Waupaca September 2011 – The backup emergency communication skills of area Amateur Radio operators, often called “hams,” are being tested in Waupaca County on Oct. 1. 2011 as area Amateur Radio operators conduct their annual Simulated Emergency Test.
Using emergency powered radios and working with local agencies, the hams will have only a few hours to create extensive radio communications networks which can be used should there be a failure or overload of normal services. The hams’ ability to get back “on the air” quickly is a critical following major incidents. In addition, the ham radio operators provide “interoperability” – they can pass information between the many government and volunteer agencies which are needed in disasters but often have incompatible communication systems.
This year the Waupaca County ARES Amateur Radio operators will be replicating a scenario of disaster aftermath where cellular phone and normal communications systems are overloaded or inoperable. The group will be setting up communications in area hospitals, Red Cross Waupaca office, and the Waupaca County Emergency Management Operations Center.
The hams have the slogan, “When all else fails – Amateur Radio!” According to Charles, “The hams of Waupaca County take that quite seriously.” Amateur Radio volunteer operators around the country respond to many calls for aid each year. They provide their services and equipment freely to their communities, saving both lives and thousands of dollars for neighbors. They are “Amateurs” only in that they are not paid, but their service in a disaster can be priceless. As FEMA Director Craig Fugate remarked, “When you need them, you really need them!”
Despite the Internet and cell phones, interest in ham radio is growing rapidly in the US. There are now 700,000 FCC Amateur Radio licensees in the USA and over 2.5 million worldwide. They are able to get and transmit information, both locally and world-wide, without depending on other systems. During Hurricane Irene, the hams were critical in providing immediate, ground-level reports to the National Weather Service.
After the storm, hams continued to provide help in the many flooded communities and areas that lost electric power. What do Amateur Radio operators do during and after disasters? Amateur Radio operators set up and operate organized communication networks locally for governmental and emergency officials, as well as non-commercial communication for private citizens affected by the disaster. Amateur Radio operators are most likely to be active after disasters that damage regular lines of communications due to power outages and destruction of telephone lines. How do Amateur Radio operators help local officials?
Many radio amateurs are active as communications volunteers with local public safety organizations. In addition, in some disasters, radio frequencies are not coordinated among relief officials and Amateur Radio operators step in to coordinate communication when radio towers and other elements in the communications infrastructure are damaged. What are the major Amateur Radio emergency organizations? Amateur Radio operators have informal and formal groups to coordinate communication during emergencies. At the local level, hams work with local emergency organizations and can create area-wide networks of wireless communication called “nets.”
At the state level, hams are often involved with state emergency management operations. In large events, hams operate at the national level through the Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES) which is coordinated by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and its field volunteers. In addition, in areas that are prone to severe weather, many hams are involved in Skywarn® spotting with the National Weather Service. Is Amateur Radio recognized as a resource by national relief organizations?
Many national organizations have formal agreements with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and other Amateur Radio groups including: • Department of Homeland Security – Citizen Corps • Federal Emergency Management Agency • National Communications System • American Red Cross • The Salvation Army • National Weather Service • Association of Public Safety Communications Officials To Learn More: The best way to learn about Amateur Radio is talking to hams face-to-face. To find out how to get started and who to contact in your area, call or write: The American Radio Relay League, 225 Main Street, Newington, CT 06111 Telephone 1-800-32 NEW-HAM www.Emergency-Radio.org