Sunday, July 19, 2015

Ham Radio and Emergency Communications

I've recently seen a couple of references to a New Yorker article on the coming "big one" in the Pacific Northwest.  One of the references was in the most recent ARRL Contest Update.  Talking about an upcoming year-long earthquake preparedness exercise called "Cascadia Rising 2016", hams living in the Pacific Northwest who are interested in participating were directed to contact their local ARES EC.  Yet, in an editorial in the most recent ARES E-Letter, the author states that "we as radio amateurs are potentially critical links in the community and neighborhood disaster survival chain" and "the best approach to personal disaster management I've seen is the CERT program, and under its umbrella, the development of your own neighborhood emergency response team".

So, what's a ham to do?  As you might expect, I have my own thoughts.  First, some background.  I spent about 10 years in our local ARES organization, with a number of those serving as the Assistant EC.  During that period of time, I also completed a CERT training and certification program.  Both have their strong points but, for my money, the most useful one is being part of a CERT organization - and here's why.

Jerry Boyd N7WR, in his final "Emcomm and You" column for World Radio Magazine, said it best.  The article is no longer available in the CQ/World Radio archives - unless perhaps you are a subscriber - but was reprinted in a 2008 newsletter of the Minnesota Navy-Marine Corps MARS.  I highly recommend that you read the entire article, but I'll reference pieces of it here.  He said "it seems to me that much of the Emcomm community (thank goodness not all of it) has lost sight of its primary mission of serving the public."  He further states "Remember that Part 97 does not mandate service to public safety. It does include service to the public."

I can't find a reference to another article I recall.  It may have been one of Jerry's World Radio columns or it may have been written by another ham deeply involved with public safety communications.  Paraphrasing, the article stated that, considering the amount of Homeland Security money and equipment that has flowed into every county in the country, any Emergency Manager who was still relying on amateur radio for emergency communication should be fired for incompetence.

In my not-so-humble opinion, a ham should be prepared to assist his or her neighbors and local community with emergency communication needs.  CERT training teaches you that you need to be prepared to survive on your own for several days or longer before any outside assistance is available.  Communication with the outside will be critical.  As N7WR says in his article, "In my county (small in population and very small in terms of active amateurs) if there is an incident major enough to disrupt 'all means of communications between here and Salem', every amateur here will be needed for duty far more important than passing message traffic to the state EOC. They will be needed to assist the public, which will likely have no communications at all."

I don't write to upset anyone who is committed to ARES or other organizations, but I would urge those of you so inclined to join a local CERT team or at least be prepared to provide communications for your neighbors.  And, in keeping with the the QRP theme of this blog, don't forget that our QRP radios will work for long hours on relatively small amounts of battery power.  With a solar panel to recharge batteries, we can easily become self-sufficient communicators - a most important quality in a major emergency.