Role of Amateur Radio in Providing Emergency Electronic
Communication for Disaster Management
C. Coile, Ph.D., CEM, FICD (1917-2017)
Disaster Coordinator, Pacific Grove Fire Department
In the United
States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides
support to State and local governments in fulfilment of their
responsibilities for preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation
of disasters. One method FEMA has used to support State and local
emergency communication functions was to sign and implement a
Memorandum of Understanding with the American Radio Relay League
(ARRL) for amateur radio operators to provide electronic communications
for State and local governments in disasters.
Communications Commission (FCC) has licensed more than 600,000
amateur radio operators in the United States. The national organization
of amateur radio operators called the American Radio Relay League
(ARRL) was formed in 1914. More than 80,000 of these amateurs
have registered their availability for emergency communications
in disasters in the ARRL's Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES).
operators have been providing communications in natural disasters
such as floods, hurricanes and earthquakes since 1910. Since amateur
radio operation was prohibited during the years of both World
Wars I and II, FEMA has sponsored a new branch of the amateur
service called Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES).
RACES operators are authorized to operate if the President invokes
his War Emergency Powers while all other amateur operation would
radio operators in the United States communicate by sending Morse
code signals, others prefer to use microphones. Some use computer-to-computer
communications, while still others set up amateur television stations
so that they can see the person they are talking to.
The role of
amateur radio in providing emergency electronic communications
for disaster management will be examined and future contributions
will be explored.
Radio Relay League (ARRL)
organization of amateur radio operators, the American Radio Relay
League (ARRL) (http://www.arrl.org/)
was formed in 1914. Individuals and clubs have been involved in
providing communications during disasters from the earliest days
of amateur radio. Radio amateurs at the University of Michigan
and Ohio State in 1913 provided emergency communications for a
Midwest area isolated by a severe windstorm. In 1935, the ARRL
reorganized and formalized this type of activity by establishing
its "Amateur Radio Emergency Service" and appointing
amateurs all over the United States to be Emergency Coordinators.
In 1949, the ARRL created its "National Traffic System".
The ARRL's monthly magazine is called "QST", (Ford,
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (http://www.fema.gov/)
and the American Radio Relay League signed a Memorandum of Understanding
on August 3, 1984, (Note: A copy of ARRL MOUs can be obtained
from Richard Palm, Manager, ARRL Field Services, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
According to this memorandum;
purpose of this document is to state the terms of a mutual agreement
between the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the
American Radio Relay League (ARRL), that will serve as a framework
within which volunteer personnel of the ARRL may coordinate their
services, facilities. and equipment with FEMA in support of nationwide
State and local emergency communications functions. It is intended,
through joint coordination and exercise of the resources of ARRL,
FEMA, and Federal, State and local governments, to enhance the
nationwide posture of emergency communications readiness for any
Communications Commission (http://www.fcc.gov/)
has rules and regulations for the amateur radio service in Part
97 of its Rules. (http://www.biochem.mcw.edu/Postdocs/Simon/radio/FCC.html).
The role of
amateur radio in emergencies is stated in Rule 97.1 Subpart A
and purpose. The rules and regulations in this part are designed
to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose
as expressed in the following principles:
and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public
as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly
with respect to providing emergency communications.
Civil Emergency Service (Races)
cold war era, civil defense planners in the Defense Department
requested the Federal Communications Commission to establish a
"Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service" so that there
could be special amateur radio communications during a war when
normal amateur communications would be prohibited as happened
throughout the war years ofWorld Wars I and II, (FEMA, 1991).
FCC Rule 97.3
Definitions defines RACES as follows:
(radio amateur civil emergency service). A radio service using
amateur stations for civil defense communications during periods
of local, regional or national civil emergencies.
Support Of The Federal Response Plan
Response Plan (1992) has twelve emergency support functions with
primary agencies as shown:
Support Functions (ESF)
Corps of Engineers
of Agriculture/Forest Service
of Health/Public Health Service
Support Function #2 Communications And Amateur Radio
is included in Emergency Support Function #2 Communications. The
primary agency for ESF #2 is the National Communications System.
The National Communications System signed a Memorandum of Understanding
with the American Radio Relay League on June 2, 1983.
of this communications function as stated in ESF#2 I. Introduction
A. Purpose is:
purpose of this Emergency Support Function (ESF) is to assure
the provision of Federal telecommunications support to Federal,
State, and local response efforts following a Presidentially
declared emergency, major disaster, extraordinary situation
and other emergencies under the Federal Response Plan. This
ESF supplements the provisions of the National Plan for Telecommunications
Support in Non-Wartime Emergencies, Hereafter referred to as
the National Telecommunications Support Plan (NTSP)."
