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Tips: Coordinate with Local Amateur Radio Associations


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The forearm of a ham radio operator, sitting in an operations center, holding a microphone.

 

Cell, internet and landline service are not a given in the aftermath of a natural disaster, and unprepared communities can be thrown into disarray if communications are cut off even for a brief period. Amateur radio operator organizations and operators exist in nearly every community across the country; have a plan in place to call on local “ham radio” operators for communications assistance during a natural disaster.

IBTS spoke with Janelle Haible, public information officer for the St. Louis Metro Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) about her organization’s relationship and experiences working with the city and county of St. Louis emergency management agencies.

Build a relationship. 

  • Know your local amateur radio community.
    • At minimum, know the size, scope and capabilities of the amateur radio community in your locality. Not every amateur radio organization provides emergency services; if your community doesn’t have one, there’s likely one in a neighboring jurisdiction that will be willing to assist. Know this in advance of a disaster, and ideally, build a relationship with at least one local amateur radio group.
  • Just ask for assistance.
    • “Just pick up the phone and call,” Haible says. “Go out to ARRL.org’s membership directory and put in your zip code to find your local club. Amateur radio operators are everywhere; just pick a club and ask: ‘Who do we talk to to have amateur radio operators work with us?’”

Integrate amateur radio operators into your locality’s emergency operations plan (EOP).  

  • Consider giving local ham radio operators space in your locality’s emergency operations center (EOC).
    • Streamline efforts by designating space in your EOC for ham radio operators to work alongside incident command’s communications staff.
    • Emergency management agencies should coordinate with ham operators and organizations beforehand to ensure equipment, such as antennae, is installed properly in the EOC. Equipment should be tested periodically and ready to go when disaster hits.
  • Consider giving lead amateur radio operators badged access to your EOC, and including them on your automatic call list.
    • If main communications lines go down, there’s no time to waste while not having contact with stakeholders and the public.
  • Provide resources to local ham radio organizations to increase the effectiveness of their practice sessions.
    • “Take time to invest in training for ham radio operators so that when disaster hits and you need that extra manpower, you can call on them,” Haible notes. Volunteer ham radio operators often can’t attend community disaster training sessions and simulations due to full-time job commitments.
    • Provide local amateur radio organizations with necessary resources when they hold their practices.
  • Consider how ham radio operators can assist in the damage assessment process.
    • During large-scale events or if main communications lines are down, damage assessors can report information to a local ham radio operator, who can then relay the information to the state – regardless of cell service, power or internet outages.

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