emergency services during a hurricane? Again, yes and no.

Amateur radio by itself does not give you the ability to contact emergency services typically. However, there is a national organization called ARES with local branches that are typically directly involved with the local police on a volunteer basis. Many counties have ARES clubs, and members of those clubs are deployed to hurricane shelters specifically so the county and the shelter can still communicate if other means of communication fail.

So, can you contact emergency services in a hurricane? If you are an ARES member, you essentially become part of emergency services. But as an individual at home, you can listen in on that channel but probably should not interfere with it.

Similarly, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Hurricane Watch Net, and several other organizations activate over ham radio during hurricanes. Most are looking to serve large groups, but interest in individuals varies between these organizations. All of these groups need trained local amateur radio volunteers.

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