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Author Topic: Do served organizations really want our help?  (Read 3889 times)

Posts: 3

« on: November 01, 2018, 11:10:06 AM »

I live in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety operate, at considerable taxpayer expense, a statewide 900 MHz trunked radio system that is used by substantially all public safety organizations and many hospitals and ambulance services in the state.  These organizations have an extensive contingency plan with backup 900 MHz repeaters, a statewide VHF overlay, and a cache of mobile repeaters and handhelds for rapid deployment in the event the permanently installed systems are compromised.  There are interoperability plans and exercises with various other agencies (generally federal public safety and disaster response agencies).  They have a field guide and a training program that covers a variety of contingency scenarios.

None of the plans and none of the training make any mention of amateur radio.

Most parts of the state don't have any partnerships between public safety and amateur radio.  Those that do exist appear to be more a form of community outreach on the part of the "served" agency rather than being operational partnerships.

I try to set aside some of my time and energy for volunteer work on service projects of various kinds.  It is my goal to, you know, actually help out, rather than play "let's pretend."

Is there worthwhile work to do as a communications volunteer?  Or am I going to make more of a difference washing dishes at a Red Cross shelter?

Posts: 263

« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2018, 12:16:00 PM »

Our skywarn net (2m) was activated last night when we had severe T-storms in the area.  I am not in a leadership role in our local organization, but it is my understanding that we do not activate the net until requested to do so by the National Weather Service (NWS).  Some of those who checked in reported damage in the area where they reside, and that information was sent on to NWS.

Back in the day, our Baptist Disaster Relief unit deployed to Franklin, LA the day after Hurricane Andrew hit there.  Given the juxtaposition of the radio shack in our unit at the time and the dish washing station, I ended up doing both... washing dishes and operating HF/VHF.  It was an interesting experience.  Our unit provided numerous hot meals to local residents and other emergency response organizations in Franklin and the immediately surrounding areas.

I opine that there are opportunities to serve as communicators.  Given the changes in the technology of communications equipment, the opportunities are different than what they were back in the day.

Posts: 529

« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2018, 01:39:19 PM »

It appears as though many in the amateur radio community nationwide feel that our role in emergency communications is backing up first responders.  I disagree.  There are many other agencies out there that would and do benefit from our expertise.

The ARES organization in San Diego County, CA provides backup communications for the local hospital system.  In the event of a major mass casualty event, such as an earthquake, we would deploy to hospitals and acute care clinics to provide communications assistance.  To this end we participate in twice yearly state-mandated drills, the next of which comes up in two weeks.

Many of these hospitals and clinics specifically ask for us to be present during these drills, knowing their infrastructure might not always be operational, so yes, they do want our help.

Posts: 625

« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2018, 03:30:47 PM »

I guess one should just ask the various service orgs and agencies.

Here in the Empire State of Tax, the State Homeland Security and Emergency Services, Office of Interoperable and Emergency Communications, utilizes the amateur community.


EXTRALight  1/3 less WPM than a Real EXTRA

Posts: 186


« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2018, 03:40:11 PM »

Served agencies do want amateur radio in the tool bag, they just don't want the drama and cry babies that come along with it. And believe me, it does happen.

Amateur radio operators need to learn how to be professional. Take the classes the served agency wants you to take. realize they are the ones in charge. And leave the politics to your own club meetings, the served agency doesn't want it.

Posts: 57

« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2018, 04:59:08 PM »

Served agency can be anything from the state EOC down to a neighborhood hub or church shelter. Even without an organized net, volunteers with radios can be of help between local NGOs and even within, from the front desk back to the kitchen. I view myself as a volunteer with a radio rather than a radio with an operator attached.

They had trunked systems in Puerto Rico. The 911 system ended up as a guy with a HT in front of the police station. As Moltke The Elder tells us, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

Posts: 18397

« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2018, 07:47:42 PM »

Back about 10 years ago we had severe flooding here in Oregon, and the State, in spite of all their
systems, lost contact with the hardest hit counties.  Or, would have, except for the ARES/RACES
station in the state EOC that was still in touch with hams there via repeaters, manual relays,
HF, or whatever else they managed to get working.

