Emergency Communications (EmComm)
Imagine a natural disaster like a Category 5 hurricane making landfall on Alabama shores. High winds create a path of destruction everywhere you look – devastated homes and buildings are everywhere, trees are uprooted and down on power lines and the power grid has been catastrophically damaged. And you need to get some help quickly. You have become so dependent on normal modes of communication: the cell/smart phone, regular telephones, the internet, e-mail, video teleconferencing, television, to name a few. But those things that we take for granted are not working anymore. How are you going to contact the police or fire departments for assistance?
Normal emergency communications is expertly handled by our first responders – police, fire, and emergency services – but when they become overloaded, is when the Amateur Radio Service can play an important role. Through the use of our radios, many of which are capable of operating on emergency power, important information can be passed from point to point. During Hurricane Michael, Oct 2018, Jackson County Emergency Coordinator Ricky Whittington, KD4AST, reported “total devastation of Bay, Jackson, and Gulf counties,” with loss of electrical power and water service, in addition to damage in Franklin, Holmes, and Leon counties. “[The] only mode of communications after the eye came across was ham radio, until we got minimal cell service on October 11.
Our story is simple. We are all concerned members of the South Alabama community who are tied together with a common bond…the hobby of amateur, or “Ham” radio. Why is it called “amateur” radio? We are not in it for personal monetary gain and cannot under most circumstances accept money for our services. Our common goal is to be provider communications under all circumstances and to accomplish that on a strictly volunteer basis.
Amateur Radio Emergency Service Network
Many of our operators are also members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES). This organization provides emergency communications in times of severe weather or catastrophic events. We hone our skills using multiple forms of communication to ensure that our messages get through, regardless of environmental conditions. We also participate in a yearly Simulated Emergency Test (SET) exercise to ensure that our equipment and personnel are prepared. Test messages are passed that included simulated tornado touchdowns, debris reports, road closures and overturned tanker trucks leaking hazardous material. This exercise is a exciting training tool for our radio operators. Our radio operator volunteers are FEMA, American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and NWS trained to work with emergency managers and relief personnel.
Emergency Communications and Antenna Trailers
The Jim Bell Wireless Association has an emergency communications trailer and an antenna trailer that can be moved to a devastated area to provide life-saving emergency communications for an affected community. Self-sustaining, the trailers have a variety of different communications equipment ranging from HF to VHF frequencies, voice, CW and digital. We have generators that can be set up to power the trailers and re-charge our batteries to ensure continuous operation in times of need.