A big Ham Radio thank you to our Halton Region Chair Gary Carr and the municipal mayors of Halton communities for their mention of Amateur Radio in their new publication “Emergency Preparedness – Your Personal Guide.”
As members of the Oakville Amateur Radio Club know all so well, Amateur Radio works when all else has failed.
Time and time again in municipalities around the world it’s been Amateur Radio that often provided critical local, regional even national communications services in the face of overwhelming disasters.
Ham Radio operators have the unique ability to deploy from within affected disaster areas setting up communications links independent of power and infrastructure. The Canadian Red Cross Society recognized this and signed a memorandum of understanding with our national organization that calls upon Amateur Radio Emergency Service groups to send volunteers equipped with their radio equipment to provide communications services to the Society in times of need.
Too often we feel that it can’t happen here. But that’s not true. It does happen here and when it does so often it’s Amateur Radio operators like those of us in the Oakville Amateur Radio Emergency Service (which is supported and sponsored by the Oakville Amateur Radio Club) who find themselves providing much needed communications.
We grow so used to communicating via our cellphones and computers using social media that when the power fails we’re gobsmacked to discover we’re unable to do anything especially something so simple as just calling for help.
Normally power outages, especially in southern Ontario, are usually momentary to at most a few days inconvenience but a massive snowstorm like the one that hit Buffalo late last year could isolate parts of our communities for days causing particular hardship to seniors and shut-ins.
In these situations, working with the Canadian Red Cross Society and municipal officials, it’s often Amateur Radio with our ability to communicate across town or across the country with little or no forewarning or existing infrastructure that comes to the rescue.
And now with our exciting new venture into creating a wireless MESH network on Amateur Radio frequencies we are very soon going to be able to provide this wireless, high-speed private Internet-type service that’s a resilient and robust data-based communications tool to our local municipal authorities in time of need.
A few of us in Amateur Radio (and just about nobody outside of our hobby) are starting to realize the power of this new communications tool. Essentially someday very soon, we will be able to provide portable self-powered computer terminals to police, fire and ambulance services as well as municipal authorities and our regional hospital that will work independently of power and again, infrastructure.
Why would they need such a service?
If the power fails like it did when New Orleans was hit by Katrina, backup power generators will run for 10-12 hours before needing refilling. But once the backup fuel is used up there’s no more as gas stations need power to run their pumps. Cell systems are not designed to work under the assault of hundreds of thousands of calls and their infrastructure collapses just before their backup batteries fail.
Now we’re cold, in the dark and without an ability to communicate. Sure we can call in the army but they’re going to take a couple of days to take over.
Can’t happen in Ontario, you say?
It happened here when the tornado that struck Barrie in 1985 first ripped through Grand Valley. Nobody knew until a Ham Radio operator driving through the area alerted authorities that there was heavy damage in the valley.
We won’t even talk about nuclear power in Pickering but maybe we should. Nobody knows what would happen if we had to evacuate several million people.
The people living near Chernobyl and Fukushima might have something to say to us as they aren’t going back home again…ever.
Ham Radio is like a free insurance policy. It doesn’t cost anything to add it to the community plan and for years you might not even think about it. And then comes the day which none of us can imagine and suddenly Amateur Radio becomes invaluable.
Thanks again to Gary Carr and the municipal mayors for remembering us because over the years (and the decades) ARES groups in municipalities just like ours formed groups, did some self-training and stood ready to perform when all else fails.