Resource Requirements B. Support for Field Activities states:
Radio networks /systems may provide daily and emergency public
service communications during emergencies and major disasters.
The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) sponsors the combined
facilities of the Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) and
the National Traffic System (NTS), and recognizes the Radio
Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES) and the Military Affiliate
Radio System (MARS). Other licensed amateur activities and Personal
Service Radio (PSR) groups also provide public communications
during emergencies and major disasters. Members of the Radio
Emergency Associated Communication Team (REACT) perform similar
services utilizing Citizen Band radio equipment."
SUPPORT FUNCTION #6 MASS CARE AND AMATEUR RADIO
provides communications support to the American Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org/), the primary agency
for Emergency Support Function #6 Mass Care. The American Radio
Relay League and the American Red Cross have had cooperative statements
of understanding since 1940. The current Statement of Understanding
is dated July 13, 1982.
of this function as stated in ESF #6 I. Introduction A. Purpose
purpose of this Emergency Support Function (ESF) is to coordinate
efforts to provide sheltering, feeding, and emergency first
aid following a catastrophic earthquake, significant natural
disaster or other event requiring Federal response assistance;
to operate a Disaster Welfare Information (DWI) System to collect,
receive, and report information about the status of victims
and assist with family reunification within the disaster ares;
and to coordinate bulk distribution of emergency relief supplies
to disaster victims following a disaster."
operators help with communications among American Red Cross shelters
and also assist with communications for the disaster welfare information
system. The disaster welfare information is discussed in ESF#6
II. C. DWI System:
DWI, consisting of those persons identified on shelter lists,
National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) casualty lists, and
any further information made available by the State Emergency
Operations Centers (EOCs) and hospitals will be collected and
made available to immediate family members within or outside
the affected area."
Communications support agencies identified in ESF #2 - Communications
will be tasked with transmitting information to the DWI Center.
In no case will fatality lists be transmitted via amateur radio
or the ARC 47.42 Mhz system"
Some of ESF
#6's planning assumptions which are relevant to communications
support by amateur radio are stated in ESF#6 III. Situation B.
ESF#6 planning is based on a worst case scenario in which a
disaster occurs without warning at a time of day that will produce
maximum casualties, but also considers other disaster which
could cause large numbers of casualties and result in widespread
damage necessitating the temporary relocation of disaster victims."
A formal ESF#6 organizational structure for supporting the efforts
of other voluntary agencies and government agencies to provide
feeding, shelter, emergency first aid stations, bulk distribution
centers, and providing for DWI will be in place in the disaster
area within 48 hours after implementation of the Plan."
The DWI system should be capable of responding to one million
disaster welfare inquiries, from around the world, within 30
days of the disaster's onset. These inquiries will relate to
persons who are residents of the disaster-affected area, as
well as transients such as foreign and domestic tourists, business
travelers, students, etc. In addition, the system must provide
information needed to reunite family members separated at the
time of the disaster."
Surviving telephone service into and within the disaster area
will be either inadequate or prioritized to emergency uses to
the extent that it will be unable to handle disaster welfare
The massive relocation of disaster victims will limit or prevent
routine mail delivery."
The restoration of communication systems, disrupted by danages
and overloads, may take weeks."
Support Of The Salvation Army
Army has for many years provided emergency services to individuals
and groups in time of disaster. The U.S. Congress officially recognized
the capabilities of the Salvation Army when it enacted the Disaster
Relief Act of 1970, amended by the Disaster Relief Act of 1974,
Public Law 93-288. The American Radio Relay League and the Salvation
Army have signed a Statement of Understanding with respect to
Support Of The National Weather Service
Radio Relay League signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the
National Weather Service (NWS) on January 19, 1988. Radio amateurs
provide emergency communications support to the National Weather
Service on an as-needed basis in weather emergencies such as hurricanes,
snow and heavy rain storms, and other severe weather situations,
(Hensley, 1990). The National Weather Service has a special tornado
spotter service called SKYWARN. The NWS recruits volunteers, trains
them in proper weather spotting procedures, and accepts the volunteers'
reports during tornado watches and episodes of severe weather.
Radio amateurs have assisted the NWS as communicators and spotters
since the inception of the SKYWARN program, (Barton, 1991).
