Monthly Archive for August, 2009

Page 2 of 2

Controversy erupts over tornado warning system


The Background Story

Hundreds of amateur radio operators in Ontario (and across Canada) are volunteers with Environment Canada’s CanWarn system. These dedicated volunteers report severe weather conditions directly15y to Environment Canada. Weather experts use this to confirm radar and satellite images of possible severe weather.

The Controversy

Today, The Globe and Mail is asking whether or not Canada’s system of early warning failed the people of Durham and York Region. The article quotes Environment Canada meteorologists as saying a tornado warning was issued half an hour before an 11-year-old boy was killed in the storm and that the half-hour warning was “very, very good.”

However most townspeople and municipal officials say they never received the warning.

A Secondary Issue

Now, while it is too early to tell whether or not amateur radio operators were reporting on last week’s tornado, there is a situation in Ontario that could curtail any future participation by amateur radio operators with the Canwarn system.

The Ontario government is implementing Bill 118 (the anti cell-phone will driving legislation) this fall. Bill 118 could inadvertently impact the legal and historic use of amateur radio equipment in moving vehicles.

The Solution

The problem could be solved by a simple exemption for the Amateur Radio Service from Bill 118. Unfortunately, the Ontario Ministry of Transport has yet to make a decision to exempt the legal, federally licensed use of amateur radio equipment in a moving vehicle.

Other neighbouring jurisdictions in Canada (i.e. Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia) plus many American states specifically either exempt or have created policy that excludes amateur radio use from their cell phone use while driving legislation. Radio Amateurs of Canada is urging Ontario Transport Minister Jim Bradley to exempt two-way radio use from being affected by Bill 118.

The use of amateur radio two-way transmission equipment was never part of the problem being addressed by Bill 118 and impacting the ability of amateur radio operators in Ontario to operate their equipment while driving won’t be part of the solution.

The Action Steps

We urge everyone who is interested in creating a better severe weather warning system in Ontario to support RAC’s initiative to encourage the Minister of Transport and Minister Jim Bradley to immediately exempt all amateur radio operation from Bill 118.

RAC also urges all its members and all amateurs in Canada’s Amateur Radio Service to join the Canwarn system of early detection. Regardless of where you live in Canada, severe weather can and does happen.

Become part of the solution. Join Canwarn and continue the Amateur Radio Services’ proud tradition of helping our communities in times of need.

Remember: When ALL ELSE FAILS, there’s always Amateur Radio.

Tornadoes devastate small Ontario town

Links to this blog were sent to the Ontario Transport Minister and all Ontario MPPs. Please personally contact your local MPP and inform them of the vital and essential community service that is provided freely by local volunteer amateur radio operators and how this service could be curtailed due to the unforeseen effects of the passing of Ontario Bill 118.

Those are the headlines resulting from yesterday’s (Aug. 20, 2009) four smalltornado tornadoes which skipped across a large portion of southern Ontario. And with one confirmed dead and the likelihood of injuries yet to be reported, these storms were deadly but their power was nothing compared to what could have taken place.

With global warning thought to be causing increasingly unstable weather around the world what could happen in Ontario if a big tornado struck is becoming increasingly possible.

Like Quebec’s ice storm of 1998, the Barrie Tornado of 1985 or the 2003 power blackout that hit Ontario and seven U.S. states, wide-spread disasters can and do happen in this region.

What happens in communities affected by a natural or man-made disaster? Typically, local infrastructure fails almost immediately. Local emergency responders are overwhelmed. Communication failure cripples municipal government and even hospitals, police and fire officials find they cannot communicate within or outside their jurisdictions.

And who, in those early hours, shows up to help? It’s the local amateur radio operators who are volunteers working within the Amateur Radio Emergency Service. And they show up in great numbers with training and equipment that exceeds the capacity and reach of anything else in the community and is only equalled by equipment carried by the armed forces (who, by the way, will take several days to be mustered and readied to help out in any significant manner).

All of this free amateur radio community-based emergency response ability is being put in jeopardy in Ontario due to the unforeseen impact of a safe-driving Bill.

In Ontario, sometime this fall the Ontario Ministry of Transportation will implement Bill 118 which will make driving while using a cell phone illegal. Unfortunately, the Bill may have an unintended consequence of limiting the legal and crucial use of all two-way radio equipment in vehicles in Ontario. The limits could hit all two-way radio users such as amateur radio operators, taxis, CBers, transport and delivery companies and others.

