Amateur Radio Myths

Myth #1: Bringing Amateur radio operators together in an emergency equals an effective communications team.

Like any activity, creating an effective team takes more than a group of people with a common interest and skills. Creating an effective communications team that can deploy quickly, providing communications solutions that work in their area, starts with the average amateur radio operator, but also requires the following components;

Myth #2: Amateur radio must have the capability to set up a forward communications post in the disaster area.

The thought of having a group of volunteers in the disaster core area, not trained to first responder level of skills, makes most first responders apprehensive. In reality, there are few reasons for Amateur radio to operate within the disaster core, unless a specific communications capability is requested by Police, Fire or Ambulance.

It is also unlikely that Amateur radio would even operate at the disaster perimeter, unless a specific communications capability is requested by Police, Fire or Ambulance. 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.

In the event that an amateur radio operator is sent to the disaster area, they must have the following 4 items or they are just another intruder;

Coordination Contact Name:Who is sending them
Site Contact Name:Who are they reporting to
Destination Location:Where are they reporting to
Photo ID:Prove who they are

Amateur radio will be heavily involved with the EOC, shelters, hospitals and various support organizations such as the Red Cross.

Myth #3: Municipally Officials and First Response leaders don't care or don't like volunteers.

In anything there will be people who don't want to work with others, but to blindly state that no one cares, is usually not true. The key to making volunteer radio communications work is to build a relationship. This may take several years and a lot of meetings to get to a good working level relationship. It is important to educate both sides of the discussion and to set realistic expectations. Brief status updates about meetings, exercises and training will help keep the radio group in the mind of others, will demonstrate ongoing commitment and shows that the group is gaining experience.

If amateurs think or imply they are some form of auxiliary force that will deploy into the middle of a disaster, the amateurs will be disappointed that they are not called and officials will not call because they are concerned about having a group of people with no real purpose, in their way.

Myth #4: My local Emergency Planner should be telling me what to do.

Emergency planners usually are not dedicated to only that task and usually have a large range or emergency responsibilities, so Amateur radio is but one small part of the total picture for them. It is highly unlikely that the Emergency Planner has the time or the skills to establish detailed deployment scenarios for Amateur radio.

In most cases, Amateur radio volunteers are one of many resources available, like the Red Cross or Salvation Army. The Emergency Planner is depending on the volunteer groups to understand the area they serve, their skills and capabilities, and to prepare themselves as much as possible to be able to provide their services in an emergency. If there are locations or capabilities that cannot be provided, the volunteer group should make the Emergency Planner aware of this.

The Emergency Planner is responsible to deploy the volunteer radio group and to assist with special requirements such as shelter and transportation, BUT the amateur group must take responsibility and accountability for its organization, operation and ability to provide radio communications within its area. In most cases, the radio group should have at least the following capabilities;

Myth #5: The EOC is a communications centre and should include as much radio communications equipment as possible.

The EOC is a communications centre and should include as much radio communications equipment as possible.

The EOC is a decision making centre and uses communications (phone, fax, radio) to get questions and information in and to send information back out. Police, Fire and Ambulance maintain their respective dispatch communications locations outside the EOC, but place a representative in the EOC for information that needs to go to the EOC.

Amateur radio should operate in the same way. The Amateur radio Net Control Station (NCS) function is like a dispatch and is not part of the EOC communications. To be effective, the NCS function should be separate from EOC communications. This may be a room off the EOC, a room elsewhere in the same building or even a location in a different building. Trying to pack everything in the EOC has several negative aspects;

It may turn out that the EOC is the only location or the best location in your area to include the Amateur NCS function. However it is important to understand that this is a separate function.

Myth #6: Radio Operators only take messages from designated officials, written on official message forms.

The traditional military model of a radio operator as a dedicated human-radio interface, a sort of human fax machine, responsible only to take in official messages, in official format, signed by an officer, does not work in a civilian emergency/disaster response. The military model works in the military because all participants are trained at their job, to understand and apply the model.

In a disaster response, most of the support roles will be performed by staff who have other jobs normally or by volunteers such as Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc. Messages will be short, usually tactical, making requests for more water, blankets, an ambulance or replying to a request for information. There will not be any official message forms and the people will not be familiar with the ARRL/RAC amateur message forms.

Amateur radio operators will be assigned as part of the team for various locations, such as the EOC, Red Cross, Shelters, Hospitals or Dispatch. As the team member providing communications, other team members will expect more than just a human fax machine.

Most radio traffic will be short messages, from the local person responsible (shelter manager, site manager).

Myth #7: Amateur radio saves lives in an emergency.

Many Amateurs believe that in an emergency, Amateur radio saves lives and that this "fact" should be promoted. While Amateurs, like every one else in society, may find themselves in a situation where their unique set of skills and tools is able to save a life, saving lives is not what Amateur radio does in an emergency.

Life saving is done by first responders, Police, Fire and Paramedics. In an emergency or disaster, Amateur radio provides communications to groups who are helping people, typically with food, shelter and clothing.