Where to go During a Communications Shutdown

Posted Feb 10, 2016

Local radio amateur group volunteers can help maintain communications until the normal operations resume.


If you’ve been in meetings and exercises that simulate a total communications loss, you’ve likely wondered what you would do in the event of a catastrophic failure that takes down cellular, Internet, power, and even your own systems.

Haiti, Jan. 12, 2010. Within a few days after the quake, a team of amateur radio operators from WX4NHC at the National Hurricane Center was called upon to serve as the main source of medical communications. Over the next five weeks, the team manned a 24-hour net connecting Haiti field hospitals, the University of Miami Medical Center and the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort, relaying on-the-spot medical advice from stateside doctors, relaying medical supplies, charter airplane flight schedules and helping coordinate emergency helicopter and fast boat evacuations.

In Joplin, Mo., May 22, 2011. The hospital, two local fire stations and the town took a direct hit by an F5 tornado. All normal communications were down for weeks. Regional amateur radio operators were called in to help establish communications.

Fortunately, in these scenarios, there have been established relationships between government agencies and groups of volunteer amateur radio operators who were on call, up to speed and equipped to help.
There have also been multiple examples nationwide of 911 centers losing radio communications with police, fire and ambulance because of accidental cable-cutting, cybercutting, or simple equipment failure. Local radio amateur group volunteers are called upon to help maintain communications until the normal operations resume.

Your Plan B: Amateur Radio Support

What are your plans for emergency backup communications in the event of a serious failure, or if you need to communicate outside of your normal working range? Think no cell, no Internet service, no power, or the need to set up communications in a remote area.

Georgia’s emergency management community is tackling this challenge in partnership with the American Radio Relay League’s (ARRL) nationwide Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) network: Here in Atlanta (and in counties around the state), groups of skilled volunteer radio operators are trained to respond to requests for backup support from local, state and federal agencies.

In my first year serving as Atlanta ARES emergency coordinator, we’ve made strides to ensure readiness. Our priorities are having a corps of volunteers who are well oriented and trained; building working relationships with emergency management agencies; ensuring that systems, technologies and protocols are in place; and participating in joint planning and drilling exercises.

Today, Atlanta ARES has a home base at the Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency, which dedicated space in its EOP for a permanent radio room and multiple rooftop antennas. Amateurs also operate from a radio room at the state operations center of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

In coordination with the Georgia Department of Public Health, radio amateurs man an all-volunteer network operating from 30 amateur-radio-equipped hospitals around the state. This includes the 16 regional coordinating hospitals that train monthly to ensure effective back-up communications in the event of an emergency or disaster.

The Atlanta ARES team also participates in regional, multi-agency tabletop exercises several times a year, and runs amateur radio net control operations for major civic events, including the annual Peachtree Road Race and Atlanta Marathon.

To read the full article, click here.

Back to Main Blog  |  Share: