Wednesday, June 15, 2011

KH6JRM's Amateur Radio Blog

While I was taking a mid-morning break from the newsroom this morning, I ran across today's edition of the ARRL e-newsletter, which is directed to emergency responders and amateur radio operators serving in ARES and RACES groups.  The newsletter usually contains valuable material for those of us that can't devote much time to public service support.  I was especially interested in the response of amateur radio operators to the recent tornadoes and floods which have plagued the mid-west and southern states.  Hams serving in those areas provided valuable communications links for hospitals, police, fire, and civil defense officials.  Some operators are still on the job as volunteers with the Salvation Army SATERN network.  The work of these volunteers was underlined by FCC comments delivered at the recent meeting of VOAD  (volunteers offering assistance for disasters--I believe that's the proper title) groups.  Various communications experts acknowledged the role of amateur radio operators "when all else fails."  Despite the sophistication of our modern technology, natural events can often render current communications networks unusable for varying periods of time.  Even in Hawaii, which has a fairly modern communications system, natural forces can adversely affect public service agencies.  During the 11 March 2011 tsunami event, there were periodic interruptions in cell phone service, texting, and even the internet...although these outtages can be attributed in part to the overloading of the network, the message is clear--systems are subject to failure, and they will fail.  Many of us in Hawaii remember the 1992 visit of Hurricane Iniki which damaged many homes and wiped out overhead power lines.  Hawaii Island amateur operators sent over a spare repeater to help police and fire get basic public service communications back on line.  Hawaii Air and Army National Guard units established emergency telephone systems to carry the rest of the disaster-related information.  So, despite all of the latest whiz-bang technology available, it's prudent to have backup systems ready to go...especially on an island in the middle of nowhere.

So, how are you set up for emergencies?  In light of recent natural disasters, it may be a good idea to see just how prepared you are to maintain communications.  Do you have a "go" kit, a food and water reserve, and a few spare rigs and related accessories in case you're called upon to help restore basic communications or to provide health and welfare support.  While I can only speak for myself, I have taken such steps over the past few years, gradually adding items as the budget permits.  I suppose this "survival" mentality is underscored by my role as a news director of a commercial broadcast station which must stay on the air.  We have backup equipment, generators, and even simple antennas to get us back up when commercial power is gone and telephone communication is lost.  I haven't used our satellite phone yet, but it could come in handy if all communications are down.  Our station also has dedicated personnel station at the Hilo Civil Defense Office and the local Red Cross facility.  While I can't duplicate this arrangement at home, I try to have basic survival  materials close at hand.  A "go" kit is in the van; the XYL has assembled at least a month of food and water in our storage areas; I keep the gas tank in the van at least 1/2 full at all times; and the ham station is fully off-grid, powered by deep cycle batteries and solar cells.  Who knows what will happen when roads are washed away and communications are lost.

I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but a little forethought could save you a lot of grief latter on.  Anyway, reading the ARRL e-newsletter can give you many ideas on how you may approach disasters and prepare for the loss of public services.  I'm amazed by the number of people I encounter in Hawaii who don't have a clue what to do when disaster strikes.  This is not the fault of Civil Defense and local government, who continually train for such things.  My station has done numerous public service campaigns on emergency preparednes...I just hope some of this rubs off on the public.

Have a good day...Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM.