Elementary School Emergency/Staff Radios

Hey Two Way Radio,

It’s good to find you. I’m looking forward to learning more about this. We are in a 3 story, 100,00sf building in New Orleans. It’s a brand new building, and we moved in this past summer. During our move we bought about 12 Motorola CLS 1410 two way radios. I think they are just about adequate, there are a couple of areas in the building the signal drops (central plant, a fire exit, etc) but for the most part they work. Our staff however has complained a ton, and we may have to go out and buy new radios all together, we are a public school so I wish we got this right the first time. We have a large intervention and special needs team that needs radios for reliable communication during student emergencies (health, tantrum, fights), and we also need radios for emergency purposes as cell coverage is horrible here.

My question for you guys, do we really need new radios? Is there a repeater or a signal booster we can buy? What products do you recommend? The motorola CLS 1410’s were about $140 a piece, it’s a shame we may have to replace them.

To answer your question: No, or at least none that I am aware of. These radios use frequencies that are preset in the radio before they ship, so there is not really a good repeater option that would extend these radios. Something to consider here is in the event of emergency if you were to lose power in the building you may also lose the repeater so my recommendation would (unfortunately) be to get new units.

These radios have a 1 watt output, increasing to a 4 watt radio should resolve these issues and give you better coverage. You may be able to get away with a 2 watt unit but I would either get a demo set from a dealer and try it out or only buy two or three.

Most dealers will give you trade in towards new radios but these being newer may sell better on the open market.

I would recommend sticking with a well known name: Motorola, Vertex Standard, Kenwood, Icom. Personally I always recommend Motorola and Vertex Standard. As far as a model take a look at the Motorola RDX RDU4100 or something in that range (they offer both a 4 watt and 2 watt radio)

What is your opinion on ease of use of these radios?

Personally the CLS series is very easy to use and they are very light which is nice.

Jumping up to a RDX series moves the PTT button back to the side of the radio and will make them a bit bigger. But with that size you do get more range / better coverage a stronger belt clip (no more carry holsters), and better battery life.

The use of the radio changes slightly, you will still have an On/Off knob that also controls the volume but the channel selection move to the top of the radio also controlled by a knob on some models, others will continue to have the screen with front facing buttons similar to the CLS series. Where that will change is the radio model you decide to go with. I think the 2 watt option keeps the screen but the 4 watt unit move the controls to the top of the radio and removes the screen. You will lose the call button / feature, but they can be set up to toggle the output power to save battery. Also you can get more channels to split up call groups if need be. (Example: Maintenance, Teachers, Administrators)

If you are serious about new radios, I would highly recommend the Motorola DTR series for your purposes. They are ideally suited for your use.

Check out the audio samples on our forum host’s web site and you will instantly see the advantages of better speakers and higher audio output. The DTR radios will make your CLS radios sound like they are underwater!

Other advantages with the DTR radios is that they are UHF and designed to work best in buildings.

They are also very secure (which would be a good selling point when talking school administrators into the cost of new radios.) No one has ever been able to monitor a conversation with consumer scanners. Essentially, the only thing that could monitor your DTR is another DTR … AND it would have to be set to the same channel and unit ID number. (There are almost 1000 different combinations.)

Because they are digital, you can set them up with subgroups called Private Groups, so you can call all the radios at once, or call up only subgroups. You could, for example have subgroups such as “admin” “maintenance” “parking control” and “emergency responders.”

They are not cheap but they are high-quality business class radios made to mil-spec standards. In your case, I would look at one Motorola DTR410 and 11 DTR550s. This would give you one radio for admin functions such as remote monitoring and time sync, and the other 11 would have slightly longer range with their replaceable antennas. (You can even order a longer Motorola antenna for the 550/650 that will extend the range even more.)

You can program them with free software (with an optional serial Motorola cable) or the optional Motorola keyboard. With 12 radios, the software option is the best.

They are good radios, and I bought half a dozen (when the price was much higher than it is now) and have used them for years. They still impress me with their range and clarity.

I’m intrigued by the DTR but concerned staff won’t be able to handle it, they just want to pick it up and start using it. What do you guys think we as a school need to do about licensing? I’m familiar with as an individual but not so much as a school/non-profit.

Yes. Even as a school you will require a license if you use a two way that uses BRS frequencies. So the CLS, RDX all require a license. The only way to avoid that would be to go to a MURS based system. The DTR series is a 900 MHZ radio may not require a license to use but I am not sure.

The disadvantage of going to a MURS is that they are open to the public so you can always end up using the same frequency/tone as someone else and have interference. Also they operate on VHF frequencies where do not do as well as UHF frequencies when used inside buildings. Finally they do not have the ability to go over 2 watts which may not be enough for your application.

Edit: According to Motorola’s website the DTR series is license free. So that may be a good direction to go in!


Thanks for the great question. I generally agree with the advice provided by ttp and Chickenhawk, but I’d like to mention a couple of things.

