The Australian Government has legislated certain channels on the CB bands for emergency use only. The use of these channels for non-emergency communications can not only incur heavy penalties under the CBRS Class Licence and Radiocommunications Act, it could also cost someone their life if a call for help is missed due to interference.
The legally allocated emergency channels are:
- on the HF or 27MHz band – channel 9 (on 23 or 40chnl sets).
- on the UHF band, channels 5 and 35.
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The UHF CB band used in Australia is unique to Australia and New Zealand. In Australia both channels 5 AND 35 have been legislated as emergency channels. Why two channels? Very simply, channel 35 is used by repeaters operating on channel 5 as an input channel, so any transmissions on channel 35 can totally block any nearby channel 5/35 emergency repeater. In other regions, channel 35 is allocated for use as a secondary emergency channel.
Many people do not realise that UHF 35 is also an allocated emergency channel, and so they use it to chat between themselves potentially blocking any emergency call from being received on a repeater they probably don’t even know exists! But an even bigger problem is the use of 5 and 35 by those totally unaware they even have a UHF CB. ALL of the now popular UHF hand-held units, sometimes called Communicators, FRS, Personal UHF Radio, or simply 80 channel UHF Radio, operate on the UHF CB band and are subject to these allocations. These sets are becoming more popular as toys for children, or for families to use to chat from car-to-car while traveling.
Emergency Repeater Locations
There are a number of repeaters operating on UHF 5 and 35 across Australia. These are licensed as Emergency Channel repeaters and are provided by a number of different organisations and businesses. To locate repeaters in any region of Australia visit the TropiNet website.
Some people claim that the emergency channels are not legally allocated by any government legislation, or are nothing more than a “gentleman’s agreement” that does not need to be observed or can not be enforced. Or, they claim that because it is “citizen band radio” there are no designated emergency channels. This is totally incorrect! Information on these channels, and the Class Licence, must also appear in the User Guide, under the Australian Standard for CB equipment, so there is no excuse for operators not knowing about these channels.
Since the legalisation of CB in Australia certain channels have been allocated for use for specific purposes. These were call channels and emergency channels, with road channels (commonly called truckies channel) legally recommended for such use. When individual licences were abolished these regulations were not removed, they were implemented into the Class Licence that automatically covers every person that uses a CB. The Radiocommunications (Citizen Band Radio Stations) Class Licence is federal legislation that replaces the need for each person or station to hold an individual licence, but it still governs how CB can and can not be used, and sets penalties for improper use. The Class Licence is made under the powers of the (federal) Radiocommunications Act 1992, and is enforced under that Act. The following is an extract from the Radiocommunications (Citizen Band Radio Stations) Class Licence 2015.
6 Conditions – general
A person must not:
- except in an emergency – operate a CB station on:
- carrier frequency 27.065 megahertz (HF channel 9); or
- carrier frequency 476.525 megahertz (UHF channel 5); or
- carrier frequency 477.275 megahertz (UHF channel 35); or
Note: In an emergency mentioned in subsection 49 (1) of the Act, if a carrier frequency mentioned in this paragraph is not accessible, it is preferable that a carrier frequency mentioned in paragraph (b) should be used.
The ACMA define an emergency in the Radiocommunications (Interpretation) Determination 2015, Schedule 1:
Schedule 1 Dictionary
emergency signal means:
- a request for assistance; or
- a signal of distress; or
- a message that is related to a request for assistance or a signal of distress.
This means that the emergency channels can only be used for calls for assistance, distress, or anything that may be related to these. Some operators have mistakenly told people that the channels can only be used for “life and death” messages – this is NOT true! “Assistance” can mean many things, including lost travellers, breakdowns, etc. What it does not include are routine messages (e.g. lunch orders) by anyone, including volunteer “emergency services” who feel they have a right to use the channels for any reason just because they are an emergency service and it is an emergency channel.
Some people also believe the channels can be used for normal conversations until an emergency call is transmitted. Again this is incorrect! The emergency channels can only be used for transmissions relating to an emergency, as defined above. In correspondence with the ACMA on the subject of emergency services (or anyone else) using the emergency channels for routine messages, ACMA Compliance said:
Any traffic that is not related to an actual emergency would be in breach of the Class Licence.
Operating in a manner that contravenes the conditions of the Class Licence is punishable under the Radiocommunications Act 1992 due to subsection 132, paragraph 3, of the Act, which specifies:
So, in essence, if you operate contrary to the provisions specified within the Class Licence, you could be liable to prosecution for operating an unlicensed radiocommunications device:
46 Unlicensed operation of radiocommunications devices
(1) Subject to section 49, a person must not operate a radiocommunications device otherwise than as authorised by:
- a spectrum licence; or
- an apparatus licence; or
- a class licence.
