Walkie Talkies for Church Security?

Hello Everyone,
Can anyone recommend some walkie talkies to be used for Church security? We have two single story buildings that total around 40,000 sq ft. The buildings are located right next to each other and connected by a breezeway. It sits on about 4 acres.

My preferred criteria:

  1. Compact
  2. Rechargeable
  3. Alert Feature for incoming calls (such as vibrate)
  4. Headset capable
  5. Around $150.00/ea or less

Some additional nice features would be whisper ability, noise reduction, SOS. I also read something where some units can text?

I have been looking at some Midland units which seem to have most all of the features I desire. Particularly the X-Talker T71VP3 but I’m unsure if FRS would be strong enough? I really prefer the GXT1000VP4 because of some additional features but it has a few negatives. It is GMRS which requires a license and I fear a little to bulky. How difficult is it to get a GMRS license for a Church and would you consider that unit overly bulky?

Thanks,
Ralph

I’m a Brit - but there is no problems I’ve ever heard people talk about getting a licence for GMRS - most do it on line I think.

As for bulky - the size of decent hand holds doesn’t have to be that big - but really tiny ones tend to be toys really. You do need decent life batteries, decent loudspeakers, and solidness - this means a certain minimum size? The Midland GXT1000VP4 has decent enough spec - but it’s not a radio you’d see many security firms use? Too complicated, too small and very plasticy. For security use you need 100% reliability. Radios with gadgets often leave the user on the wrong channel, with no volume, and flat batteries.The whisper feature sounds great - but is another feature the operator has to engage/disengage. Too many gadgets!

Hey Paulears!

Thanks for the input but can you or someone else make a recommendation?

Otherwise, I did purchase a set of Midland X-TALKER T71VP3 walkie talkie’s today and another very popular brand, to test out. My daughter and I much preferred the Midland T71VP3. I understand what you mean about gadget features and I did disable a few audible features in putting it in essentially silent mode; which will be better for our intended purposes. However, it was easy to setup and there are no worries about accidentally changing settings.

POSITIVE:

  1. Ease Of Use:
  2. Compact and lightweight: I think the size and weight is essentially perfect for our intended usage. We could go slightly larger/heavier but only slightly.
  3. It’s plenty rugged enough for our usage.
  4. It isn’t listed as having “whisper ability” but it performs as such.

NEGATIVE:

  1. It doesn’t have a “vibration” or “SOS” feature: It does have a “call” feature but if the volume is inadvertently turned all the way down, it is hard to hear the ringer.
  2. I wish it had a flashlight feature: That’s really not a negative though. I only note it because you shouldn’t list a #1 without having a #2.

God Bless,
Ralph

If the radio is understood by the operators, all is fine. The worst aspect of any radio are features that get in the way and have no benefit.

Could I ask a silly question? Nothing to do with radio, but I just realised the people using these radios are church security? Here in the UK I don’t think I have ever seen a church needing security people? We have some of these big techno-churches but not as many as the US by a long way, but do churches have trouble? I’m struggling with the concept. What do church security do?

Hey Paulears. In America Churches have increasingly become a target. We have had numerous shootings at Churches over the years, as well as other type disruptions. Our former Pastor was harassed and stalked by a man for years. So insuring everyone is safe, especially women and children, is a priority that should be taken seriously. Security teams also assist anyone who may have a medical emergency. So we are not just a security team but also a safety team. It’s always better to be prepared than not prepared. As such, I find it hard to believe that Churches in England do not have similar teams. I’m willing to bet many do without your being aware of it because being low-key is a purposeful goal.

Ralph

Thanks Ralph - it is possible, and I suspect you could be right, but here, modern churches, with video, audio and technology are very much not the norm. We have one church I’m aware of in the area that has the modern approach, but they don’t have this kind of need.

Most of our old churches struggle to get 25 people , while a few might get 50 or so. Lots sadly, might have a regular attendance of less than 20. I’m sure the big cities are different, but I get online and real magazines with the American Church articles in them and watch the YouTube videos - but we are streets away. Part of my job takes me to churches for recordings. I’ve never yet come across one with a radio of any kind.