Sure Oregon has upgraded their communications systems after that, and has some mobile
resources ready to deploy, but they also funded a complete HF/VHF ham station for each county
EOC, with the stipulation that it be exercised regularly.  The ARES teams work with the county Emergency
Managers to determine communications priorities within each county as well.

So, yes, hams in Oregon have a proven record, and are a part of most county disaster plans.

But that's not a trivial task.  Several counties simply don't have enough hams to operate such a station,
and others have had bad experiences in the past, and have been somewhat reluctant.  Ham operators
in those stations have to be professional, competent, well trained, and willing to work hard to maintain
the trust of the counties they serve.  It can't be just another social club:  we've had trainings that went
all night in the field, involved setting up in the rain, or otherwise getting uncomfortable.  It requires time
and commitment, even though you may never get called upon.

Every potential served agency will be different.   You have to demonstrate the usefulness of hams as
a backup system, convince them that they need it, then show that you have the resources and
commitment to follow through
when called upon.  If the officials think they don't need any more
help, then certainly don't try to force yourselves on them.  Instead, organize yourselves and find other
organizations you can help on a smaller scale.

Also, be aware of the local politics.  A state agency that just spent a lot of money on a big upgrade to
their communications system isn't going to want to seem that it is going to break down in the first
big storm and be saved by a handful of old guys with HTs.  Gaining the trust of those responsible for
emergency response is not easy, and can take a long time.  In our case, we had built that relationship
up over many years, which is why there was a ham station available at the Office of Emergence Management
to make contact with the "lost" counties in the first place.

Posts: 51

« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2018, 08:57:21 PM »

Every potential served agency will be different.   You have to demonstrate the usefulness of hams as
a backup system, convince them that they need it, then show that you have the resources and
commitment to follow through
when called upon.  If the officials think they don't need any more
help, then certainly don't try to force yourselves on them.  Instead, organize yourselves and find other
organizations you can help on a smaller scale.

Well said.

May I respectfully add that traditionally we passed formal message traffic- many folk are holding on to that role. We can do much more...find something they need. I used to be the guy running the response- and when the local Ham club came up and said: "we have 20 people with organic comms, self led, with our own logistics- how can we help?" I jumped at the offer. They freed up first responders that I could then task with their own work.

Be flexible, be professional, stay within your lanes and you'll do fine. Develop a relationship with the folks running the effort and you're away.

As an aside, I took up this hobby solely due to the excellent work the local Hams did for me.

On another note- we have such a good relationship with the City that when they built a new EOC they built us a room to house our CP and repeaters. We didn't ask- they wanted us there....

Good Luck!

Posts: 43

« Reply #8 on: November 11, 2018, 09:56:34 AM »

I think they most likely do. If not the organizations then a lot of individuals need our help. Over the past 10 years all I hear every time a disaster strikes is "we have to find a reliable mode of communications when cell phones don't work!" I always get a chuckle.

Posts: 13

« Reply #9 on: November 11, 2018, 04:42:00 PM »

Yes, they do.  At least they do here in rural Canada where organizations who coordinate events like running and cycling marathons require point check communications for participants along the way. The ARES group here in Lanark County is called upon annually to outfit and staff major two sporting events and occasionally by others who didn't know they needed the 'amateurs' until they really needed them.   

Their importance came to light a few years ago when thousands of people were evacuated in the dark of winter under a paralyzing ice storm that killed power across two provinces. Who wanted help from the amateurs?  Farmers with herds stranded without food or water.  Municipal and county governments.  Emergency shelters. The Red Cross.  Shut in elders.     

It is those times when the 'amateurs' become the professionals they really are.

Yes, they really do want our help, most often when they least expect. 



