I reconnected with Mark Challender, a former employee back in my business magazine publishing days, and discovered his passion for amateur radio, particularly in supporting emergency management. I confessed to him I didn't see that much of a role for it given all the other options. He soundly corrected me and I asked him to inform the rest of you as he did me. Thanks Mark! Here is his guest post:
Is Use of Amateur Radio in an Emergency Still Valid?
The answer is YES, amateur radio can make your communications better during a crisis when “normal” modes of communication have failed.
There are many articles showing successful use of “amateurs” in crisis situations – just search “ham radio use in emergencies.” One recent example is the role of amateur radio during the Boston Marathon……..after the bombs went off and cell phone and other traditional modes of communication failed due to saturation of the network, amateur radio worked and worked well.
Amateur Radio Operators were already on site providing communications for the Marathon (something they have done for years.) When the bombs went off they were asked to perform other tasks and, from all reports they performed well.
Amateur radio can transmit email using their radios even if local internet, cell phones, and social media is completely down, and they can get that email to the Internet (perhaps a nearby city or even across the country) by using other radio operators to relay the data. They can also keep certain details of your scene secure using this method (maybe you do not want the number of victims transmitted over voice communications, for example.)
While amateur radio frequencies can be scanned and their voice communications heard on the scanners their digital communications described above cannot easily be intercepted.
Our amateur radio organization (an ARES – Amateur Radio Emergency Service – group) has used digital modes to send names and conditions of “victims” during drills. We are able to send that information from the field to a central location and we can set up relays “on the fly” to get the message to the intended recipient.
Amateur radio operators can bring their own antennas, deploy those antennas and can communicate to stations hundreds, if not thousands of miles away and help you get more assistance. Radio Operators can even build an antenna, with wire and other common, easy to find materials so they can get their signal out.
Amateur radio can operate from any 12 volt battery (Got a spare vehicle that runs? They can use that vehicle to charge the battery and can connect their equipment to that vehicle’s battery and run as long as there is fuel available to run the vehicle and keep the battery charged) Amateur radio operators are innovative and flexible and they can communicate for hours, if not days, getting the signal out for you and your team.
Amateur radio operators are self-contained and can deploy their own vehicles or their group’s communication vehicles when requested by a local DEM or law enforcement or government agency. Amateur radio operators in the field can be supported by radio operators at their homes, in an EOC, or even miles away from your “crisis” location. Amateur radio operators are flexible, innovative and solve communications problems through their knowledge of their equipment and their experience.
Amateur radio operators affiliated with ARES or other groups have undergone a clearance process with their local law enforcement and emergency management agency, have ICS training from FEMA, have first responder training, understand the incident command structure and are your communicators when on site during your emergency. They log their communications, create clear and concise messages, transmit those messages and make those messages available to your organizational structure.
Amateur radio operators understand they are not your PIO. They do not talk to the media or the general public. They understand the importance of maintaining radio silence and communicating only when necessary and they know they work for you not the other way around.
Amateur radio operators are amateurs only by definition, and because the FCC licenses them on the amateur radio frequencies. But, amateur radio operators can operate on your frequencies when authorized and, in fact, many of them have purchased and programmed commercial radios with your frequencies on them just in case they are needed by you. They are your communications link when everything else has failed.
Amateur radio operators plan for failure, drill for success and are ready to be called out when needed.
So, is there still a valid need for amateur radio in your crisis? Yes, if your power is out, your radios don’t work, you are disconnected from the internet, your cell phones don’t work and/or your SMS is failing and you need a team of “professionals” who can help you communicate to your teams…..
See an FCC article here on the use of amateur radio in emergency management.
Connect with your local amateur radio operators, look for ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) and go to one of their meetings, ask to see their capabilities, look at their equipment bays and their radio rooms and present them with a scenario. They will rise to the challenge and surprise you.
NG2G, Whatcom County, WA ARES