Here is the number one issue you will encounter with ANY consumer-grade FRS or GMRS radio. They might work fine for your purposes, and there are some good ones on the market, but you will always run the risk that you are sharing public channels. Everyone within a two- or three-block radius will be able to listen to every call. Also, if someone else is talking on the channel you are using, they will be interfering with your calls, and if they are close enough, your security team will miss calls from the people they need to listen to, and be getting nuisance calls from people they don’t.

Is your church willing to risk that?

Quite frankly, in this line of work, FRS and GMRS are not appropriate for your purposes. Do some research and check out the Motorola DLR1060. Yes, it’s a lot more money, but it is also 100% digital (meaning unbeatable clarity in sound) and very private (meaning it cannot be monitored by ANYONE with any type of scanner less than what the FCC or FBI may have) unless they have the same model radio - and even then, at hundreds of thousands of combinations of frequency-hopping ‘channels’ they are unmonitorable.

Also, get good-quality surveillance headsets for each radio; throw away the ear plug they come with, and get sized ear molds. They don’t block ambient sound like the ear plug.

Quite frankly, consumer-grade radios designed for families and small businesses are not going to last, and you will be confined to cheap consumer-grade accessories. The DLR1060 will last years, and professional-level accessories for the 2-pin Motorola will also last a long time.

Hey Chickenhawk. Thanks for the reply and this is what I am currently doing, researching. May I ask what is your experience in regards? Otherwise, please respond to the following comments as I appreciate your input.

In regards to consumer grade units.

  1. The FRS and GMRS units do come with privacy codes. So this does prevent/limit potential outside interference.

  2. The FRS band is very limited in range, especially indoors. So that does also help eliminate any potential outside interference. My scan function in fact has yet to discover anyone operating on any channels within several miles of the Church.

  3. If we were a Security firm or a business sharing sensitive details over walkie talkies, then absolute privacy would be a paramount consideration. But we are neither, so I’m not sure it is vitally important to insure our conversations could never be intercepted. People use Police scanners to monitor LE conversations after all. These units are mostly meant to be used for Stand-By purposes in case someone ever needed assistance. They are not meant to be primary communication devices nor is that necessary.

Having said all of that, yes the lack of outside interference is desirable. So it’s a matter of practicality and costs. Midland has some business class walkie talkies, so I will be contacting them tomorrow to gain some details. Do business class walkie talkies operate on a different band width and do they require a license?

  1. Just FYI, the Midland X-TALKER consumer walkie talkies come with a three year warranty. I don’t know if we will go with those in the end but I do find them durable enough for our application.

Anyhow, I am trying to consider all the above! Otherwise, I did use the Midland units today during Church services and they performed great. A unit with Blue Tooth capability would be nice as it would allow a wireless headset or headphone. That’s not a deal breaker though as a wired headphone or headset could be used.

God Bless,
Ralph

Hi Ralph, to expand a little on what Chickenhawk said about the DLR radios, and based on your stated needs, they would be a viable option for you because they are 900MHz radios. This gives you not one, but three advantages as far as interference is concerned.

  1. 900 MHz is limited to 1 watt, so range will be limited to your area of 4 acres.
  2. It’s a different band and frequency from FRS, GMRS and business radio frequencies, so nearby businesses and individuals are not likely to cause interference.
  3. They operate using FHSS technology, which uses an algorythm of frequency hopping within the band to communicate, meaning they sort of “jump around” the band, so to speak, and only other Motorola 900MHz digital radios can communicate with them. This gives you a higher level of both privacy and security you won’t find from radios in other services.

Like FRS, it’s license free

Now, these radios are not cheap. You said you want to limit spending to $150 or less per radio, so it may not qualify in that regard. The base model does run about $230.

Considering the budget, and the fact that the T71VP3 does seem to work for you, FRS is probably still not a bad option if you are okay with the privacy and security tradeoff. There are other options available in FRS that you may want to consider, however.