- if the radiocommunications device is a radiocommunications transmitter:
- if the offender is an individual-imprisonment for 2 years; or
- otherwise-1,500 penalty units; or
- if the radiocommunications device is not a radiocommunications transmitter-20 penalty units.
This is not just “our opinion”. The following comes from the ACMA website “Citizens band radio stations class licence” which can be found at http://www.acma.gov.au/Industry/Spectrum/Radiocomms-licensing/Class-licences/citizen-band-radio-stations-class-licence:
If you breach any condition of the class licence (for example, operating on a frequency not mentioned in the class licence, or using an emergency channel for non-emergency purposes) you are no longer authorised under the class licence and may be liable for prosecution. [emphasis added]
These channels are designated for emergency messages only and must not be used for other purposes.
In January 2007 ACREM sought information from the ACMA on the current penalties for misuse of the emergency channels. The response from the ACMA advises that the following penalties can apply:
- For misuse of the emergency channels such as using for non-emergency purposes, the operator can be prosecuted for operating without a licence, as indicated above. Maximum penalty is 2 years imprisonment, or a fine of up to $165,000. Alternatively the ACMA can issue an infringement notice for an amount of $220 for minor offences.
- For interference to an emergency call in progress then section 193 of the Radiocommunications Act provides for a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment or $550,000. This offence can only be dealt with via court.
Section 193 of the Radiocommunications Act 1992:
193 Interference in relation to certain radiocommunications
(1) Subject to section 196, a person must not, without the ACMA’s written permission, use a transmitter in a way that the person knows is likely to interfere substantially with radiocommunications carried on by or on behalf of:
- an organisation specified in the regulations that is:
- a fire fighting, civil defence or rescue organisation; or
- an organisation providing ambulance services; or
- any other organisation the sole or principal purpose of which is to secure the safety of persons during an emergency; or
- the Royal Flying Doctor Service; or
- the Australian Federal Police or the police force of a State or Territory.
- if the offender is an individual-imprisonment for 5 years; or
- otherwise-5,000 penalty units.
NOTE! Although the ACMA referred to Section 193, we believe that someone interfering with an emergency call could potentially be charged under Section 194 of the Act, especially if they have been advised it is an emergency channel, which allows for the same maximum penalty:
194 Interference likely to endanger safety or cause loss or damage
Subject to section 196, a person must not do any act or thing that the person knows is likely to:
- interfere substantially with radiocommunications; or
- otherwise substantially disrupt or disturb radiocommunications;
if the interference, disruption or disturbance is likely to endanger the safety of another person or to cause another person to suffer or incur substantial loss or damage.
- if the offender is an individual—imprisonment for 5 years; or
- otherwise—5,000 penalty units.
Our thanks to the NSW Regional Office of the ACMA for providing this information.
More information on this subject can be obtained from the federal agency that enforces the Class Licence and the Radiocommunications Act – the Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA). Although many people think that the ACMA don’t care, ACREM has been involved in a number of instances where, following information provided by ACREM members, operators causing interference to the emergency channels have been located by ACMA field staff using Radio Direction Finding equipment and issued infringement notices or charged to appear before a court. Even mobile stations or those using low powered hand held equipment can be tracked and located, and a number of operators using this kind of equipment were located in late 2006 by ACMA staff in Brisbane and issued infringement notices due to their operation on the UHF emergency channels. ACREM continues to work with the ACMA to help keep these channels clear for their allocated use, in the interests of everyone’s safety.
Throughout Australia there are various volunteer groups, like ACREM, that monitor the emergency channels relaying calls for assistance from the community to the required services.
In some country regions Police and other emergency services may also monitor and/or use UHF channel 5, however this is not guaranteed as circumstances vary from region to region.
Report Misuse of Emergency Channels
As part of our ongoing commitment to promoting the CB emergency channels, ACREM has embarked on a campaign to identify and educate businesses or government agencies using the emergency channels for routine communications. An example of the type of businesses already identified and contacted include:
- Traffic Controllers;
- Road Works crews;
- Cranes loading/unloading ships;
- Council workers.
If you know of a company, organisation or government agency that is incorrectly using the emergency channels, please help us to reduce interference by sending us the details. ACREM will contact the company/organisation/agency and provide information regarding the emergency channels and other legally allocated channels on the CB bands. You can use the Report Channel Misuse to send information on a business/company misusing any of the emergency channels, or the Contact Form to send a message to this programme, or visit the Contact Directory to find the email addresses used.
Please make sure the following information is included in your message:
- The name of the company/organisation/agency;
- The location that operations were conducted from/to;
- The date(s) and time(s) that the transmissions occured;
- Any names or other forms of identification heard;
- Any other information that may be relevant.
Another ongoing campaign is to provide retailers with accurate information regarding the CB bands. With UHF CB equipment now being sold by discount stores, hardware stores, car spares stores, as well as electronics retailers, it is not surprising that some sales staff have limited knowledge about the CB emergency channels, or the entire Class Licence.
