The Emergency Measures Radio Group (EMRG)


Amateur radio is known around the world for its role in providing communications in times of disaster. In order to provide effective communications, Amateur radio operators must be prepared and trained to be able to provide that high level of service.

In Ottawa, the Emergency Measures Radio Group (EMRG) is the local Amateur radio emergency communications group. EMRG is not a club, is not incorporated, and does not collect any dues. EMRG is a volunteer organization that acts as the interface between the Amateur radio community and organizations who need Amateur radio communications in an Emergency or Disaster. EMRG has partnerships with the City of Ottawa, Ottawa Red Cross and the Hospitals, to provide communications if required in an emergency or disaster. Our partners would use EMRG to contact local radio operators for assistance in an emergency.

EMRG is part of the RAC Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) program. ARES provides a common structure, which can be used to promote ARES Federally and Provincially, as well as providing guidance to help new groups get started. EMRG is also called Ottawa ARES, two names, one group, one purpose.

There are no special requirements to participate in EMRG, other than an interest to help and a valid Amateur radio license. One of the purposes of EMRG is to provide training and an opportunity for Amateurs to share information, so new amateurs can participate effectively alongside long time operators.

Each EMRG member brings the equipment they can share in an emergency. However some sites have permanent equipment installed and EMRG is building a small supply of radios, so even Amateurs with a license but no equipment can still play an important role.

It takes more than a group of individuals who own radios to be useful in an emergency. It takes an organized team. Like any team activity, practice ensures that everyone is playing the game together and is working from the same game plan. Knowing whom to call, who is in charge, where to go, what to take and which frequency to use, are some of the reasons why it is important to prepare before a disaster strikes.

EMRG Interfaces In The Community

Community Interface Diagram

EMRG provides a single point of contact to access the volunteer radio operators in Ottawa, as well as interfacing with neighbouring radio groups. The diagram shows the relationships that exist in Ottawa. EMRG has direct relationships with the Ottawa Red Cross and the Hospitals, as well as through the City of Ottawa Office of Emergency Management.

Communications for local events such as walk-a-thons, ski races, soccer tournaments, etc, is often provided by the local amateurs, typically through one of the amateur radio clubs. EMRG is typically not involved in these events directly because most clubs have a history of working with specific events and the clubs draw from the same pool of local amateurs to provide the communications. Many EMRG members participate in these events, which is encouraged by EMRG because it is an excellent learning opportunity.

In 2007, EMRG provided communications for the Tour Nortel. This is an important addition for EMRG, because public service communications provides an excellent training opportunity for amateur radio operators to perfect operational skills and develop equipment improvements.


History of EMRG

The role of volunteer radio communications in Ottawa, began back in the 1950s and early 60s. EMO was set up at the national, provincial and municipal levels. Equipment was put in place for emergency use, to link agencies within a municipality and to link municipalities.

In 1963 the XM49 Emergency Radio Squadron (XM49ers) was enlisted by the local EMO coordinator for the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton, as a way to expand the base of radio operators in the event of an emergency. EMO provided courses in First Aid and CPR as well as training exercises. In 1966 the XM49ers assisted during the Heron Road bridge collapse.

The XM49ers were using General Radio Service (GRS) communications, often referred to as CB. In 1980, amateur radio VHF repeaters were available in Ottawa and a group was formed called the Emergency Measures Amateur Radio Group (EMARG). This expanded the base of radio operators in the Region and provided communications using repeaters.

In 1990, the present organization, the Emergency Measures Radio Group (EMRG) was formed. Today, all EMRG members have an Amateur radio license.

Roles and Responsibilities

Radio Communicators

EMRG members are volunteer communications providers, not interpreters, evaluators, or field commanders. The two main roles of members are:

  1. At fixed locations, transmit messages which have been given to them by partner agency representatives, or to facilitate the partner agency representatives talking directly over the radio if required.
  2. To work with or shadow field personnel to provide radio communications back to a central area. In some cases, the radio operator may also be the field person.