The Midland T71, as with most of the X-Talker series, is a fairly low power radio, even for FRS. It’s only about one half watt on high power channels (1-7, 15-22) and about a quarter watt on the low power channels (8-14). Most people don’t know this, because the packaging only boasts the “up to” range, which is based on clear line of site at a higher elevation. Our radio range chart gives you the real world calculations. It applies to FRS, GMRS and most other types of handheld radios as well.

FRS has a legal maximum power limit of 2 watts now, so it changes the game somewhat for professional use.

As mentioned earlier, there are other options for FRS that are designed with businesses and organizations in mind. The Wouxun KG-805F/FS is a prime example. This has the power, durability and features of a business radio, but with the simplicity of many FRS radios. Plus, it’s well within your budget. The battery uptime will uplast the T71 as well.

One of the best things about it is that it uses a standard Kenwood 2-pin audio connector, so you can fit a variety of earpiece and headset options to it, unlike the Midland, which uses a proprietary connector that limits you to a few choices. My personal favorite is a surveillance earpiece with an earloop instead of the supplied mushroom tip, as Chickenhawk recommends. And yes, I do use a surveillance earpiece/earloop combo regularly.

Another option is to go MURS. It’s also license-free. It only has 5 channels, but because MURS is not as widely used as FRS, it is generally free of extraneous traffic. While most MURS radios are rather pricey, there is a MURS version of the KG-805 Series available called the KG-805M that is the same price as the FRS version.

Also, both radios are also available in multi-packs and there is a multi-unit charger for them to accommodate radio fleets for business use.

Don’t forget that privacy codes simply prevent you hearing other people. They can still transmit, and all that happens is they block your messages and you won’t know they are there! Analogue privacy doesn’t really exist.

Great advice from both Rick and Paul. Privacy codes are not private. Anyone within range and with codes turned off can monitor your transmissions. They also do not add any “channels.” If someone else is within range and they use the same channel number, regardless of the “privacy” code they have on or off, they will interfere with your transmission.

As for people using scanners to monitor police; they can’t. Police agencies are moving to digital trunking networks and P25 communication standards. Any agency still using analog radios will soon be transitioning, and the few agencies that are not encrypted at the moment, will be soon. Monitoring police, EMS and even some fire channels as a hobby is dead.

But as you say, you can live with being monitored and possibly interfered with by kids in the neighborhood and by local drive-through windows. FRS, GMRS and MURS are all public channels and no one can claim use of any one channel. If you are going to FRS or MURS, then simply have a primary channel and a backup that you can switch to easily if there is someone else on your primary channel.

If you go to business-class radios such as the Midland, you will need your own business licence that comes with your own assigned frequency. You apply for that through your national radio spectrum control agency. (Industry Canada in Canada, and the FCC in the U.S.) This is costly in many cases, and your yearly fee will depend on the number and type of radios you are using.

Rick’s recommendations on the Wouxun FRS or MURS radios is a good one. These are much better quality than consumer-grade FRS radios. They are not Motorola, but definitely commercial-grade radios that will last years. Plus, they use the commercial-grade 2-pin Kenwood-style headset plug, and my experience with consumer-grade FRS radios is that the first thing to fail on them is the headset plug.

As for my experience, I train on two-way radios; maintain a fleet of Wouxun business radios, Motorola digital radios and my own personal fleet of Motorola DTR and DLR radios, plus multiple GMRS and DMR radios. I have a surveillance earpiece in my ear for 12 hours a day, and sometimes five and six days a week. Paul is from the UK, and has extensive experience with two-way radios, and Rick has sold and tested nearly everything on the market and his advice can be trusted 100%. Hope this helps.

