We Brits and our friends across the Atlantic may share a common language but sometimes it seems as if we live on different planets. One of the most obvious examples of this is that Americans sometimes seem to act as if Armageddon could happen at any minute, something that doesn’t seem to cause much lost sleep over here.
Perhaps I’m jumping to the wrong conclusion based on the higher emphasis given in the USA to the use of ham radio for emergency communications. Read some issues of QST these days and you might think that “emcomms” is what amateur radio is really all about. Many American hams maintain “go kits” – portable radio stations that they keep charged up and ready to go the moment they are needed. Over here we have something called Raynet, but I get the distinct impression that it is a bunch of people who would like to use ham radio to help in an emergency rather than a volunteer emergency service on the lines of, say, Mountain Rescue that has a clearly defined purpose and meets a genuine need.
In his latest blog “Smoke Curls” Jeff, KE9V recently posed the question of whether a portable QRP HF station was really useful in the context of emergency preparedness. Most of the replies seem to illustrate the extent to which the thought of a major disaster is never far away from the American consciousness. My comment that the only benefit I could see in having battery powered HF ready to use was so I could take advantage of the noise-free bands while the power is out – which in fact I did during the outage that occurred during the local floods a year ago – probably seemed rather flippant, though that wasn’t the intention.
My opinion is that emergency communications is a job for the experts and the last thing they need is a bunch of amateurs trying to help but more than likely getting in the way. The Cockermouth floods were the nearest I have ever come to being directly affected by a disaster and it never even entered my head that as a radio amateur I might be able to help. As for needing HF or any other kind of ham radio for personal emergency communications I still feel the likelihood of something happening in which my radio gear might end up being my only means of getting in contact with anyone I needed to is so remote that I’d cross that bridge if I ever came to it.
I would never assemble a “go kit”. And if I did, I know for sure that I would forget to charge the batteries or raid it for parts I needed for something else so it would never work in the unlikely event it was needed.
Is there a cultural difference between us and Americans in this regard, or is it just me?
There are so many different facets to the ham radio hobby that there is room for everyone. Part of the reason for existence (according to the Federal Communications Commission rules) is to be a pool of resources for the nation to depend upon in time of need. I’ve been a ham for nearly 20 years now, and there has been emphasis on Emcom since I have had my ticket, but in the last 10 years or so it has spiked. There was the big “Y2K” scare that had emergency preparedness fresh on everybody’s mind. The turning point was the attack on the World Trade Center back in 2001. Hams stepped up to provide communications when the other channels failed, and got (relatively) lots of press, confirming some of the Y2K fears people still had fresh in their minds. Same thing when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans a few years back. It sparked an interest in people wondering what they can do to help should something happen like that again, and of course the ham radio emcom enthusiasts jumped on the bandwagon to help increase their numbers. This in turn increases the exposure that segment of hams get both in the traditional press, as well as in ham publications such as QST.
I personally do not currently maintain a “go kit” but I live in a fairly calm area as far as weather goes, so we don’t have much of a concern over natural disaster of the scale that would require me to “deploy” with my own gear. With that said my club did secure a grant to install some basic ham gear in all of the local fire department buildings, hospitals, and other “critical” places. That way should they need assistance from hams they have the gear and antennas already in place, and should regular communications systems go down, the backup is ready to go.
In a worst-case scenario, my first priority will be making sure my own family is safe. While this may sound selfish, it means my family will not be part of the problem. I’ve had some training put on by our county emergency agencies, and the first thing they teach is make sure you and your family are safe first and foremost, then help others (without putting yourself at risk) if you can. Short of a handie-talkie, I can’t think of any scenario where a portable radio would help me with that first goal.
So yes, I do think there is a bit of cultural difference right now with the major disasters so fresh in our minds over here, mainly because of those that are taking advantage of those memories to advance their own (albeit worthy) causes.
As an Australian living in the US (Texas) I have been shocked at the load critical pieces of infrastructure are under and the general lack of redundancy. After the last hurricane went through the cell phone network (The parts that were still functional) was shut off for the general public so it “would be available for emergency services” This caused something of a panic as cell phones are some folks only means of communications. With the push to VOIP phones a significant majority of homes don’t even have plain telephone lines. VOIP phones don’t do you much good when the internet link is down because of a flat backup battery in a neighborhood demarcation point!
Amateur radio was used extensively to coordinate water, ice and food at “pods” so that people would have something to eat and clean water to drink. Thanks to the amateur radio community we only suffered from the heat (No power, no AC) and in communities with no backup to their electric water pumps … the lack of regular showers.
After that experience I acquired a 2M rig, solar panel & gel cell so I would at least have a way to reach out and provide help or request it if required. One thing that is just as strong in the US as Australia is the tendency to pull together in an emergency.
Having worked for over 30 years in emergency communications as a police, fire and ems dispatcher I had to join in this conversation. I worked in the central Florida area and hams are a very big part of the infrastructure for when all else fails. They are well trained and willing to assist at the drop of a hat. The key words here are “Well Trained” and “Willing”.
I think that the USA being as large a land mass as it is we understand that the potential is there for our people to become victims of some type of disaster in their lifetimes. In the US we have earth quake zones, tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, tsunamis, and volcanoes to name just a few. If hurricane Katrina proved anything it proved that most people are not able to fend for themselves for 24 hours when the power goes out let alone when all government services fail. There has been a lot of what if thinking going on and a lot of people here now understand that the government can not fix everything and a person will have to take responsibility for self and family.
