Major Emergency Event Preparedness
Extracted material from the article “The Big One”
By Jim A. Wades, WB8SIW
Many EMCOM events seem to place Amateur Radio in the background. Often, amateur radio operators take the position of emergency management volunteer with access to radio communications as an added benefit. Hopefully, disasters where amateur radio fills the role to replace a failed public safety or government telecommunications system will be seldom. If the opportunities to practice the necessary skills are seldom then one can be lead to a false sense of preparedness.
A radio amateur operator who participates in local exercises or public events will learn a lot about communications but must not believe they are prepared to function efficiently in a major emergency event. Have you asked yourselves: Have I taken the proper training?; Have I practiced that training?; and Am I properly equipped and prepared physical and mentally to provide effective communications for a real major emergency situation?
Some people believe that EMCOM capabilities are no longer needed so they do not prepare. Stories where the Internet, Skype, e-mail, and other internet services have been used to connect families in recent emergency events has lead people to believe the Internet, satellite phones, etc. can survive major disasters. These stories fail to convey that people either inside or outside the affected area understand the infrastructure necessary to make their communications successful and how vulnerable that infrastructure actually is. As many of us have experienced personally, major disaster events take out the modern communication systems for many miles around the center of the affected disaster area. This should be cause for concern and problem for EMCOM volunteers who will be charged to fill those communications gaps.
Just because you have a generator to power your equipment does not mean you are in good shape. If your generator is equipped only to run on gasoline you may be surprised. Without power to the affected area gasoline pumps will not work. I have personally been at a gasoline station which was at that moment receiving a supply of gasoline from a tanker truck but this station had absolutely no way to deliver that fuel to customers without electricity because they did not have a generator. anker trucks are rarely capable of delivering gasoline directly to customers. Even if gasoline can be supplied, it will likely be rationed. Think about getting approved for emergency fuel from the city’s emergency fuel storage facility – you don’t need much to stay on the air.
Your disaster plan must take into account the loss of the supply of gasoline. A generator which can run on natural gas and the fittings, hoses etc. needed to connect to natural gas may be something you want to add to your emergency kit. Being able to operate on alternate power sources on low power is something you need to understand and plan for. Having multiple batteries which you can periodically charge in parallel in a short time period from a generator is better than running the generator full time.
Many EMCOM volunteer activities require the operator to travel to the disaster location. Without gasoline that will be difficult. Keeping a half tank of gas in your vehicle at all time is a good practice. Personally, I top my tank off often. It takes mere minutes and it’s good insurance. Some disasters give advance warning so you can stock up on extra fuel to some degree if you have approved containers.
Disasters typically damage roads and bridges, blocks roads with trees and distribute a lot of debris which causes multiple flat tires. Do you have the supplies and air compressor needed to fix those flats? A chainsaw to clear smaller limbs blocking the road? Do you have other means and physical strength to get to the disaster area with your equipment? Portable repeaters, stayed, push-up poles with mobile antennas attached, cross-band repeat radios, NVIS capability and a few other tricks can be used to extend the range of communication so you can communicate even if you can’t get to the EOC. Handheld transceivers (HTs) will not provide what is needed in many of the major disaster situations.
Participation in public service events gives some training and practice in communications but what if you must transmit and receive genuine emergency traffic?. Actual disasters require practiced communication skills, an understanding of standard procedures and forms and relationships with governmental and MOU agencies’ personnel.
- Are you prepared to set up a message center in any given location without any infrastructure and be able to communicate health and welfare messages?
- Can you format a message without a blank form?
- Can you transmit the proper ITU phonetics for difficult to spell words like Methyl Isocyanate, Methyl Mercaptan, a known disease like Shigellosis, etc. and ensure there is not miscommunication on the other end of the communication?
Amateur radio operators should be communicators first. The ability to communicate a message through multiple paths in a consistent, accurate and efficient manner should be the primary skills we develop. Are you able to set up a reliable and efficient radio communication station within a disaster area? Are you prepared to go into a Transtar or other OEM location and serve as a communicator? Do you have the necessary security clearance and credentials? Do those agency personnel know you personally? Most importantly, Do you know your skills and capabilities…or lack thereof? If your skills and preparedness are not up to the tasks, recognize that fact and then work on improving them. The opportunity to use the preparedness and skills talked about tonight may present itself sooner than you think.
That concludes tonight’s training. Are there any questions, comments or suggested additions to this material?
Thanks, this is (callsign) clear to net control.