September 11: Amateur Radio's Badge of Honor
of Sept. 11 have been well documented in the media including Mobile
Radio Technology (November 2001). There were heros to be sure,
but one group of heros that has received little, if any, attention
are the amateur radio operators.
Within a matter
of hours, at both the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon,
amateur radio operators were on the scene to provide communications
to law enforcement and rescue agencies, the American Red Cross
and the Salvation Army.
attack on the Pentagon, the Amateur Radio Relay League, a national
association of amateur radio enthusiasts, received a request for
assistance from the Salvation Army. But before the request was
made, the ARRL's Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) was already
in action. Tom Gregory, ARRL Virginia Section Emergency Coordinator,
helped to direct and coordinate the support effort at the Pentagon.
"Early on, it was not clear what the extent of the damage
to the Pentagon was," he said. "But even before we had
an understanding of what the Salvation Army needed, I contacted
a number of volunteers to get them ready to move to the site with
hours of the attack, the volunteers were packing up their personal
radio equipment and heading for the Pentagon. They arrived the
evening of Sept. 11, and emotions ran high when they saw the extent
of the damage. "When we got there and saw a gaping hole in
the building. It was gut-wrenching," Gregory said. "I
couldn't even talk when I first got there and saw what happened.
The first couple of days, all the amateur radio volunteers had
the same reaction."
that volunteers internalized their emotions as best they could.
"No one felt very good," he said. "Everyone was
very frustrated. But after the first couple of days, people got
some form of emotional satisfaction in helping the rescue effort.
For me, it was a form of striking back."
overcame a number of obstacles when supporting the Salvation Army
and the Red Cross. First was determining the amount of effort
it was going to take. Starting off with only five or six amateur
radio operators operating a few hours a day, the ARRL eventually
expanded to operating 24 hours a day. Radio operators worked from
what were called "mobile canteens." Their primary focus
was logistics support. When the Salvation Army or Red Cross ran
out of an item, they notified the radio operator who worked with
the headquarters of the Salvation Army and Red Cross.
rescue team members coming to the canteens hot, tired and dirty.
He saw what the amateur radio effort did to support the rescuers.
"It was very emotional for me to watch the trucks roll up,"
Gregory said. "As one was about three-quarters empty, the
next truck pulled up. The trucks carried everything from food
and drink to towels, clean socks and shirts." Gregory watched
as trucks carrying bags of ice would pull up and empty. "The
trucks just kept coming. It was amazing."
teams faced an incredible challenge, but so did the amateur radio
operators. While all the radio equipment belonged to the amateurs,
they didn't have everything they needed. "We needed someone
with a portable radio with about 5W of power to communicate back
to our base station. But when a volunteer left, he took his equipment
with him," Gregory said. "This presented a problem until
the people at Vertex Standard were kind enough to donate a Yaesu
base station and hand-held radios." This donation enabled
the radio operators to set up one station and to avoid having
to change out the equipment.
But lack of
equipment wasn't the only obstacle they faced. They faced an RF
nightmare. "The amount of RF that was present at the Pentagon
was unbelievable," Gregory said. "If you could see the
RF, the place would have been glowing."
the noise floor, the volunteers realized they needed more power.
An amateur radio group in Stanford, VA, packed up its repeater
and brought it to the site. The repeater was set up at the Pentagon
with a 35-foot antenna. This installation solved most of the amateurs'
World Trade Center
we would like to think that all our practice and preparation would
prepare us, nothing could have prepared us for what happened,
said Charles Hargrove, ARRL
New York City District Emergency Coordinator. It was hard
to prepare for something like this.
The New York
City Office of Emergency Management (OEM), forced to move out
of Building 7 at the WTC, used a bus. They moved from corner
to corner to corner as an event would happen, such as a fire,
Hargrove said. This was the first opportunity for amateur radio
to help. OEM needed phone lines for its command bus. Hargrove
contacted the mobile command center and was told they needed five
phone lines. He then contacted the telephone company, Verizon,
and a technician was sent to steal phone lines to
run out to different locations for OEM use.
that the police and other agencies would be faced with monumental
communications problems starting with communications inside
the first tower that was attacked. The police and fire department
knew the lines of communications were knocked out. They lost contact
with their people above a certain point in the building due to
[the destruction of] Radiax going up the building, Hargrove
said. You can tell from the radio broadcasts there was a
lot of confusion. But then the second plane hit. After
the second plane hit, all heck broke loose.
found themselves inundated with calls for help and with warnings.
If you listen to the tapes of the police and fire activity
you can hear the dispatchers trying to calm callers down so they
could get a clearer picture of what was going on, Hargrove
In an effort
to assist the authorities, Hargrove and his volunteers ran into
a number of problems. Communication with the OEM was poor,
he said. They moved twice and didn't tell us where they
were going or how to contact them. This was very frustrating.
I understand they get money from FEMA to support a RACES (Radio
Amateur Civil Emergency Service) station. We have not seen a penny
of it. Unlike the ARRL's ARES, which provides communications
to civilian organizations, RACES provides communications to local
and state government agencies with funding from FEMA. Also, Hargrove
notes that getting the IDs for volunteers that federal officials
required was tough going.
Hargrove did not have a problem with was getting volunteers. During
the two weeks we were active, we had more than 250 people from
not only New York, but also Pennsylvania, New England and New
Jersey, Hargrove said. We even had a couple of guys
from Canada and a guy from San Francisco who were in the area
problems in New York were not as big of an issue as they were
for the amateur radio volunteers at the Pentagon. One reason was
the infrastructure that New York City amateur radio operators
had in place. We often take old stuff, like old taxi cab
systems, and make them work. The old stuff is easily fixed or
replaced, Hargrove said. We have repeaters all over
the city in houses, offices, anywhere we can get one placed.
In fact, one club was given space on top of a hospital. They are
all individually owned. Not one is owned by ARRL.
appeared in the April 2002 issue of Mobile Radio Technology.