All that said I do maintain a “Go Bag” and I am willing and able to take care of myself and family for a period of time.
Now that I am retired I will be working the other side of the fence as a volunteer as opposed to a paid professional. I am happy to see that the ARRL and many others are now fully embracing EMCOMM and living up to the FCC requirement that we be a trained resource ready to serve.
Is EMCOMM all there is to ham radio?
No it is but a small piece that every ham should be prepared to provide for the good of the country.
Do I worry everyday that the world will fall apart around me?
No I do not but I do understand it might and I am ready if it does.
In summary having worked on the inside I know how little my government can do in that first seven days after a disaster and I am ready to fill in that gap.
Great comments and discussion everyone! I would be proud to serve with any of you.
We here on the East coast of Florida have been hammered too many time, to not have a go kit. Next time you hear about a major hurricane net check http://www.arrl.org as to if the hurricane watch net is active. There is a great service that amateurs do do when there is a disaster, doesn’t matter where either.
When our area was hammered in 04 and 05, our local ARES of which I am member was activated I was personally in a shelter for 10 days, because not all areas had power, not everybody had a place to go to, it was a hairy, scary time for sure. Come on over for a “season” I put you up here, don’t think my wife would mind.
For the first few storms that pop up, you get kinda scared, have a sinking feeling in your stomach,…..its kike….damn, is this the one we’re gonna get activated for? Then after a dozen or so big storms have come and gone, you sit back, think yeaaa, nothins gonna touch us this year. Next thing ya know, your ass is activated and you get stuck in a shelter before, during, and after the storm has done its damage. We have ben very, very fortunate, in that we haven’t been hit for the past handfull of years, now that hurricane season is about over, end of this onth will mark another year we’ve been spared. But, next year we may not fare so well, we could have the mother of all storms roll through and little old Vero Beach, Florida could be storm central.
So, yea, we do tend to be a little on edge here,we do value emmcomms, we train, we make sure we know, when, where, what, how big, how long, and a dozen other questions are going to be sked of us in the ensuing day ahead. Hope your day went well, have a great evening.
73 de Mark
Yes, there is a cultural difference. In the U.S., emcomm is defined in the FCC regs regarding our licensing, as a component of what we do. Although, we aren’t required to participate in emcomm, a lot of us do.
I think you’ll also find that the reference to a bunch of “amateurs” doing professional communications to be unfounded as well. There are some of us that have no desire to participate or to train for emergencies. OTOH, a lot of US hams regularly train and drill for emergencies as well as participate in supporting events that also provide training opportunities.
There are a lot of different attitudes regarding hams and emergency communications in this country including attitudes like the one you stated in your blog. Those that are in the know about such things, greatly appreciate our willingness to step up in a time of emergency and bring our skills and knowledge to the table to help out. It often saves lives and helps people in times of need. Ham radio is a hobby with a lot of different facets, emcomm is just one of them, but by no means the least of them.
Jeff Moore — KE7ACY
Deschutes County ARES
V.P. High Desert Amateur Radio Group
Bend, Oregon, USA
The difference is the commitment to a hobby versus a commitment to helping others in need. The emergencies do happen and cell towers blow down, land lines get destroyed which leaves only cell phones with Satellite communications and usually only government officals have them available. I have assisted in emergencies such as evacuations of areas and our Ham Club set up members at each location where the Evacuees were given temporary housing. The cell phones would not work and the landlines were so overloaded that they were useless. We maintained communication between family members and assisted in alerting the local officials of medical or other emergencies.
I don’t keep a “kit” for world wide communication but I do keep my two meter equipment ready for local emergencies. A local club can make a big difference with local emergencies. Local communication is the key to immediate survival.
Just my opinion.
I think I must agree with you there!!!
To me amateur radio is a HOBBY but I love having a ready to go radio kit with charged batteries because I love portable HF/VHF/UHF operation. This kit consists of an FT-817 with a portable HF buddipole/MP-1/SOTABEAM and a couple of battery packs for the radio. I also have an HF RACAL PRM-4031 manpack (best HF Portable rig ever). Finally an FT-897D with it’s internal batteries with a PTC-IIe PACTOR modem and ASUS eeePC901 for HF Radio E-MAIL or portable DIGITAL MODES ops, along with a VX-8E+GPS, TH-D7+GPS with SSTV camera that all fit in a backpack with a 6 watt SOLAR PANEL and an extra 26 watt SOLAR PANEL.
I love walking/cycling on the mountains and that is why I have these three portable ready to go radio kits.
Although I am a member of the Greek Civil Defense for my Radio Communications skills because I am a Radio Amateur, I have never being called for duty, nor do I go looking for it. If my country ever needs me they will call me and this is where my desire for EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS ends. I keep my group informed with any changes of my phone numbers/home address etc. but I never go looking for adventure/trouble, as many of Radio Amateurs do. I feel this is better left to the professionals who do not like a bunch of amateurs in their feet. I think it is rediculous trying to force the authorities to use Radio Amateurs for the sake of it. They know we are there and we might be called when everything else fails, although I hope this never happens. Others might feel happy when a disaster strikes but I don’t!
Our license in Greece says exactly what I do (or at least I think so) and I feel this is the right thing so I keep it this way and I like it this way.
73 de Demetre SV1UY
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