Management In The United States
In order to
examine the role of amateur radio in providing electronic communication
for disaster management, we must first look at the way Federal,
State and local government authorities handle disasters. The former
civil defence organization in Washington is now called the Federal
Emergency Management Agency. James Lee Witt, the emergency management
director for the state of Arkansas when Clinton was governor,
was appointed by President Clinton to be director of FEMA in mid
1993. In October 1993, Mr. Witt reorganized FEMA to de-emphasize
civil defense and to give more emphasis to preparedness for the
threats of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes,
tornadoes, etc. The new FEMA has four directorates: mitigation;
preparedness, training, and exercises; response and recovery;
and operations support.
provides for assistance to each state for emergency preparedness.
For example, the State of California (http://www.oes.ca.gov:8001/)
takes one third of its grant to help support the Governor's Office
of Emergency Services, and divides up the other two thirds of
the grant among the counties and cities which wish to participate
in this Federal program. Each county or city must provide funds
to match the FEMA grant which provides funding for half of the
salary expenses of emergency management personnel.
Role Of Amateur
Radio In Disasters
States seems to have suffered an unusually large number of different
types of disasters in the past few years. Hurricane Hugo in South
Carolina in 1989, the Loma Prieta, California earthquake of 1989,
the wildland-urban Oakland/Berkeley fire of 1991, Hurricane Andrew
in Florida in 1992, the Mississippi and Missouri River floods
of 1993, the Southern California fires of 1993, and the Northridge,
Los Angeles earthquake of January 1994 have all been catastrophic
disasters. In order to examine the role of amateur radio in support
of disaster management , we will briefly review some of these
large scale disasters.
Earthquake, Santa Cruz, California, October 17, 1989
In the Loma
Prieta (Santa Cruz) earthquake, there were 63 people killed and
3,757 injured. 1,018 homes were destroyed and 23,408 damaged while
3,530 businesses were damaged. Property damaged was estimated
about $5.9 billion.
cities in Santa Cruz County are Santa Cruz and Watsonville. The
quake's epicenter was only eight mile from Santa Cruz. Landslides,
damaged roads and bridges closed most highways and rural roads.
The county was isolated with no electric power and no telephone
service. 592 homes and 668 mobile homes had been destroyed, 2,069
had suffered heavy damage and 10,000 people were displaced from
their homes. (Two months later, 3,000 remained homeless.)
ARES members were quick to provide emergency communications. QST,
March 1990, printed some first-person accounts of ham activities
which provided a vivid picture of the events of October 17, (Ewald,
1990). Radio amateurs provided the initial communications between
the county Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and hospitals, Red
Cross shelters, and the State Office of Emergency Services in
Sacramento. The Watsonville Community Hospital had been severely
damaged after being displaced about a foot, which broke many pipes.
The emergency power generator had been damaged and there was no
telephone service. Critical-care patients had to be evacuated
from the third and fourth floors of the building. Hams assisted
in communicating requests for ambulances to move patients to the
other two county hospitals and to hospitals in Monterey County.
Medical helicopters from Stanford Medical Center and from Fort
Ord. were unable to establish radio communication with the hospitals
for landing clearance. Radio amateurs relayed landing instructions
to the helicopters through their home bases. An amateur brought
a portable generator to power lights for emergency surgery.
operators were able to help by reporting many gas leaks as well
as broken sewer and water lines. Amateur Radio was also used to
assist in coordinating arrival of structural engineers brought
from other parts of California. Amateur radio was used to provide
communications for about a dozen Red Cross emergency shelters
for a week. Many of these locations required 24-hour coverage,
and some needed two operators. About 370 amateur radio operators
were involved in providing emergency communications after this
Fire, October 20-23, 1991
In the Oakland/Berkeley
East Bay Hills fire there were 25 people killed and 150 injured.
There were 3,471 houses destroyed, and 1,600 acres burned, despite
the efforts of 350 fire engines. This was the largest single urban
fire disaster in the history of the United States. It was 100
time bigger than the great Chicago fire of 1871. This fire illustrates
some of the problems which resulted from poor land-use policies.
Some of the
problems of the Oakland/Berkeley fire were: the fire ignited 790
homes in first hour; there was a hilly urban/wildland interface;
there was no time to prepare for an orderly evacuation; narrow
streets and abandoned automobiles made it difficult for fire engines
to get to areas and for the police cars to evacuate residents;
the Fire and Police Departments did not use the Incident Command
System and had not practised using the Mutual Aid System; there
were equipment and organizational problems with communications;
there were problems with low water pressure and non-standard hydrants;
wood shake roofs were not treated with fire retardent chemicals;
and the fire spread to adjacent houses because of lack of proper
weed and brush abatement policies.
