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Personal Preparedness
Emergency Planning is More Than Response
First 24-48 Hours is Critical
Amateur Radio Involvement In Emergencies
EMRG Planning Focus
EMRG Development Model
EMRG Funding
EMRG Strategy
Deployment Challenges
Using Volunteers In An Emergency

Additional Information

Yearly Strategy Plan
Foundation Concepts
2005 5-Year Plan
Planning The Future For EMRG
EMRG Pandemic Plan


The saying "Fail to plan, plan to fail", applies to Amateur radio emergency communications. Planning provides an opportunity to ask questions, look at alternatives and seek more information in order to decide on the best option, without the pressure of people waiting for an answer. Many of these things are not serious issues, but there is more than one option so EMRG selects one, so everyone follows the same option. It might be as simple as what simplex frequency to use on VHF. Everyone has a favorite and they will all work, but deployment goes much quicker if everyone knows in advance which frequency to use and everyone is using the same one. During an emergency, time can be wasted trying to make these decisions, which could have been made in advance.

Planning also allows time for a group of people to work through the various options, identify pros and cons, and reaching a consensus on the best option. The planning process may require discussions with clients and partners about requirements, availability of space or equipment and funding.

There are many things to consider in developing effective communications solutions. To be effective, everyone must be pulling in the same direction, at the same time and that direction must be the one that will provide the most value for the effort. This is why just bringing a bunch of people and equipment together in an emergency does not produce the best results.

Personal Preparedness

Before you can go help others, you need to take care of yourself and your family first. You can make this a lot easier by planning in advance. The City of Ottawa, the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada, all have excellent information for personal preparedness.

Concepts That Drive EMRG Planning

Emergency Planning is More Than Response

Emergency planning identifies potential disasters that could happen in an area, then looks at:

  • the probability that each specific type of disaster can happen
  • options to reduce the likelihood of it happening
  • options to reduce the impact if it happens
  • plans for how to respond if it does happen

The City of Ottawa Office of Emergency Management (OEM) deals with all aspects of emergency planning. EMRG is providing a small component of the communications function of the response plan. While the service Amateur radio provides is important, it is important for Amateurs to understand that we are a very small part of a very large picture.

Being Effective

Without planning, training and practice, Amateurs are just volunteers with a radio. Effective communications is not about individuals creating ad-hoc solutions. Emergency communications requires a Team, with pre-planned, tested and practiced solutions that meet client needs and that clients can depend on. To be effective, Amateur radio must be part of the local integrated emergency response effort, which requires pre-planning and commitment. EMRG is not a first, second or third responder. Amateur radio provides a communications service to support humanitarian relief organizations, so EMRG deploys to support its clients.

When deploying with a client, Amateurs need to co-locate with the people being supported. (Side by side). Sitting at the back of the room, running down the hall or outside, are not effective solutions. It is also important for Amateurs to think about portability, so radios need to be removable from homes and vehicles, to be deployed where needed.

The First 24 to 48 Hours Is Critical

Amateur radio can make its greatest impact in the first 24 to 48 hours of a disaster while information is being gathered, decisions are being made, and if there was communications infrastructure damage, repairs are not completed yet. Within 24 to 48 hours of a disaster, repairs of existing communications systems have begun and commercial backup systems will begin deployment to replace or increase commercial communications capabilities. The point is that Amateurs must be prepared and have developed relationships in advance so that clients think about EMRG communications services and EMRG can deliver quickly what is required.

Amateur Radio Involvement In An Emergency

The pyramid drawing shows several components of emergency response and the involvement of Amateur radio. It also shows where the largest number of the general population are taken care of in an emergency. At the top are the highly skilled and equipped First Responders (Police, Fire, Paramedics), who take care of a small number of people in critical situations. At the bottom is the care of the general population, those who are not seriously injured, but who cannot return to their home. This is the main area for Amateur radio involvement, supporting shelters and community patrols.

Emergency Response Pyramid

EMRG Planning Focus

Emergencies or Disasters can be broken into 3 simple categories. The most common category is emergencies that happen every day, such as accidents and fires, large and small, that are taken care of by Police, Fire and Paramedics as part of their routine service.> The most talked about category is the "Big One", the disaster that devastates everything. While these can happen, many people will never see one and since it is so devastating, any pre-planning could be wiped out, depending on what happens. EMRG planning focuses on the middle category, which is a large emergency - disaster, which has happened in Ottawa and is likely to happen again. Some examples are supporting the Red Cross PDA program which could be taking care of up to 50 people displaced, the power outage, the Ice Storm, a plane crash, or a large building evacuation.

EMRG Primary Planning Focus

The middle catagory of Emergency - Disaster allows planning for different scenarios, with different levels of impact, which is why EMRG focuses on this area. While there can be devastation of some type, over some area, there is an expectation that some solutions have survived and some people are able to respond to help others. Requirements can be gathered from clients for the different scenarios, solutions can be developed and business cases written to support funding for equipment required.

This does not mean that EMRG is ignoring the possibility of a massive disaster in Ottawa. What it does mean is that EMRG acknowledges that if a massive disaster were to hit Ottawa, there is no way to predict what communications capability would survive, or how many EMRG members would be able to respond. The devastation may be so great that no one internally can help and we would depend on people and equipment from outside the area to assist.

