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What is Emergency Communications?

Simply put, emergency communications is communications used when normal communications such the telephone and various radio services are disabled or overwhelmed. It has been shown countless number of times that timely and reliable communications is the most important need during emergencies and disasters to avoid loss of life, property, and to speed up relief and recovery.

It can appear in many forms. Amateur radio, cellular and wireless telephones, CB (citizens band), FRS (Family Radio Service), digital pagers, the VHF marine band and satellite phones are some of the possibilities.

Why do we need Emergency Communications?

Each individual, family and organization is responsible for it's own alternative means of communications when normal communications means are unavailable.  The communications may be within an organization or a family, and it may be between organizations and families -- for example.

Shouldn't the phone company be able to operate during emergencies?

Communications between agencies and the general public are handled by common carriers such as phone, paging and Internet companies. Phone companies invest large amounts of monies into equipment that provide reliable phone service, including durable and secure buildings, highly reliable phone switches, diesel generators, large banks of batteries. Cellular, paging and Internet companies in turn rely on communications services provided by the phone companies.

These phone systems (a) are sized for business reasons for the peaks in regular daily usage, not peaks in emergency usage when EVERYONE wants to make a phone call, (b) usually rely on copper or fiber optic cables, microwave dishes, and cellular telephone antenna panels which when exposed are prone to damage during high winds and storm conditions, (c) are usually not portable and reliable enough to respond to the demands of the emergency. These are the most common reasons why normal public communication needs are not met during emergencies.

Why is amateur radio so succesful for Emergency Communications when other systems fail?

  • Since amateur radio equipment does not rely on wires and communications facilities provided by phone companies and common carriers, it is immune to disruptions with the telephone system.
  • Regardless of the specific brand and model of radio equipment, amateurs that use the same frequency band and mode can communicate with each other. This is the reverse of private companies and government, where communications is limited and segmented to each entity by their FCC license and equipment.
  • Amateur radio operators are allowed to run higher power than other personal radio services such as Citizen Band (CB) and the Family Radio Serivce (FRS) and have more flexibility with the equipment and antennas.
  • Amateur radio enthusiasts use a wide range of radio bands, each one with it's particular strength in overcoming the barriers to radio communications.  VHF (Very High Frequency-144 Mhz) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency-440 Mhz) radios are small and portable with lots of channels to handle a multitude of short-ranged communications. HF (High Frequency) can propagate over mountains and valleys and between the islands to provide coverage beyond VHF and UHF.
  • Amateur radio operators use their equipment regularly which verifies that it's maintained and operational. Some of the equipment are hand-held portables or mobiles installed in vehicles. The amateur radio operators are familiar with the operation and capabilities of their equipment.
  • Amateur radio operators are distributed throughout the community, near schools, churches and park facilities which are often used for evacuation shelters. Many companies have amateur radio operators within their employement.
  • Some of the amateur radio operators are highly skilled and equipped technicians, able to overcome adversity caused by broken communications equipment and systems. A number of them work for companies and government doing technical work as their normal livelihood.

Find out more by contacting:  rhashiro(remove this part)@hawaiiantel.net
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Updated: December 11, 2010

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