QST had an
article, "Hams Put to Test in Huge Oakland Fire - Amateur
Radio played a key role in the fight against the worst fire in
US history" in the February 1992 issue, (Girard, 1992). The
article reported that Hams began to gather on UHF and VHF nets
almost immediately after the fire started and people saw the smoke.
Many of those on the nets were RACES- and ARES-trained volunteers.
However, the fire was so overwhelming that in the resulting confusion
it was more than five hours before amateur radio emergency volunteers
were called to action in Alameda county to assist in providing
communications with the Oakland Fire Department.
Fire Department had only four channel radios which caused difficulties
in communicating with the 350 fire engines brought to Oakland
for mutual aid assignments. The California Department of Forestry
and Fire Prevention (CDF) mobilized 70 amateur radio operators
who had been trained in a CDF program called "Volunteer in
Prevention". These hams are communication "shadows"
for CDF fire officers, (Rich, 1991). The State Office of Emergency
Services' Regional Emergency Operations Center had amateur radio
operators assisting in its radio room. The hams provided communications
for support of the Red Cross shelters in Oakland around the clock
for a week.
organizations and ham clubs included: Livermore RACES, East Bay
ARES, East Bay Amateur Radio Club, South Bay Amateur Radio Club,
Marin County Amateur Radio Club, North Bay Amateur Radio Club,
Mount Diablo Amateur Radio Club, Reno Amateur Radio Club, River
City Amateur Radio Club, N6ICW Telephone Pioneer Radio Club, and
Contra Costa Repeaters.
Andrew, Homestead, Florida, August 22, 1992
was a catastrophic American disaster. The local and State emergency
response forces were overwhelmed. Forty people were killed and
130,000 homes damaged. More than 250,000 people were left homeless.
There were 630,000 people evacuated. Four million people were
without electricity and water. There were 117,000 telephones out
Some of the
problems in Hurricane Andrew were: command & control confusion;
inadequate damage assessment; 30,000 Military arrived late; too
much unexpected mutual aid; unexpected donations caused problems;
lack of emergency power generators; lack of emergency water and
food; fire engines could not operated in winds greater than 70
mph; no wind measurements; and the National Hurricane Center radar,
computer, & satellite communications failed during storm.
QST had an
article describing Hurricane Andrew amateur radio operations in
Florida in its December 1992 issue, (Kandel, 1992). RACES hams
had been mobilized before the hurricane and were on station inside
the Dade County Emergency Operations Center, a 1950 nuclear vault-like
shelter. The shelter building survived the hurricane, but six
of seven antennas and towers did not. VHF antennas which the County,
the Red Cross and the School Board were supposed to have installed
long ago on schools earmarked for shelters had not been installed.
Luckily, one amateur radio repeater in Miami, 35 miles out of
the severely damage area, had survived.
amateurs came from all over Florida to help in Dade County. Hams
kept the EOC in constant contact with the State of Florida EOC
in Tallahassee, 500 miles away. One amateur radio operator was
struck by lightning and killed as he was providing communications
for a helicopter unloading food supplies. Another ham in a shelter
reported by radio that the hurricane wind had increased and that
the roof of the gymnasium was lifting five feet off the building
during gusts. He helped evacuate the shelterees to lower floors
after breaking open some locked doors. The roof eventually blew
off. This was the worst hurricane to hit this part of South Florida
in 27 years. Amateur radio operators supported more than 80 city,county,
state, and federal agencies for nine days.
California Earthquake, January 17, 1994
The most expensive
disaster in the United States was the earthquake in the Los Angeles
area in January,1994. In the Northridge (Los Angeles) earthquake,
there were 57 people killed, 1,566 hospitalized, and 9,158 injured.
There were more than 2000 houses destroyed, 32,000 apartment units
damaged, and more than 6,000 mobile homes damaged. Property damage
was estimated to be about $20 Billion.
was inflicted over a wide area in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
It was fortunate that so few people were killed considering that
so many people were injured and so many apartments, houses, and
mobile homes were damaged. The American Red Cross quickly established
about 40 shelters to house the earthquake victims. However, initially
only about 5,000 people registered to stay at the Red Cross shelters
which were mostly school buildings, while over 20,000 others,
mostly Mexican, were sleeping in public parks in makeshift tents.
to the Los Angeles freeway system caused tremendous problems.
It was estimated that more than 300,000 cars a day used the Santa
Monica freeway before the earthquake. Since Californians in the
Los Angeles area do not have mass transit yet, their automobiles
and freeways are unbelievably important to them. The mutual aid
system brought many firefighters and police to help respond to
the quake. Specialized Federal urban search & rescue teams
were flown to Los Angeles to help rescue people trapped by collapse
of buildings and parking garages. Federal emergency medical teams
with portable hospitals arrived, since a number of hospitals in
the area not only could not provide medical attention for the
thousands of injured residents, but had to have their own patients
evacuated elsewhere because of damage to their buildings.