ACREM is seeking to identify retailers that provide incorrect information about the CB bands, so that we can send the retailer and, where appropriate, their head office, information for distribution to sales staff. Retailers of particular interest include those where sales staff advise:
- that there are no laws or regulations governing the use of CB in Australia;
- that you can use any channel you wish on CB bands;
- that there are absolutely no restrictions regarding channel uses;
- that the ‘licence-free’ UHF hand-helds are not CB;
- any other information that could cause a new user to misuse the emergency channels or other legally allocated channels.
If you have recently visited a retailer and have found that sales staff provide incorrect information about CB, please consider sending us the details. You can also use the Report Channel Misuse to send information on a retailer providing incorrect information on the emergency channels, or you can use the Contact Form to send a message to this programme or visit the Contact Directory to find the email addresses used. The information you send should include:
- The name and address of the retailer;
- If possible, the name of the sales person spoken to (or a brief description);
- The date you visited the store;
- The information provided by the sales person.
How to call for Help
To call for help simply follow this procedure:
- Select the emergency channel on your CB – Channel 9 AM or USB on 27 MHz sets (channel 5 if it is an old 18 channel CB), or Channel 5 on the UHF Band (select ‘Duplex’ or ‘Repeater’ mode if in range of a channel 5/35 emergency repeater, otherwise use ‘Simplex’ mode – i.e. turn your Repeater or Duplex button OFF).In some country regions, emergency Monitors may monitor other local UHF repeaters in addition to, or instead of, the emergency repeater. If no response is received, try other local channels.
- Call “Any emergency monitor, this is (give your call-sign or first name) calling any emergency monitor”
- Give the Monitor time to answer! If no response is received within 30 or so seconds, call again.
- Respond with the nature of the incident, exact location and other information. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what information to give, the Monitor will ask you for the information that he/she needs in order to notify the required services.
- IMPORTANT! Emergency Monitors can NOT offer first aid or medical advice over the radio under any circumstances. If absolutely necessary, they will contact the Ambulance Service or a Doctor and relay any advice they may have.
- There may be times when an Emergency Monitor is not available, or can not hear you. Atmospheric conditions can do very strange things to radio signals, and a local Monitor may not be able to hear your call above the level of interference being received at his/her location. If no one answers your call on the emergency channel, try other channels, especially UHF Channel 40 or HF Channel 8 (Road Channel) or other local repeaters (UHF Band).
REMEMBER! Emergency Monitors are volunteers often using their own radio equipment to listen for people needing help. It is impossible for any volunteer group to guarantee 100% coverage 24/7 without a large number of volunteers and funds. ACREM is constantly seeking new members and/or donations so they can expand operations and provide better coverage on the emergency channels, especially during major incidents. CB does save lives so if you have a CB at home and some spare time, no matter how little or how much, or even just a couple of dollars, why not help us to help you! Contact us for more information.
Calling 112 (one-one-two)
In the past mobile telephone users would need to dial 112 for emergency contact, as this number provided enhanced features not available to 000 (e.g. contact via any service provider, etc.) These days almost all (if not all) mobile phones and networks offer the same enhanced services by dialing Triple Zero (000). These enhanced services include:
- Contact through the network with the strongest signal
- Contact through any network even if your provider has no signal
- By-pass keypad lock
- Contact even if no SIM card is inserted, or SIM card is damaged
If you have no signal from your own service provider, but there is a signal available from another provider, your mobile phone should display “EMERGENCY”, or “EMERGENCY ONLY”. This simply means you can still call Triple Zero (000) even though you can’t call anyone else. Note that in order to call Triple Zero (000) from your mobile phone you MUST have a signal from a mobile telephone provider (e.g. Telstra, Optus, Vodaphone, etc.) Dialing 112 does NOT allow your mobile phone to call via a satellite, as some people believe! (see Calling 000 from a mobile phone for more information).
Using the telephone to contact Triple Zero (000) allows you to speak with the required service directly rather than via a relay. This can save time if they need to ask you questions regarding the incident. So remember, if you have a telephone close by, and you can use it, then please contact the emergency services that way. However! If you do not have a telephone at hand, you have no phone coverage, you are unable to use the phone you have (e.g. can’t stop the car, etc), or you need to go and search for a public telephone, then please try the CB emergency channels immediately. The key to any emergency situation is to obtain help as quickly as possible, so if you have immediate access to a telephone use it, but if you don’t or can’t, then use your CB!
If you would like further information on the triple Zero (000) emergency telephone service in Australia:
- Australian Disaster Information Network: Triple Zero (000) – Australia’s Emergency Call Service
- Australian Communications & Media Authority: Emergency Calls FAQ
- ACMA : Calling the Emergency Services from a Mobile Phone
* Triple Zero logo reproduced with permission Fire & Rescue NSW, on behalf of the Triple-Zero Awareness Work Group.