Regarding the Motorola DTR radios, we do get great feedback on them. Being digital, the audio quality is exceptional and there are some great features like the ability to direct call. In my experience the range inside a building is similar to what we see out of 4 watt UHF models. The drawback is that they are not repeater capable, so if you find yourself needing more range in the future you’re kind of in the same situation you are in now where you have to replace all of your radios.

Based on what you describe, a 4 watt UHF radio would most likely solve your range problems. If you get a repeater capable model, you’ll have the option to add a repeater in the future if you happen to need more range. Our most popular 4 watt UHF models are the Motorola RDU4100, Kenwood TK-3402, Icom 4011, and Vertex Standard VX-231.

If you like the features of the DTR series but want to keep your options open for a repeater, the Vertex Standard eVerge series might be worth a look. They’re more expensive for sure, but they do have digital audio and other digital features like the direct call.

As far as licensing, you are supposed to be licensed to use any business UHF frequencies. The DTR series uses license free 900 MHz frequencies and doesn’t require a license. MURS is license free, but is VHF so isn’t recommend for use inside. The easiest way to get licensed is our Business Itinerant License. This gets you licensed for 8 of the most popular itinerant (shared) business frequencies - the ones that are the default on most radios.

I actually forgot about the Vertex Standard VX-231. They are great radios for the size and power. I’m going to second Danny’s recommendation for those as I have used and worked on them in the past.

I can confirm that the DTR is licence-free in both the U.S. and Canada.

And they are simple enough that anyone can pick it up, turn it on and talk.

In fact, you don’t even need to program them. You can unpack them, turn them on and talk. (I would recommend changing from the default channel and unit ID in case there is another DTR owner within a mile or two who didn’t bother programming them either.)

They can be fully programmed from the radio keyboard. You don’t need the software or the optional keypad. The keyboard does give you the ability to your radios and all your groups a unique identifier instead of just a number.

One selling point for school use is that they are very secure. There is no way anyone can monitor you. They are not encrypted, but unless someone has a DTR radio programmed to the same channel and unit ID number, no consumer equipment can follow as they rapidly skip through the entire 900 MHz spectrum. They only stay on one channel for microseconds so they don’t interfere with anything else on the frequency, and in all the years I have been using mine, I have never heard the slightest bit of interference from anything else either.

All that being said, I agree with all the great advice you are getting here. You have some great options, and the reality is that one gets what they pay for in many ways. Business-class radios do not just have better batteries that will last for years, they also have better components such as speakers and better audio outputs. If you drop one on concrete, you certainly have a much better chance of them surviving.

Plus, it may be a minor point and the CLS series is well made but it just looks so … let’s just say … bubble pack. The others mentioned look more professional.

Yeah, it’s a minor point but in a school emergency situation, that almost instant credibility afforded to a person carrying a professional radio can save seconds, and as you probably know, sometimes seconds save lives.

What can you guys tell me about Vertex Standard VX-231 vs. DTR radios? Are they both just as easy to use. Ideally I want our staff to just be able to turn it on and use.

I have not used or worked with the DTR series but have with the Vertex Standard vx-231.

The vx-231 is like most standard radios, one knob for on/off and volume control, a second for selecting a channel, and the PTT button. Simple as that.

So in theory if everyone is using channel 1, they would simply turn on the radio select the volume level and go. Hit the PTT to talk and they should be good. The radio has the standard Red LED for transmit, Green for receive and will blink Red when the battery is getting low. They are surprisingly light for the size and features and with the set up its hard to accidentally change the setting on the radio and not know it.

If you are going to be using the programmable buttons for other functions (ex: scan, monitor, repeater talkaround, toggle TX power) both the buttons have a simple tone but without a screen it can be difficult to remember what option(s) you have selected.

The vx-231 is like most standard radios, one knob for on/off and volume control, a second for selecting a channel, and the PTT button. Simple as that.

i have to check it out


Thanks for the information, I have a lot of catching up to do. I am in a similar situation (Building Evacuation Warden for a State Govt building) evacuating a four story Stone and Block (circa 1879) and having my State Employees move 200 yards away to a safe zone. I need a radio which my Floor Wardens can use to report a problem (someone fell using the steps to evacuate the building during a practice drill and needs 911 to be called) or one of my Special Needs folks has a problem, etc… Reading the previous Posts, UHF seems the way to go (any motorola suggestions). I need to find a glossary of terms for two way radios and I have never submitted for an FCC license so any help there would be appreciated too.



As far as suggestions go, you may be able to get away with something as easy as the DTR series which would allow you to go license free while still providing good coverage. Another option, and one of my favorite radios currently is the CP185 or CP200. Both will give you the 4 watt UHF availability that you want.

There are several Two Way Radio dealers that will file/help with the licensing process. I believe BuyTwoWayRadios (the sponsors of this site) offer assistance with this if you decide you don’t want to deal with it directly.

In my opinion, I would try to get some demo/rental units and give several models a try to see what fits your needs and coverage situations. Also it will give you a chance to see what radio has the features you need.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask!