9/11/01 - "THIS IS NOT A TEST"
Roll Radio Amateurs played on September 11, 2001
operators mobilized within minutes of the first attack on the
World Trade Center, then responded magnificently in the Washington,
DC, area and Pennsylvania.
11, 2001, and in the days and weeks since, Amateur Radio operators
have demonstrated their readiness, perhaps as never before. While
Amateur Radio Emergency Service and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency
Service training might not have readied them to fully comprehend
the terrible events of that day, Amateur Radio operators were
among the first to volunteer their stations, their skills and
SET is cancelled; this is the real thing!" said ARRL New
York City-Long Island Section Emergency Coordinator Tom Carrubba
KA2D, who only weeks earlier had been outlining plans for his
section's Simulated Emergency Test in October. The events of September
11 changed all of that, and without the luxury of the sort of
advanced warning that might occur in a weather-related disaster.
Amateur Radio was up against its greatest challenge ever.
ourselves faced with a disaster that no one in their wildest dreams
could have ever imagined," Carrubba said. "And this
one was right in our own backyard."
is Not a Test!"
emergency communication tops the list of reasons that validate
Amateur Radio in the eyes of the FCC. Given the ubiquity of the
cellular telephone these days, some have predicted this particular
mission would evaporate.
When the terrorists
struck in New York City and Washington September 11, however,
commercial telecommunications systems-wired and wireless-were
severely compromised. New York City broadcasters using the World
Trade Center antenna went dark.
As soon as
the nature of the threats was recognized, federal, state and local
officials declared states of emergency. Along with other federal
agencies, the FCC shut down. No one knew what to expect. RACES
teams found themselves suddenly and unexpectedly activated, not
just in the immediately affected areas of New York City and Washington,
DC, but across the US. ARES groups went on alert everywhere.
County, Maryland, Deputy RACES Officer John Creel, WB3GXW, said
nothing in his experience had prepared him for "the feeling
that went through my mind when I picked up the microphone and
said the words, 'This is not a test!'"
were just learning of the events unfolding at the World Trade
Center when the Pentagon attack occurred and a fourth aircraft
crashed in rural western Pennsylvania. In the immediate aftermath
of the crisis, telephone lines were jammed, and cell systems overwhelmed.
played a role in helping to restore order. "Never have I
felt more strongly about what a great privilege it is to be part
of the extraordinary global community of Amateur Radio,"
declared ARRL President Jim Haynie, W5JBP, as amateurs sprang
into action to do their part.
York City-Area Amateurs Respond to "The Real Thing"
had crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center. The famed
Twin Towers then collapsed, setting off a chain of events that
involved all of New York City's rescue services. With air travel
suddenly suspended, countless passengers found themselves stranded
with nowhere to go.
to respond were New York City firefighters, police and other rescue
workers. Many of them were lost as the buildings fell. Most are
still unaccounted for. As this is written, the total number of
people missing stands at more than 6400.
As it turned
out, New York City's Office of Emergency Management had been located
on the 21st and 22nd floors of the World Trade Center. Many local
officials had been evacuated to the mayor's "bunker"
nearby. It also became unusable in the hours after the attack.
Division Vice Director Steve Mendelsohn, W2ML, works for ABC News
and was in Manhattan during the World Trade Center attacks. He
called the scene there "surreal," with police checkpoints
set up along highways and military jets criss-crossing the skies
above the city.
Headquarters staff member Warren Stankiewicz, NF1J, was in Manhattan
from the West Coast on business when the attacks occurred. "The
damage is unbelievable," he reported the evening of the attacks.
"Grand Central was a panic, and the trains were packed beyond
belief. I talked to one woman who had walked four miles with borrowed
shoes to get to the train."
But, as Mendelsohn
was to later observe, "A city thought of by many as cynical
pulls together as few others have in times of crisis."
With a state
of emergency in effect, Amateur Radio's resources soon mobilized.
Ivan Rodriguez, KC2CHE, of Brooklyn, told ARRL that the New York
City ARES net came alive within five minutes of the first plane
attack. "It's the first thing I thought about," he said.
"We may be needed."
As lower Manhattan
quickly took on the look of a war zone, New York City ARRL District
Emergency Coordinator and RACES Radio Officer Charles
Hargrove, N2NOV-who served as the ARES/RACES incident
commander- put out a call to the ARES and RACES leadership. Hargrove
and his staff found themselves thrust into the midst of the activation.
New York City-Long
Island Section Manager George Tranos, N2GA, huddled with Carrubba
at the SEC's Long Island home as the activation got under way.
ARES and RACES concentrated their efforts to provide support for
the New York City OEM and for American Red Cross relief and recovery
efforts. The logistics were unbelievable.
Amateur Radio operators from the Greater New York City area answered
the call for assistance. Some of the first deployed were from
Long Island. In the hours after the attack telephones, cell phones,
pagers and other wireless devices were rendered unusable. For
as much as a 50-mile radius there was difficulty getting a dial
tone, and Internet service was spotty.
via the area's main repeaters, most of which were unaffected by
the disaster. Nets were established, and the trained cadre of
volunteers, experienced and ready, were organized and dispatched
under Hargrove's and Carrubba's joint leadership.
ARES/RACES emergency net established on Manhattan's WB2ZSE 147.000
MHz repeater promptly became the primary conduit for emergency
traffic. "It made things seamless, and everyone knew what
was going on," Carrubba explained. "You don't have to
monitor several radios."
shadowed some New York City officials, handled medical traffic,
stood by at hospitals and prepared to assist the American Red
units stood by at local emergency operations centers. The American
Red Cross Emergency Communications Service in Queens-one of the
many area clubs and organizations that contributed the use of
repeaters and spread word that volunteers were needed-activated
an emergency net on its WB2QBP repeater. A New York State RACES
net was operational on 7.248 and 3.993 MHz handling emergency
and government-related traffic.
Red Cross Role
The Red Cross
opened a command center in its Brooklyn headquarters, which became
a staging area for the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles-or
ERVs-as well as for volunteer personnel and supplies. A dozen
Red Cross shelters soon were up and running around the clock,
with Amateur Radio providing operators, equipment and expertise.
In the early hours and days of the response, finding victims trapped
in the rubble was foremost on everyone's mind.
assigned to Red Cross headquarters, the various shelters and other
subsidiary Red Cross sites around the area, including the five
New York City boroughs-Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island
and the Bronx- plus New York's Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk
counties and across the Hudson River in New Jersey. ARES-staffed
nets provided the needed communications support, coordinating
shelter health-and welfare traffic and logistics.
the high call volume continued to tax the telephone system in
lower Manhattan. Telephone service was available, but it often
took 15 or 20 tries to get a call through, so ham radio was bridging
the gap. "American Red Cross communications are overloaded,
and traffic from the shelters is coming into the New York City
net at a rapid pace," he said on Day Two of the response.
"The Amateur Radio ops are doing a great job under very difficult
and strange conditions, but this is what they have trained for;
they are getting it done well."
made announcements and helped coordinate the efforts of the ARES
staff. Key players in addition to Tranos, Carrubba and Hargrove,
included Manhattan ARES Emergency Coordinator John Kiernan, KE2UN,
and the Red Cross's Jay Ferron, N4GAA.
radio volunteers were dispatched to staff, establish and maintain
communications among the World Trade Center disaster site, Red
Cross on Amsterdam Avenue in New York, Red Cross Queens Chapter,
the multiple Red Cross shelters in Manhattan and Shea Stadium-home
of the New York Mets- where a staging and relief area for the
thousands of emergency workers had been set up.
At least in
the early going, ham volunteers being transported from the Brooklyn
Red Cross facility had to be self-sufficient. Dual-band (VHF/UHF)
mobile radios, power supplies, mag-mount antennas, coax, power
cables, boots, dust masks and even respirators, latex gloves,
bottled water and snacks were among the requirements for those
stationed near "Ground Zero," as it came to be called,
where conditions were frequently described as hellish and protective
equipment and clothing were a necessity. Shift after shift of
volunteers trekked to and from assignments burdened with bulging
backpacks. "This requires a big commitment," Tranos
advised. The shifts were 12-plus hours, and often it required
considerable time to get credentials and transport in and out
of restricted areas, especially at Ground Zero.
operators volunteered from as far away as Canada, Maine, Texas
and California. Several visiting hams from outside the area rolled
up their sleeves, including Robert Gissing, VE3ZLV, who assisted
the Red Cross in Brooklyn. Suresh, VU2LOT, an Indian ham who was
already in Northern New Jersey offered his services. Professional
firefighter Wayne Souza, KA1LH, from Fall River, Massachusetts,
had hoped to volunteer with his New York City brethren but was
told his unit was not needed. Souza decided instead to get involved
in the ham radio effort. "It was one way that I could still
help," he said. ARES initially turned away most long-distance
offers of help because there were no provisions to house the volunteers,
entry into New York City was difficult, and parking next-to-impossible.
Even so, many
wouldn't take no for an answer and said "I'm coming,"
despite the requirements and risks involved. SEC Hargrove said
the outpouring of people who wanted to help was tremendous. "It's
been hard to keep people away," he said. "That's the
kind of disaster it was." The Red Cross's Ferron agreed.
