field_day_img_3183Rugged HF transceiver for voice communications

In times of crisis and natural disasters, amateur radio is often used as a means of emergency communication when wireline, cell phones and other conventional means of communications fail.

Unlike commercial systems, Amateur radio is usually independent of terrestrial facilities that can fail. It is dispersed throughout a community without “choke points” such as cellular telephone sites that can be overloaded.

Amateur radio operators are experienced in improvising antennas and power sources and most equipment today can be powered by an automobile battery. Annual “Field Days” are held in many countries to practice these emergency improvisational skills. Amateur radio operators can use hundreds of frequencies and can quickly establish networks tying disparate agencies together to enhance interoperability.

Recent examples include the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan in 2001, the 2003 North America blackout and Hurricane Katrina in September 2005, where amateur radio was used to coordinate disaster relief activities when other systems failed.

On September 2, 2004, ham radio was used to inform weather forecasters with information on Hurricane Frances live from the Bahamas. On December 26, 2004, an earthquake and resulting tsunami across the Indian Ocean wiped out all communications with the Andaman Islands, except for a DX-pedition that provided a means to coordinate relief efforts. Recently, Amateur Radio operators in the People’s Republic of China provided emergency communications after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and U.S. hams did similar work following Hurricane Ike. They were there on the Boston Marathon bombing when the cellphone systems were instantly overloaded.

The largest disaster response by U.S. amateur radio operators was during Hurricane Katrina which first made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane went through Miami, Florida on August 25, 2005, eventually strengthening to Category 5. More than a thousand ham operators from all over the U.S. converged on the Gulf Coast in an effort to provide emergency communications assistance. Subsequent Congressional hearings highlighted the Amateur Radio response as one of the few examples of what went right in the disaster relief effort.

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