Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Not an Emergency Service

My January 2010 QST arrived today. I turned to the editorial captioned "Not an Emergency Radio Service?" which quotes an FCC Public Notice stating "the amateur service is not an emergency radio service" and says "We might take umbrage at that." It then proceeds via a convoluted argument to conclude that the FCC considers amateur radio to be not an emergency radio service only because it is so much more.

Were I an American radio amateur I would not have taken umbrage at all. I think the FCC's words mean exactly what they say. Of course it is right and natural that radio amateurs who find themselves in or near an emergency situation where the use of their equipment can be of help should volunteer their services if they wish. But passing emergency communications is not what our frequencies are for, and amateur radio organizations should not be organizing and training operators to handle emergency messages within the amateur bands.

If radio amateurs want to use their radio skills to help with local emergencies there are many organizations they can join that I'm sure would welcome them with open arms. For just one example from here, the Mountain Rescue Service is an entirely voluntary body that uses radio in the course of its activity. But it uses its own equipment on its own frequencies.

Here in Cockermouth during the recent floods the Mountain Rescue, the Red Cross, the RAF, the Army, the police and the ambulance service and doubtless others were all involved. There was nothing but praise for the way the rescue services did their job. To the best of my knowledge amateur radio operators were not involved and all communications were handled on the rescue services frequencies. That, in my opinion, is exactly as it should be.


AndyC said...

Amateur radio was certainly part of the contingency plans for Cockermouth and a fairly large number of RAYNET volunteers were on standby in the event of further bridge collpases taking out 999 service. In the event this wasn't needed, but the plans were there.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the info, Andy. I wasn't aware of that. Nevertheless I wonder why BT itself which owns the phone lines couldn't have provided backup radio links itself with all its resources.

Steve GW7AAV said...

AndyC got in there first but several RAYNET groups due to travel to Cumbria were stood down at the last minute. My own RAYNET controller actually said he did not think any of our group would have been available, but he should have asked, I would have been there in a flash(flood)- Sorry couldn't resist it.

Jspiker said...

Hello Julian,

I haven’t read the article but hopefully, can offer some comments about using ham radio for emergencies here in the United States. Our state (West Virginia) has almost 100 mountain tops above 4,000 ft with many “ham radio” repeaters on them. A skilled operator can provide communications for just about every conceivable situation. I think professional groups “envy” ham radio groups here in the US. I think it’s especially well suited for Search and Rescue groups.

I worked with a search team (dogs) several years ago and we required an “amateur radio license” to be a member of the group. We used it as our primary source of communications. Without the “ham radio frequencies” we would not have been able to function because we’re a rural state and had members living up to 100 miles from each other. A lot of our towns don’t have “professional” services and are totally dependent on volunteers in emergencies. Ham radio was a “gold mine” for us.

You seem to be blessed with very good “pro active” emergency planning with proper funding to provide communications but I’m a little confused about those different groups using the same frequencies. (Perhaps I’ve misunderstood). That doesn’t happen here in the US and was a BIG failure during 911.

I think here lays the beauty of “trained radio operators” and the importance of those “ham radio frequencies” in emergencies…..and also…the importance of keeping those “two meter” and “seventy centimeter” frequencies “just for the special purpose of emergency use”. If they’re not “officially” sanctioned and set aside for emergency use, they should be.

Speaking from experience, I’ve never seen a “business radio” that can be programmed in the field and I’ve never seen a “professional” communicator EXCEPT in the ham radio hobby. They know how to get the job done.

Despite the “professionalism” and skill of many of these groups, none of these guys know more than “push this button” when they want to communicate with fellow team members. When that system fails, and it does in a major emergency very often, there are NO other options. With ham radio, it’s only the beginning of another challenge.

Without have reading the article, I think the FCC is sadly misinformed, should they discount the importance of our hobby in emergencies. If I hear you correctly, you would prefer they stay separate but equal….as they should be?

Unknown said...

Hi John. It would appear from what you are saying that the situation is different in the USA, and amateur communications fulfil a necessary role in emergency situations because the emergency services don't have adequate equipment. Here it is different. It wasn't always so, and back in 1953 when there were major floods in the south east it was felt that amateur radio could provide emergency communications. But nowadays the radio amateur emergency network is a solution looking for a problem. As other commenters have said, they were prepared to help but weren't called for in what was by UK standards a pretty big emergency, and even then it would have been to provide backup in case the phone lines went out not for communications by the rescuers.

I'm conscious there may be a different culture over there - I realize that the ARRL started in traffic handling, and a lot of use used to be made of phone patching which is a traffic many people over here didn't really think should be on the ham bands.

But my personal opinion is that the ham bands are for experimenting, contesting, rag chewing and all the other hobby things and not for providing emergency communications except on an ad-hoc basis when someone happens to be on the spot and all else fails, which occurs less and less often in this age of universal mobile phone ownership.