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Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by KG7LEA, Nov 20, 2015.

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  1. KG7LEA

    KG7LEA Ham Member QRZ Page

    I got involved in amateur radio as an extension of my neighborhood community preparedness, but I could not become a member of the local RACES/ARES group until I got a ham license. I live in earthquake and tsunami country and we are also subject to extreme weather. There are active ARES/RACES groups affiliated with served agencies and I belong to the group in my city. I was looking for a thread discussing issues around amateur radio volunteerism and how to be as successful as possible in the event of an emergency.

    I read about hams "activating" for extreme weather events, but I don't read much about what they actually do. The Department of Homeland Security has rained money on cities and counties and everyone has a radio now.

    Where do hams fit in?
    What are the secrets to recruiting, training, and retaining qualified volunteers?

    Recently Oregon staged a Simulated Emergency Test on a weekend when a hurricane-like storm rolled in. According to the after action report many amateurs went home. I was in that same storm supporting a 120-mile footrace around a volcano. We stayed on the job. The complaint in the Oregon report was not enough volunteers.

    Observations? Opinions?
  2. N7ZAL

    N7ZAL Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'm sure there are people here who can make some informative comments.

    I did service with Civil Defense in the late 1950's and think it was worthwhile, even though it wasn't used. I feel the same way about preparations here. The Oregon coast is overdue for a major earthquake and there is a lot of preparations being made. Winter storms can be harsh but generally not a major my opinion.

    It is certainly a great service to get involved with and many will depend on it.

    Excellent that you are involved.
  3. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I think the best way to be useful is to have a good home station and use it a lot for a couple of years to develop seriously good operating skills.

    In an emergency, you want to be able to 'copy' information correctly, first time, every time, as a few seconds can make a difference and asking for repeats wastes time. Having a good home station is also useful, as working 'in the field' has some limitations in many cases. If all the local repeaters are down due to a catastrophic event, having a home station with emergency power can be very useful.

    My own test for how good an op is, is a simple one. I sit next to a radio dispatcher at LAPD and see what we both hear. Done this several times. When a signal with tons of background noise, sirens and other distractions comes through and the professional dispatcher requests a repeat, I look at him or her and ask 'Are you kidding.' I got the whole transmission just fine, here's what they said.

    50 years of listening to weak signals through enormous static and interference pays off in this case; it's something the pro dispatchers mostly don't have.

    I admire and respect those who want to help serve their communities. But it takes practice and of course not only ongoing practice but being part of a dedicated group who knows what they're doing.
    N2EY likes this.
  4. K0RGR

    K0RGR Ham Member QRZ Page

    Preparedness depends on using your radios, as much as possible. Understand that not everything you've planned is going to work in a real situation. You need to have backups, and know what they are.

    We had a joint ARES/MARS drill a short while back, and thanks to some totally horrendous HF band conditions, it was almost a 'bust'. I was able to copy and forward a bunch of 'situation reports' from all the local counties on 2 meters, and use 80 meters to forward them to a station in the middle of the state. He was supposed to us MARS circuits to pass the messages from there, but no go - instead, he got on two meters and forwarded it through a ham close to the MARS HQ.

    The best way to gain skills is to 'do the hobby'. Honestly, some contest events are good practice, like the Sweepstakes contest where you must accurately copy a long exchange of information. Field Day is a great place to test your emergency gear. We also have Simulated Emergency Tests here.

    If you really want to be ready, there are daily nets in most places, related to ARES or National Traffic System. We have a daily net here on 75 meters - these nets are listed on the ARRL web page. I run the weekly ARES digital net on 80 meters for my state. We practice using different modes to send messages, and mostly just ragchew a bit. Tonight, I intend to have us try FSQ on the net - should be fun.

    Public Service events are also great practice. We have many in my county each year that the hams are asked to assist with - so many we sometimes have trouble covering them all. SKYWARN is a big deal around here, too - that's the hook that gets most of our new hams involved.

    Get plugged into your local ARES organization.
  5. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page


    I was in RACES back in the sixties and seventies, and we had nets 'for practice' all the time. VHF nets every single day, HF nets weekly.

    Operating from your home station, a lot, is invaluable.
  6. W7CJD

    W7CJD Ham Member QRZ Page

    The "traffic handling" is a skill.

    Field Day, contesting, getting in to DX can give experience.

    The ones that do this volunteering can give the best recommendations, at getting down to it.

    There are forms.

    Do they still use forms?

    Meanwhile, volunteering for bicycle races and marathons may be more available, to get started being helpful in the community.

    We don't have that here.

    I scan the local area repeaters.

    It is what I am able to do.

    I was in NERT in San Francisco. It is greatly appreciated, if you have their training and participate.

    I think most urban areas have NERT.

    Ours was through the San Francisco Fire Department.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2015
  7. KG4NEL

    KG4NEL Ham Member QRZ Page

    May be unpopular to say this, but the first hurdle to pass is getting oneself physically able to do this. We have some volunteers locally who I'm sure mean well, but if they had to walk around a shelter finding people to pass messages, I'm not sure they would't be an emergency themselves at the end of the day.

    The club I'm with is involved in a bunch of ARES-related things, and as a runner I'm hugely appreciative of the support hams give (Anyone from the Falmouth, MA club on here? Props to you guys during the marathon...) but my formal ARES days are over. My emergency preparations these days consist of enough battery power to run the radios to listen, gas in the generator and chain saw, and enough scotch & beer to last the event...
    KG7LEA likes this.
  8. W7CJD

    W7CJD Ham Member QRZ Page


    I have a tiny one battery AM/FM radio.

    I was able to give information to others, without so much, during the San Francisco 1989 Earthquake.

    I have a practically silent small generator to charge batteries for a transceiver and small appliances like a coffee maker.

    It doesn't take much to help people feel much better about things going on: information and coffee.

    These are valuable commodities, in a bad situation.
  9. KV6O

    KV6O Ham Member QRZ Page

    Take care of you and your family first. If you can leverage amateur radio to that end, great!

    CERT is an excellent program to help locally - I suggest you look into it.

    Being a ham, or having a ham license doesn't mean you automatically have skills to work in a disaster situation. This is perhaps the area of biggest disconnect I see - folks wanting to help, in some cases almost insisting, when they are causing more problems than they are solving. Communications is just one part of a response, there are many, many facets that involve an understanding in lots of area that the average person has no clue about.

    Again, CERT is a great program whereby neighbors can make a big difference to the locals they probably already know - their neighbors. And that's also an area where the top down response is weakest in the short term - getting out to the folks affected quickly. Ask yourself, do you want to make a difference to someone directly, or sit in an EOC or van somewhere? I got involved with my community about 10 years ago, helped start a FD, got wildland certified, got my EMT-B IV, worked as a paid Firefighter for some time locally in a district and as a resource on various Engines (Type-6 & 1 Engines, Type-3 Tactical Tenders) got involved with technical rescue teams (Ice, High Angle, etc.), so now I am the guy who comes when you call 911. 10 years ago I would have never thought that, but if you get involved and are motivated, you can have a MAJOR impact of those around you when they need help.

    Oh, no ham license required for any of that. :rolleyes:

    MM0HVU likes this.
  10. KY5U

    KY5U Premium Subscriber QRZ Page


    To answer your original question, what they do when they "activate" is one ham becomes a "control" station and other stations call in with weather info, damage info, etc. In some clubs, the info is relayed to the weather bureau. Hams with no updates can listen to reports.

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