Emergency Communications

No, not ARRL emergency communications.  Not Field Day.  Real EMERGENCY Communications.

What I mean by REAL Emergency Communications is exactly that.  Communications under emergency conditions.  Let's say for the sake of argument, you need to vacate your home QTH due to massive flooding.  You end up in a state park, with nothing but your go kit.  You will need to provide emergency communications with what you have.  No 100 ft.  tower, no commercial power, no kilowatt linear.  No extra gasoline for the generator.  No food other than what you brought with you or can scrounge up.  No training except what you already have. 

Real Emergency Communications

OK, you have your qrp rig, a dipole antenna, the power from your car and some battery backups, a tent, a real emergency, some food and a willingness to help. Do you even know what to do?  What priority is your information?  How can you give specific information as to the extent of the disaster?  Who do you give it too?  Who is responsible for rescue and recovery operations in your county?  How can you contact them?  Is your City, Township, and other local governments involved in your communications reaction?  Do they even know that backup communications exists?

Your local ham club

Your ham club is NOT emergency communications.  They may have a section of their web page that says they are involved in emergency communications, they are not.  They are a club.  Like the Eagles, Elks and others that are not involved with Emergency Communications.  Many of the members may be involved, but, the club is recognized by no one as an emergency communications group.  Your local club may have a "net" that the members join in, but, is it run like an emergency net?  More often than not, they are informal, chit-chat sessions which promote bad operating practices that should never be tolerated in "net" operations.  In general, (with exceptions) a ham club is the worst place in the world to learn REAL EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS.

National Traffic System

Do you know the proper way to check into an NTS net?  Do you even know what frequencies they meet on?  Even if you can communicate with the NTS, what info do you have to offer?  Is the NTS ready to handle REAL EMERGENCY TRAFFIC?  After all, over the years the NTS has been reduced to passing birthday greetings and any other traffic that can be drummed up just to run up the numbers for the ARRL QST magazine.  Do they still have what it takes to get real emergency traffic delivered in a timely fashion?  In the new homeland security age, it seems that we would re-tooling the NTS to make it a well oiled machine, but too often, it is just more of the same old stuff.  Does the NTS even have a guideline about the new HIPPA rules?  I haven't seen any.


The Amateur Radio Emergency Service is dedicated to providing emergency communications.  Or, are they.  Many ARES groups provide communications support for public service events, such as parades, air shows, walks, runs, marches, and other local events.  But, are they ready for the "big one"?  What if the repeater that they use almost exclusively was taken out by a tornado, huricaine or earth quake.  A lot of  ARES groups would be without the simplest backup plan.

ARES will not even allow their members to be background checked to see if they are terrorists!  Let's not forget Usama bin Laden WAS a radio amateur!

What if the disaster covered more than one county.  Would your ARES group even know who the other counties are in your district?  Would you know what resources are available to help?  Do you even know who your District co-ordinator is?  Do you have a fall back plan?  Do you know where to go to start rescue and recovery operations without the EC having to contact you (while the phones are down, the internet is disrupted, and the repeater tower has gone horizontal across a field).

One personal piece of advice to ARES.  Make yourself available for service.  Let the Law Enforcement community, Fire Departments, Hospitals, and your county Emergency Manager know what you can offer then, show them if they are willing, and then stay out of the way.  If they want your help, they will ccontact you.  Do not be an ambulance chaser, and don't go out and buy a pretend badge with your callsign on it.  You are not Law Enforcement, (even if you play one on TV).


Unfortunately, RACES control has been left to local groups, more than likely the ARES groups just covered above.  All the above problems are now complicated by the band restrictions imposed by The President invoking The War Powers Act. 

American Red Cross

The American Red Cross chapter nearest you may have an amateur radio team.  Join it.  Learn how to help with food delivery and service, shelters, Disaster Teams, and other programs.  The local chapter of the American Red Cross will provide you with lots of training for free.  And knowledge is power.

Salvation Army

Many Salvation Army units are involved with SATERN or (Salvation Army Emergency Radio Network) an amateur radio network that does much fine work.  Your local Salvation Army unit may not have a SATERN team, but might like to have one if they could get some amateurs!


The Military Affiliated Radio Service is a fine organization that helps provide our servicemen with free communications through Radio Amateurs licensed to operate outside the amateur radio service bands and trained in MARS communications techniques and frequencies.  Mars usually uses voice communications, but, many MARS operations are carried out on newer digital modes of communications.


This is where it all happens.  Amateur Radio Emergency Communications starts with you.  Get educated!  Learn all you can about your local emergency operations.  Find out what REAL emergency communications your group has plans for.  Learn how to deal with Haz-mat, Skywarn, hospitals, the Local Chapter of the Red Cross, Community Health, local Law and Fire Services.  Find out how you can assist you community, and who needs emergency communications.  If they do not need or want your help, find something else to do.  Don't screw with them, you could (and maybe should) end up in jail.