Posts: 3

« Reply #10 on: November 11, 2018, 08:53:12 PM »

N0IOP- I used to be an employee of MnDOT, and was able to deploy with the American Red Cross DSHR ( Disaster Services ) group MnARComm on those occasions where we had floods, tornados, etc. and needed to set up: Telephones, Fax Machines, Amateur Radio ( for internal logistics use ), etc. I would suggest that you talk to the leaders of any of the following groups, part of MnVOAD ( Minnesota Volunteers Active in Disasters ): Salvation Army SATERN group, American Red Cross MnARComm, AERO, CERT, etc. Many of these leaders should be able to advise you about the need for volunteers who have *both* amateur radio training and at least two FEMA ICS courses. The ARRL has links to these courses, as well as other courses to make a willing volunteer into someone that knows how they should fit into a real disaster situation. Unfortunately, many times volunteers will 'self-deploy'- meaning show up at a scene without so much as the materials needed for their own support ( Food, water, shelter, lighting, sanitation supplies ) and also be in poor physical or mental state- thus becoming a burden. The best way to avoid this situation is to train with a group that thinks about all of the needed resources- rather than become a burden to the community that needs assistance. The first three groups mentioned always seem to have enough members and resources to carry this out properly and are generally welcomed. It does take a major disaster to knock out all communications, and that is where radio and telecommunications skills can be used best. Do not wait to become a part of the training, because that should always occur long before the response.

Posts: 3731

« Reply #11 on: November 18, 2018, 02:11:27 PM »

REACT seems to have evolved into an organization that is working with various radio groups, and now offers training.   They have become affiliated with the ARRL, Skywarn, FEMA, etc.

Posts: 52

« Reply #12 on: November 18, 2018, 03:35:13 PM »

Here in North Texas hams are very well used during storms.  They need as many eyes on the storms as possible so they train them and activate them as needed.  City and county governments are quite supportive of it.  I took the training a couple of years ago but since I don't have reliable vehicles (motorcycles aren't a good thing around tornados) I just listen to the repeaters.  The hams here are very professional and get the job done during these storms.  Probably a good indication of the training they received and simulation exercises to practice what they learned.  The presence of high priced public safety networks does not usually allow for volunteers to each carry $6000 radios to get on them nor do they want that traffic on those systems.  I lived in Minnesota back in the 90's and there was storm spotting on the local ham repeater then.  They have a lot more police and firemen up there (and property taxes to pay for it) so maybe they no longer have need for volunteers anymore to help with those sort of things.  Here local government is financially strapped and can hardly keep up with what they have to do, let alone assign full time resources to watching the weather.


Posts: 44

« Reply #13 on: December 01, 2018, 07:42:03 PM »

Where I live in VA a lot of the local professional emergency communications operators are hams, including the head of the emergency communication department. They have brought their big com trailer to our Field Day operation before. One or more of the professional EOC people usually at least make a Field Day appearance. They have also involved our local ARES groups in their planning. We've done some field exercises where they gave us a scenario of lost communications and we went to various far flung fire and rescue stations to provide communication back to their facility in the city.
All in all I think we have a great relationship with the government level communication professionals.
Also, our local clubs do numerous public service events throughout the year: foot races, bike races, horse rides, etc. Many of these events take place in remote mountainous areas with no cell phone coverage. We've had injuries, transported people to meet doctors, coordinated with the event leadership etc. I had the dubious distinction of being net control for a bike race when there was a fatality and had to provide communication for the medical examiner and other officials because there was no other comms in the race location.
All of our served event participants seem very grateful for our help.

Posts: 1

« Reply #14 on: December 02, 2018, 06:09:52 PM »

In the phoenix area, we don't get a lot of larger scale emergencies.  But there are a few emergeny comms groups, which mostly do communications for foot and bike races for training and being deployed around the area.  I got into amateur radio to learn and be of service to others.  Seek out training, especially from those who are professional.
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