Amateur Radio Emergency Response
Lessons We Can Learn

Amateur Radio plays an important role in disaster response across North America. Hurricanes, tornados, floods and winter storms are yearly examples. Two well known examples of Amateurs providing assistance, are the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, as well as the Columbia Space Shuttle Debris collection in Feb. 2003. This new web page provides links to some of the related articles as well as some comments on things to think about from the articles.

There are news reports and articles which talk about Amateur radio response to disasters and these articles are intended to compliment the efforts of the amateurs who volunteered. When we read these articles, we need to also look for the lessons learned, things that can be improved, and the things that did not work or did not work well. There is always something to learn and we must always work at being better at what we do.

September 11, 2001 (9-11)

  1. Lots of amateurs used in many places in many ways

    There were many different groups of amateurs operating, supporting different Government or volunteer organizations. Some people were deployed to support people in or near ground zero, but many were located in neighbouring states or across the country.

  2. Few if any amateurs were at Ground Zero

    Years of training as a professional is not the same as getting an amateur radio license. Amateurs provide important communications links, but the people in the middle of the disaster core, are the professionals. Amateurs work outside the core, supporting agencies who support workers in the core area.

  3. There were amateur communications issues

    Not everyone could access the repeaters used for net control. In most cases people worked something out, which is great, but each area should think about their own areas of vulnerability and how to mitigate the impacts if a disaster occurred.

  4. Incredible radio coverage from a single site is devastating if it fails

    The World Trade Centre was an incredible radio site. There were over 98 antennas on the roof. The problem was that the great coverage meant that additional smaller sites were not required. The loss of the one site, crippled many communications systems, which were later replaced with systems requiring 5 to 7 sites. Having a repeater with great coverage is an asset, but we must understand the impacts of losing that site and how to cope without it.

  5. Have a problem and people will come, but how do you deal with that

    When people hear about a problem, they want to rush to help. However more people is not always the answer, or getting the right people to where they are needed takes a lot of organization. Resource management of a large event is a task in itself. Planning in advance for how to manage incoming amateur volunteers is worth some thought.

  6. Large disaster sites have a lot of noise, audio and RF.

    Each organization brings its radios to the disaster area. Depending on the frequencies used, the RF noise in the amateur bands can increase, making it difficult to hear distant repeaters. Audio noise from equipment can make it difficult to hear the radio, regardless of the incoming signal.

    The audio and RF noise in the area around the Pentagon was very loud, so it was hard to hear. The RF noise problem was overcome with a portable repeater, installed in the area.

Mobile Radio Technology

CQ Magazine Articles

American Radio Relay League (ARRL)

Shuttle Debris Recovery (Feb 2003)