How Amateur Radio Operators Contribute to Emergency Response Needs

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When natural disasters or emergencies hit your community, you may find help in the strangest of places. Though community leaders are responsible for devising preparedness plans, community-wide efforts help citizens access the resources and information they need to start alert and safe. On both the individual and collective levels, those with a preparedness plan are more likely to survive an unexpected situation more successfully. As communities look for information and support, amateur radio operators become a beacon of communication during and after a crisis.

What They Do

HAM radio operators are often thought of as hobbyists, but when a disaster strikes, these operators become invaluable tools of communication. Many of them both establish and operate communication networks for local emergency and government personnel, but they also provide private citizens with non-commercial communication access. Many times, disasters like a flood or tornado will damage the regular lines of communication, such as cellular networks, electrical lines, telephone lines, or other infrastructure-dependent systems. Though may agencies rely on two-way radios for connectivity during these times, HAM or amateur radio operators have the ability for more mass communication efforts.  During a disaster, the operators will coordinate communication between relief officials and public safety organizations, especially when a community may have suffered severe communication infrastructure damage.

How They Prepare

Amateur operators don’t get up the morning following a disaster and simply know what to do. They are well-prepared with the right equipment, and many of them have a sufficient stock of replacements parts for their equipment. The supplies may include an extra RF directional coupler, power cables, capacitors, and technician kits. The operators have also formed both formal and informal groups that work together during an emergency situation. At the local or state level, the operators form traffic nets using very high frequencies and ultra-high frequencies. There is a national-level response system, organized through the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES). In conjunction with the RACES is the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Amateur Radio Emergency Services. The National Weather Services also has a division called Skywarn, where operators provide emergency weather information to the NWS that can then be used to inform the public.

Who They Are

Anyone that has taken up amateur radio operations might be an asset during an emergency or disaster. Don’t assume that their hobby status limits their abilities. There are many national organizations that have formal agreements these groups for times of emergency.

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