In Times of Crisis, Agencies Rely on Ham Radio
March 19, 2003 - With the possibility of additional terrorist
attacks on U.S. soil, emergency management coordinators and government
agency personnel say amateur radio operators remain a vital part
of the nation's homeland security network.
It's a familiar
role for the operators, known as "hams," who have established
backup radio communications during 9/11, severe weather and other
ham radio operators helped in the search for debris from the doomed
space shuttle Columbia last month after it disintegrated over
North Texas last month.
the surface, they may not seem important, but in my business,
they're critical," Pat McMacken, Irving's emergency management
coordinator, told The Dallas Morning News in Wednesday's editions.
"I'd never go into an emergency without them. You never know
what's going to happen."
emergency officials in New York City after the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks. As in other crises, the volunteers traveled to the scene,
set up equipment and worked as couriers for rescue agencies, taking
and transmitting messages. They are on agencies' lists for callout
if terrorists decide to attack during American military forces'
activities in the Middle East.
can strike in remote areas where electrical power is unavailable
or unreliable. During crises, telephone lines quickly become jammed
and computers crash. Hams serve as backups for emergency agencies
when other communication lines fail. City officials and rescuers
rely on hams because radio equipment is expensive and requires
expertise to operate.
must pass exams to become certified and operate on specific frequencies,
keep track of communications technology that has not been outmoded
by cellular phones and the Internet.
encouraged by the federal government to use ham radio operators
for support, said Don Jacks, spokesman for the Department of Homeland
of Emergency Management endorses hams as an official resource
during emergencies. They are critical during a disaster because
they're mobile, said Bill Gross, Dallas' coordinator of emergency
a good tool to have when all else fails," Gross said.
Worth Hospital Council is recommending that hospitals train employees
to become hams. They would then help hospitals contact medical
vendors to order supplies and communicate with other hospitals
to determine patient flow, said Paulette Standefer, the council's
executive vice president.
some hospitals are buying radio equipment and towers.
across rural East Texas, shuttle debris has been difficult to
locate and hams have helped speed the recovery process, said Nacogdoches
County Sheriff Thomas Kerss.
became a vital link in our operation," he said. "Without
the ham radio operators, we simply would not have had communication
capabilities in certain areas."
Hargrove, New York City's District Emergency Coordinator
for the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), oversaw 275 hams who
staffed shelters at city schools after the World Trade Center
attack. Hams communicated with the Red Cross to request food,
personnel, nurses and baby supplies.
(the twin towers) came down, the guts of the communications infrastructure
of New York City was wiped out," he said. "It took something
like this to prove that if you rely on an infrastructure that
you have no way of controlling, then you're hostage."
hams live in the United States, the ARRL says. But the group's
president, Jim Haynie, says hams need to attract young people
into their hobby.
20, got hooked as a 12-year-old. The Irving resident tracks stormy
weather and talks to hams from Europe.
I can go out and help the community by doing something I like,
that's great," she said.