If you are like me, you will not even know which uniform to put on in case of a real emergency.  I am a member of The Ottawa County Emergency Communications group, West Michigan Search and Rescue, The Ottawa County Chapter of the American Red Cross Communications team, and am looking into joining the Local Emergency Preparedness Council, SATERN, and if I can ever dedicate the time Air Force MARS.  Simply put, I cannot be in enough places if a real emergency happens.  It may all look good on paper, but, if the same volunteer represents several groups, he or she cannot be doing service to all of them at one time.  The system breaks down.  Why?  Well, simply because ham clubs and others promote themselves as emergency communications, but never train, never make contact with the agencies they claim to serve, and frankly, ham radio operators are not good at self promotion.  Most of the city, county, state and national agencies that groups claim to support do not even know they exist.  The guy they talked to five years ago left for greener pastures, and never told anyone else about the ham group that was supporting them.

Keep in contact with local agencies, groups, etc.  Make sure that your local Emergency Management Division recognizes your group, or work to get it recognized. 

Keep your equipment, training, mind and body in good working repair.  Work to get others in the volunteer spirit.  The more  people that get involved the more bases you will be able to cover.

What caused this lack of attention to detail?

Well, frankly a lot of things.  The ARRL got more political, and more powerful.  It started programs that in my opinion they left half finished.  Then there is my generation.  We grew up spoiled.  We wanted everything, but didn't want to work for it.  We felt like we were ENTITLED just because we were born.  We use being busy as an excuse not to get better.  We're to busy to volunteer, to busy to train, too busy to care, to busy to be anything but selfish. 

Part of the blame goes to the FCC.  They have become slaves to the commercial corporations, and in catering to them, they have allowed the amateur radio rules to decay on the vine.  There was a time when amateur radio was at the forefront of technology.  Now we are the relics.

Another reason for the decline in amateur radio emergency communications is liability.  If you get hurt, who pays?  If you hurt someone, who pays?  If you violate some unimportant rule, who pays?  If you take money from the  baby Bells, who pays?  One day, if we do not take action, we will litigate the human race out of existance.

What gives me room to talk?

Nothing.  I'm just one person, trying to make a difference.  I remember the call going out for hams on 9/11.  I remember the call for help after the Mexico City earthquake in '85.  I remember Rosita in Chicago, and a PFC in Baghdad.  I remember when a State Co-ordinator in Michigan got burned because he tried to make a difference.  I remember hospital staff too glad to have our help.  But, most of all I remember that IT can happen here.  And, when it does, the people pretending to be emergency communications shall be known by their works.

If you think I am kidding about how we are perceived, check out Hamsexy.com a group of hams no less.  While I find myself agreeing with much of the info on these cynical snipers page, I see that they have great talent for tearing down and mocking amateur radio (mostly deserved).  I just wonder what they are doing to build it up?  I hope they and their readership will start offering the solutions that have somehow evaded the FCC, ARRL, and others that SHOULD be finding the solutions to these problems.  After all, the ARRL is in charge of a lot of these programs, aren't they?  To hamsexy.com I say, keep it up, but, try to offer more than just criticism.  I know you will spend much time with hams in denial, but look for solutions, not just the symptoms.

It is most unfair to ask Hamsexy.com to do what the FCC and ARRL have ignored, but they at least see the problem.  Hopefully, they can help provide so possible solutions to the problems they have put forth.  If not, at least the ignorance has been brought to a public forum.

Learn or die

The FCC would be more than willing to let us slip into history.  The bandwidth we use would bring mega dollars on the spectrum auction block (never mind that the PUBLIC airwaves are PUBLIC).  We cannot be content to invent another digital mode, or sell out the integrity of amateur radio just to license morons with no redeeming quality.  Nor can we let the amateur radio elite speak out on our behalf.  It is time for all of us to be heard.  At least if we are doomed to extinction, let us not go quietly into that good night.

Now for The Good Stuff

There are many emergency/public service groups that could use your help.  If you are willing to help, here are some of them.  No, they are not perfect.  But, with more participation, maybe governments would be offering more assistance.


ARES - Amateur Radio Emergency Service - See your local Emergency Management Director for details if you cannot find a group in your area.
MARS - Military Affiliated Radio System - Seperately licensed outside the ham bands, but manned by hams helping the military.

RACES - Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service - required for some other groups
Search and Rescue - That Others May Live - many SAR groups would like to have organized, efficient communications support.
Skywarn - Weather Spotting for the NWS -  Run by the Commerce Department of the US government under the NOAA/NWS.


I could sure use some help here.  I know of some programs running in Canada, but, I do not know which ones are specific to Canada only.

Canwarn - Skywarn in the Eastern part of Canada

Great Britain

Need help here too.



Non English speaking countries

I would very much like to hear from someone who speaks english, and can help me set up what your country is doing with amateur radio.

This page updated by KF8GR Nov  09, 2004