Secondary Communications

Assisting the humanitarian response effort is the Primary Role for amateur radio in an emergency or disaster. Amateur radio communications is critical for organizations such as Community Services, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, who do not have an alternative to wired or wireless telephones. Amateur radio can provide multiple communications networks linking organizations together, using base, mobile and portable radios.

EMRGs role is to establish a secondary communications infrastructure which will;

Providing communications from a disaster site, within the City of Ottawa or within the Province to support emergency management is not a mandate for EMRG (Ottawa ARES). It is possible that EMRG (Ottawa ARES) could be used to provide radio capacity for logistics support to relieve pressure on other systems.

Providing backup communications for Public Safety radio systems is NOT a mandate for EMRG (Ottawa ARES). If the City of Ottawa radio system used by Police and Fire failed, or if the Provincial radio system used by Paramedics failed, EMRG (Ottawa ARES) would assist as much as possible. It must be understood that there are not sufficient Amateur radios, radio operators, or radio infrastructure (repeaters) to support more than a few key sites, which is significantly less than the several thousand radios they normally use. This is why commercial radio systems used for Public Safety, cost so much. They are built with redundancy and extra capacity for Emergencies and Disasters.

EMRG Operations

Areas of Operation

EMRG stations would operate from outside the emergency core (inner perimeter) of a disaster site. The inner core would be limited to primary response agencies such as fire, police and ambulance. It is also unlikely that Amateur radio would operate at the outside edge of the disaster site, unless a specific communications capability is requested. There may be certain secondary organizations that are at the disaster perimeter, supporting first responders, who may require communications. One example may be the Salvation Army providing food services. In the event that Amateur radio is required, the radio operators would typically be operating from the facilities they are supporting, rather than a separate Amateur radio communications post.

Emergency Plans

The City Of Ottawa Emergency Plan identifies EMRG as a communications resource and outlines the high level responsibilities for EMRG. The EMRG plans provide the details of how EMRG will operate to provide the required emergency communications.

Resources and Capabilities

Member Capabilities

Members of EMRG provide three key items in an Emergency:

  1. Skilled radio operators. They know how to use the radio!
  2. Radio Equipment. Members already have the radios!
  3. Transportation. Most members have vehicles for transportation and many vehicles are equipped with mobile radios.

EMRG has some members who hold a valid Restricted Operators Certificate (ROC) and an Amateur Radio license. The ROC provides licensed operation of commercial Land mobile, Air and Marine radios. This provides a resource of trained and licensed radio operators who can operate commercial radio equipment if required.

Many amateurs are involved in electronics or communications personally and/or professionally, providing tools and expertise, which can prove very useful in an emergency.

Amateur radio has an extensive network of voice repeaters, digital repeaters (computer communications via radio), and individual members with base, mobile and portable equipment, capable of local, regional, national and global communications.

Radio Network

One major advantage of Amateur radio is the many frequencies available for use. These frequencies are assigned in bands of frequencies rather than as individual channels. These frequency bands have different advantages such as local communications using VHF and UHF or long distance using HF. EMRGs local communications is based on VHF and UHF radios, similar to those used by commercial services.

To improve coverage, amateur radio repeater sites with fixed frequencies are used. It is also possible to operate without the repeaters, which is important in an emergency where repeaters have failed. Amateur radio operators have experience communicating without repeaters using specialized antennas.

When establishing an emergency communications network, EMRG can establish multiple local communication networks, each with their own frequency. These local networks can be linked together through a wide area communications network on still another band or frequency.

Mutual Aid

In a sustained emergency, EMRG would not be able to provide sufficient resources to operate 24 hours a day for an extended period of time. Depending on the emergency, local Amateurs may be part of the population impacted. In the event that additional resources are required, EMRG has a Mutual Aid agreement with neighbouring ARES groups and meets on a yearly basis to improve our mutual aid planning. Aditional Amateurs can also be brought in from farther away if required.