By focusing on what is likely to happen, EMRG is able to prepare and train, as well as provide service as required. If there is a major devastating disaster (the big one), EMRG training and preparation would be drawn on to build the best solutions possible at the time, based on the equipment and people available.


All EMRG solutions are developed based on client requirements. Just because an ARES group somewhere else has implemented a new network, or new equipment, does not mean that EMRG will follow. The diagram shows the User Requirements on the left, which are reviewed by EMRG against capabilities and resources. The output of this process is an effective solution that meets user (Client) requirements. EMRG delivers internal training on the new solution then tests it with an EMRG exercise. Further exercises with the clients allow EMRG to determine what works and what does not which is fed back into the planning and analysis process, to fine tune the solution.

EMRG Development Model

EMRG Funding

Most funding for EMRG projects comes from the City of Ottawa. This funding may be through direct project funding as part of the City - EMRG agreement, or the City may pay directly for services, such as riggers for work on a tower. All funding requests are based on a business case which identifies the client requirement, the solution and how this solution provides value for the City of Ottawa. The City has always been supportive of EMRG projects and EMRG takes pride in making sure that money is well spent for projects that add value, rather than just buying the latest radio.

EMRG Strategy

In 2002, work began on the EMRG strategy. The goal was to define who EMRG worked for, what they needed and how to deliver solutions to meet those needs. In 2003, the City of Ottawa delivered its’ 5-Year Plan, which outlined the emergency planning strategy for the City. EMRG reviewed this document and created its own 5-year plan to guide EMRG projects.

In 2004, EMRG completed the 5 year plan and created a Yearly Strategy Plan, which defined what would be delivered in year 1 of the 5 year plan. At the end of 2004, EMRG also signed a new 3 year agreement with the City of Ottawa, which included funding for the EMRG projects over the 3 years. The Yearly Strategy Plan has been updated each year to reflect progress and changes over time.

Work on the EMRG 5 year plan officially began in 2005. Looking back in 2008, at the end of year 4, it was clear that progress on the 5 year plan was not as expected. Three major issues have impacted EMRG progress on the 5 year plan;

  1. EMRG management assumed there was a large pool of willing volunteers in the Amateur community in Ottawa, waiting for a sign that someone had a plan, and that once the plan began implementation, there would be increased numbers of volunteers to assist in the work. This proved not to be true and the numbers of volunteers in EMRG did not change. The work done by EMRG has fallen on the shoulders of a few people wearing many hats.
  2. The plan included technical projects only, and did not take into account the other operational tasks such as Training, Exercises and ongoing operation of the group, which also take time and effort to manage. In the 2006 Yearly Strategy, some effort was made to broaden the strategy to include these functions and by the 2008 plan, the strategy reflected the full requirements of EMRG activity.
  3. Several unexpected events have taken place over time, impacting the direction of the EMRG plan, such as the EOC renovation and the Red Cross move to new head quarters. These are all good things and EMRG has been able to responds, however in a small organization, adding more work causes other activities to slide.

Deployment Challenges

In theory, each radio location should have at least 2 people per shift, one as the radio operator and one as the logger, runner, relief operator. Each shift should be 8 hours in length due to the stress of intense radio communications, so each radio operator would work slightly more than 8 hours per day, allowing time for hand off at each end of their shift. Based on this model, the minimum number of people per site, per day is 6. Operating the EMRG communications centre requires a few more people per shift to cover net control operators, operations manager, logistics, planning and if mutual aid is required, a liaison person. In an emergency, some EMRG members will not be available due to work, family, or the impact of the emergency/disaster on themselves and their family.

EMRG recognizes that staffing the City Emergency Operations Centre, the EMRG communications centre, the Ottawa Red Cross Head Quarters, Community Services Command Centre and a couple shelters, will consume more Amateur resources than EMRG can provide, using the model of 6 people per shift. There are several strategies to ensure EMRG has sufficient resources;

  1. EMRG is developing communications solutions that are user friendly, so one EMRG person on site can provide the technical and license requirements, while client staff can use the voice or data communications solutions directly.
  2. There will be local Amateurs who do not participate in EMRG, but who will volunteer in an emergency. These volunteers would be paired up with an EMRG member, effectively doubling the operator capacity available.
  3. Mutual Aid is recognized by EMRG and neighbouring ARES groups as a requirement to support a sustained operation. There is a ARES mutual aid plan for Eastern Ontario, which includes all ARES groups.

Using Volunteers in an Emergency

In an emergency there will be amateurs who volunteer however an emergency is not the time to try to introduce people with unknown skills and personalities. The public expects their local Emergency Planners, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army to have an effective plan, built on known resources that can deliver results in an emergency. In order for EMRG to be part of their plans, EMRG must provide some level of commitment to being able to meet their needs. Saying "Trust us, lots of unknown people will come out in an emergency" is not a trusted resource that can deliver results. Shelters are full of people who have been traumatized by whatever happened. This is not the place to send people who are not clear on their responsibilities, not clear on who is in charge and who are not cleared through any personal clearance procedures to ensure they are not a threat to people in the shelter. The same is true for secure sites such as the City Emergency Operations Centre and the EMRG communications centre, which are not the place to send new faces that may not know their place.