A report in
QST gave some personal accounts of ham heroics following the Los
Angeles earthquake, (Palm, 1994). The San Fernando Section Emergency
Coordinator activated the ARES emergency communications van at
the San Fernando hospital for communications with area hospitals.
The Los Angeles Section had more than 100 hams volunteer for communication
services. Another ham checked in with the Southern California
DX Club repeater and was able to relay a report to the Sheriff's
disaster net that a high-pressure gas main had ruptured on Muholland
Drive. During the first two days he had to use his own emergency
power generator since there was no electricity in the San Fernando
valley. Using 20 meters, he was able to relay about 300 messages
before telephone service was restored to the 818 area.
operators checked in by radio with Ventura's ARRL Emergency Coordinator
after the 4:31 AM earthquake. Most of them were assigned to provide
communications for Red Cross shelters. There were more than 4000
messages forwarded into the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys
by amateur packet radio.
A ham in Arkansas
tuned in to14.245 Mhz after he heard about the earthquake on the
news and found someone in Washington state acting as net control.
The band was fading so that he ended up as net control and handled
517 messages before turning the net over to someone else.
counties, and states are taking actions to invite amateur radio
operators to volunteer their communication services in normal
times in order to prepare for disasters. One of these cities is
Martinez, California where the Chief of Police is also the Disaster
Preparedness Director, (Boyd, 1991). The City Council decided
to get a 30-foot motor coach and equip it as a mobile-command
vehicle, called Control II. It is equipped with amateur TV, HF,
VHF, SSB, and packet.
A county in
Missouri has a highly active organization of ARES and RACES amateurs,
(Schuchardt, 1992). The amateurs are organized much like a volunteer
fire service association. They provide a mobile command post for
communications support for floods, blizzards, search and rescue
, hazardous chemical accidents and tornado spotting for the National
clubs, such as the Naval Postgraduate School Amateur Radio Club,
have many members who participate in local ARES activities, (Bible,
1995). These members responded to the communications problems
posed by the 1995 floods of the Carmel and Salinas Rivers, (http://www.sp.nps.navy.mil/npsarc/k6ly.html).
Amateur Radio In Emergency Communications
In order for
amateur radio operators to be able to contribute their help in
emergencies, the local public officials should be aware of amateur
radio capabilities and limitations. A survey of mayors, city managers,
and city council members attending an annual Michigan Municipal
League convention disclosed that 80% had never had contact with
their local ham radio group, (Turner, 1990). This indicates that
amateurs should take appropriate action to educate their local
authorities before some disaster occurs.
radio community has been studying disasters to investigate how
they can provide emergency communications to organizations which
are not as well prepared as are modern police, fire, and emergency
medical units, (Boyd, 1995). Public works departments in cities
and counties are key responders in large scale disasters. For
example, they are becoming more involved in massive mutual aid
assistance projects for debris removal and demolition of damaged
structures. Many public works organizations have rather basic
communications gear only usable within their home jurisdiction.
This may cause problems when they are asked to respond to a differentjurisdiction
to furnish mutual aid. Assisting in this type of situation is
an appropriate activity for amateur radio. Similarly, utility
companies such as water, power, and sanitation agencies may need
emergency communications assistance from amateur radio.
and public transportation providers used to transport injured
to medical treatment centers or evacuees to shelters may have
only the most basic radio equipment. Many school busses have no
radios. Amateur radio can provide two-way radio communications
essential for prompt efficient assignments and coordination of
may need amateur radio radio operators as backup communicators
if the telephone system is down and cellular systems down or overloaded.
In recent earthquakes and hurricanes, many hospitals have been
severely damaged with large scale relocations of patients necessary.
Similarly, convalescent centers and retirement homes usually only
have the usual telephone service. If many of the residents are
non-ambulatory, there may be an urgent requirement for amateur
radio emergency communications to support patient relocation and
care centers may also have tremendous problems if a disaster,
such as an earthquake, were to occur when the children are there
and the parents are at work. Amateur radio operators should be
able to help with emergency communications. Also, many school
systems may have basic communications equipment but may not be
able to cope with damage to antennas and equipment after a disaster.
Amateurs practice for emergencies with battery-operated gear and
hastily erected antennas.
article resides on the Technical Information
and Operations portion of the NYC-ARECS