"The Amateur Radio community has come out very big and very
strong," he observed. Tranos put it more succinctly. "I'm
very proud of my section," he said.
amateurs also mustered their resources as the emergency unfolded.
Hospitals had been designated and shelters set up across the Hudson
River to handle any overflow from New York City.
New Jersey SEC Steve Ostrove, K2SO, said that dozens of amateurs
from his section helped with emergency communications following
the attacks. Amateur Radio operators were stationed at four Red
Cross shelters in New Jersey, helping to back up the spotty telephone
communication. Among other things, the shelters provided a haven
for those unable to return home because of restricted traffic
into Manhattan. Northern New Jersey operators also supplemented
and relieved the New York City ARES team.
A Red Cross
emergency net ran on the NO2EL 145.37 MHz repeater, and an ARES
net was activated on the WS2Q repeater, with liaison to New York
City's ARES/RACES net on 147.000 MHz. The nets were able to coordinate
volunteer efforts and blood donations. Several Red Cross chapters
in New Jersey were linked by Amateur Radio.
to Rich Krajewski, WB2CRD, the Jersey City Amateur Radio Club
was called on to assist the Red Cross after their repeater atop
the World Trade Center was lost in the building's collapse. Club
member Stan Daniels, KB2FY, and John Hunter, KE2ZZ-who drove from
South Jersey to help-were the backbone of an effort that set up
a 2-meter station that allowed communication with local emergency
officials and a Red Cross net. Hams also added 2-meter capability
to Red Cross emergency vehicles to help them keep in touch as
they delivering cots, meals and supplies to shelters in Hudson
About a dozen
members of the David Sarnoff Radio Club voluntarily activated
N2ARC on the 146.46 MHz repeater September 11 to help the American
Red Cross Central New Jersey Chapter in Princeton Junction.
The Iron Man Act
cadre of volunteers-two dozen or more per shift-settled into a
routine. Hundreds of prospective volunteers signed up via the
World Trade Center Disaster Relief Communications registration
Web site, developed at the suggestion of Suffolk County DEC Bill
Scheibel, N2NFI, by Joe Tomasone, AB2M. "It allows us to
make the best use of the volunteers," Carrubba said. The
system worked superbly.
provided their own protective gear and arranged transportation
to and from dispatch locations, often carpooling and sharing resources.
Yaesu, ICOM, MFJ and other suppliers came forward with loans of
transceivers and accessories.
volunteers were rotated in and out of areas and duties in an effort
to equalize the stress. The mood remained largely positive as
the response extended past Day 10, Carrubba reported. Still, volunteers
were getting tired, and some needed to return to their normal
lives and jobs. Shifts scheduled to run 12 hours typically were
much longer. "The first 30 or 40 hours everybody does 'the
iron man act,' I call it, because they're running on adrenaline,"
Carrubba said. After that, he said, everyone realized they need
some rest and unwound a little bit. "The people that are
going back are fresh."
volunteer, ARRL member John Stuart, K1OE, of Rowayton, Connecticut,
found himself inspired by the experience. After signing up and
reporting, Stuart found himself part of a group of hams from eastern
became the 'communications person' for shelters throughout lower
Manhattan, reporting needs of the shelter to Red Cross headquarters
through a net and also reporting, on hourly intervals, the personnel
status of the shelter," he said. All told, Stuart spent about
20 hours in New York. "It was a great experience," he
said. "I met a lot of wonderful people, the shelters are
providing an important function, and the hams are the communications
backbone of the operation."
Haynie took an opportunity September 21 to visit with some of
the New York-area hams at the heart of the communication effort.
"On behalf of the 680,000 ham operators in the US, thank
you for doing such a fine job," he said.
Division Director Frank Fallon, N2FF, accompanied Haynie on his
visit. "From the very first day I have been proud of the
way ARRL members in the Hudson Division responded in overwhelming
numbers," Fallon said. "So many responded that many,
unfortunately, were turned away." Ultimately some 500 amateurs
would answer the call for volunteers. "It really has been
our finest hour! It has made us all very proud to be Amateur Radio
operators," Fallon said.
a Red Cross communications officer based in Tucson, Arizona, approached
Haynie with high praise for the Amateur Radio community and for
ARRL. "We wouldn't be where we are today without the ham
radio operators," he said. He told Haynie that he should
be very proud of his organization and asked him to relay his message
of thanks throughout the amateur community.
The New York
City ARES/RACES operation in support of the American Red Cross
stood down the week of September 23rd.
Reprinted from the November 2001 QST, copyright 2001 ARRL