I figured I’d look at my thankfully small pile of faulty radios in the ‘not worth fixing’ pile. I have two Chinese commercial type radios - sealed, proper battery packs and 16chs - analogue. One was damaged by a USB charger cable that was plugged into a 12V adaptor the customer had. Why anyone would even make a non-5V USB output device is beyond me - but the regulator fried - AFTER taking out the audio amp, so it’s just not worth repairing. The other has a faulty battery, and a replacement is 5 pounds below the cost price of the complete radio. I have a vehicle mount Chinese radio - a Retevis - that has no transmit and that is that. Sitting on the shelf are around 30 old Kenwood 340s, plus a load of Nexedge Kenwood - and half a dozen of the very cheap TK-3201. all these have been used and abused and ALL of them are still fully functional. The 3040 radios are built like tanks and quite heavy, but are solidly reliable. They were popular here in the UK with the prison service. Downside is the Motorola style headset/mic connector - a long multi-pin thing. Despite selling plenty of ham type radios - the digital and analogue TYT, Retevis, Zaxcom, and Radioddity - I have had a zero return rate on these. Baofeng digitals have proven pretty decent too - the DM-X, and other similar radios like the 760 have been the same. The dirt cheap Baofengs seem to suffer from go/no go syndrome. The occasional one will be dead from new, but if they work, they stay working till you break them! Getting your own frequency is very good advice if you want trouble free gear that is good for use in emergencies. Sharing channels with the local shoe store, food establishment or the local kids is NOT a good way to spend money.

Thanks for the replies and such has been enlightening! Rick, I will research the Wouxun for sure and thanks. The only issue I see immediately however is the extra long antenna. Can you install a smaller antenna on those? We really need units that are compact and highly inconspicuous for a variety of reasons.

I am waiting on a reply from Midland on their business class radios at the moment. But let me ask a few questions in regards.

  1. One of their business class radios (BR200) is rated at 2 watts max. So does that mean an FCC license will not be required for that unit?

  2. Otherwise, do you have to have an FCC license to operate on business channels? How are business channels different than FRS or GMRS channels?

  3. Lastly. The digital radios might still be an option if they are truly that superior. We’d have to consider all aspects which includes our budget, of course. Is there any concern the 900mhz frequency could cause interference with existing security cameras or sound system equipment? I use to deal with home security systems (hobby) which in part utilized 900mhz and then 433mhz equipment. Otherwise, do the same concerns apply to business channels and FRS/GMRS frequencies?

Ralph

Licences in most. Countries now follow the same format. Licence exempt. Buy them in shops or online and use them. Nobody cares about the technical, range is limited and interference in busy locations terrible. Then you get the licenced but simpler to coordinate systems, and the radios tend to be a bit more expensive, but not always better. Less users, fewer problems. Then other classes that offer less users, or more channels, and more money. Then you have an individually allocated frequency. Your government issue you with a frequency, picked by a computer that normally guarantees nobody in your area should be using it. In big cities it could still mean sharing a channel, but with care, it can work fine. It’s also the most expensive. In the UK this is called a technically assigned licence and the most ‘personal’ 75 pounds a year. We do have a batch of business channels available on a pool basis at 75 for five years, where you should be able to find an empty one, if you’re not in a busy city. For security and safety, the case is simple. Do you want to share? In the US, you have more options that us, so just pick a system that will work. Me? I’d borrow a scanner and listen to every channel in your choice for a few days, and see how busy they are in your area. If nobody is using them, the cheaper option could be fine.

  1. All business radios in the U.S require a licence from the FCC, with the exception of publicly shared bands (FRS, GMRS and MURS) and FHSS radios from Motorola (DTR and DLR series.) GMRS radios in the U.S. require an inexpensive family licence, but it is still on shared frequencies.
  2. A licence from the FCC gives the operator a unique frequency or set of frequencies not shared with anyone else in the immediate area. This means that operators of business radios are guaranteed (as much as practicable) to be interference-free from another business user within their licence area.
  3. Both analog and digital radios must be certified and cannot cause interference with other systems. The 900MHz band is also known as the “scientific” band, and uses many short-range systems, but the Motorola radios hop frequencies so rapidly (hundreds of times a second) that they cannot be monitored without another Motorola radio, and their frequency spectrum is away from any possible interference.

If a radio is interfering with a licenced business user or public safety user, the FCC can track the offender pretty quick, and they are subject to hefty fines. This often happens when people buy used business radios or buy business radios with pre-programmed frequencies already installed that they are not licenced to use. They may be interfering with another business or they may even be interfering with a public safety radio network.

I hope this helps. The bottom line is that EVERYTHING in two-way radios is a compromise of some kind.

  • One can go cheap, but the radios don’t last in business environments and all frequencies are shared with every kid and drive-through in a six block radius.
  • One can go good quality FRS or MURS, but they are still shared frequencies.
  • One can go slightly better range with GMRS but they require an inexpensive family licence in the U.S. (In practical terms, there is very little difference in range between a 5-watt GMRS radio and an identical 2-watt FRS radio. Range is far more a function of the quality of the radio and the antenna.)
  • One can go better quality and a private frequency with a business radio, but the radios cost more and the licences cost a yearly fee. Plus, they can still be monitored by anyone with a scanner.
  • One can go virtually private and licence-exempt with the Motorola DTR and DLR series, and the radios are high-quality, professional-grade radios, but more costly.

We really can’t give you much more advice beyond this because every user has different priorities. If you have used your existing FRS radios to monitor the bands near you (make sure all “privacy” codes have been turned off) and there are few users, I would follow Rick’s advice and look at the Wouxun FRS or MURS radios. Set up tone codes and make sure users have an alternate channel in case of interference.

If absolute privacy and security is important, look at the DLR radio. It may cost more but will last for years.

Thanks Chickenhawk and Paulears. You have pretty much answered all of my questions and I am better informed. I have been monitoring the frequencies and have discovered nobody using them as of yet. I spoke with a few other Churches and they are operating on the FRS frequency. One mega Church invested in digital units. So, I am leaning toward keeping the units that I have already purchased. They are very affordable so even if we had to go a different route in the future, we really wouldn’t be out anything.

God Bless,
Ralph

Hello All,
I just wanted to give an update.

The Midland consumer FRS units (X-TALKER T71VP3) that I purchased to test wouldn’t work after all. There were a few areas within our Church that the reception was weak/broken. Consequently, I am indeed looking to purchase the Motorola DLR 1020 or 1060 units that you suggested, so thanks.

Anyhow, I have one question, as I am getting some conflicting feedback from others.

Are these digital DLR units more powerful than consumer FRS units or otherwise are they just superior indoors? Because one retailer (suggesting a different brand) stated the DLR units won’t perform any better than the consumer FRS units that I tested, given the DLR units are only 1 watt? Whereas another retailer stated the DLR units are essentially equivalent to a 3 watt FRS unit and much more powerful. Otherwise, I may have to consider something like the EVX-S24 units? We’ll just purchase a few now and then a few later as our budget allows.

Thanks,
Ralph

Being honest here, if you have dead spots where the problem is there is no RF, then with more powerful radios of any make, there is more chance of success, BUT, you’ve proved the coverage is shaky, and if certain places are RF black holes, which happens, you may still have a poorly working system. Often walls and floors with rebar in the concrete is the culprit. The only solution is a repeater with antennas situated centrally and high so every the black holes are within their area. Very often a system that works when everyone tests it fails when they tuck the radios in jackets, shirts, pockets and hi viz where the antennas get screened.

Paulears is correct in regards to dead spots. They can be caused by any one or a combination of factors, and depending on the cause, you may or may not be able to overcome it by just a little higher wattage on a handheld. Your best option is to use the radios in tandem with a repeater.

The DLR radios can provide a little more coverage than the T71VP3, primarily because, as mentioned in my earlier post, the DLR is twice the wattage as the T71 and they operate on 900MHz, which offers a little more penetration inside buildings. The KG-805F/FS should perform even better than the T71 because it has 8 times the power at a full 2 watts.

Having said that, Motorola does have a “repeater” of sorts in the form of the Cane Wireless DRX Digital Range Extender. It works for both the Motorola DLR and DTR Series Radios and is specifically designed for eliminating dead spots in buildings. It may be the solution you need.