This limitation would not only be short-sighted but, as we’ve seen in the case of emergency, dangerous putting the public at needless risk.

 We urge all legislators in Ontario to ask the Minister of Transportation to harmonize Bill 118 with other jurisdictions in North America which have seen it fit and proper to specifically exclude the amateur radio service from their legislation.

Amateur radio was never part of the problem that Bill 118 addresses and limiting its use will not be part of the answer to making provincial roadways safer.

So what could have happened in Ontario?

The series of tornadoes that hit Ontario yesterday were likely Force Two in strength. It was a Force Five tornado which hit Oklahoma City on May 3, 1999 where winds of  318 mph winds (the highest recorded on earth) killed 44 people, injured 757 and tore up 10,000 homes.

If a series of Force Three or even a Force Four (which struck Barrie) were to strike populated areas of Ontario experience tells us that almost immediately the following scenario will take place:

Hydro power fails as towers and lines collapse from the wind load. 

Cell phone towers left standing are overloaded and calls fail. The backup power on those towers fail within hours. The cell system is rendered useless.

Police, fire, ambulance and municipal service vehicles cannot communicate with their headquarters as communications towers are down. Also, their own computer-run systems are vulnerable to system failure from storm, wind and rain damage plus backup power systems will fail within hours even if the communications ability is not destroyed.

Hospitals are especially vulnerable. In situation after situation and community after community hospital administrators discover that during wide-spread disasters they cannot reach medical staff to order them to report for work. Supplies run low. Wards and hallways fill with the injured and their families. Chaos breaks out.

A state of emergency is declared.

It’s at this point that the The Canadian Red Cross Society is requested by authorities to setup emergency shelters. The Red Cross invokes a formal agreement with Radio Amateurs of Canada asking for immediate assistance to setup communications links between shelters and to Red Cross headquarters locally, provincially and even nationally if needed.

Using the services of the volunteer amateur radio operators, the Canadian Red Cross begins to gather information about who is registered as taking refuge in their field centers. This information will be used to inform friends and relatives who is safe and who is not. It will also be used to determine what supplies and what other help is needed.

Amateurs in local communities, using portable and mobile equipment are providing communications for municipal services and officials. They are able to do so because they live within the affected community itself. Hauling batteries out of vehicles, carrying two-way radio equipment in their hands amateurs find ways to erect temporary antennas and establish local, regional and even provincial communications networks.

As requested by municipal authorities, reliable communications links are setup between police, fire and ambulance headquarters. Amateurs sent to hospitals setup communications links to the new emerging system. The first ability to regain communications and some control is returned to the hands of municipal authorities.

While not ideal, these communications links allow emergency and municipal officials to communicate with each directly for the first time since the beginning of the disaster. Individual amateurs are teamed with officials and become their only means of communicating through the amateur radio network to other officials. This scenario will go on none stop for several days until officials with provincial emergency measures establish their own field units.

Remote communities fully cut-off their neighbours find local amateur radio operators are able to set up shortwave communications equipment that links them into a province-wide emergency nets. Amateurs from unaffected areas begin arriving at the Amateur Radio Emergency Service headquarters set up in the main Red Cross building and volunteering their time and equipment.

In some remote areas, amateur radio operators with powerful shortwave radios installed in their vehicles are able to communicate with other amateurs over great distances. For the first time, provincial authorities learn of the dire need in some less populated areas. (This scenario actually happened in Grand Bend which found itself cut off from the rest of the province following the Barrie tornado. It was amateur radio that first alert authorities to the situation in that community.)

While provincial Emergency Measures Organization officials (which recognizes the value of the Amateur Radio Service and even has sit’s own amateur radio station) begin to establish communications for essential services, the amateur radio service starts to scale down and focuses on working with the Red Cross and other helping agencies to help stabilize a chaotic situation which will continue to exist for another 10 to 12 days.

The Canadian Armed Forces begins to arrive in mass and is tasked with recovering bodies and securing large areas of devastation. Local communications remains in the hands of the amateur radio service until such time as emergency cell towers on trailers are setup in the community.

At the end of 10 or 20 days of endless work and 24/7 communications, the volunteers of the amateur radio service are allowed to stand down and return to their homes and families. Some return to their own homes which were damaged. But all do go home after serving their communities and their neighbours at no cost, at no obligation and without thought of recognition or reward.

In community after community and in country after country amateurs world-wide (who number in the millions with an estimated 265,000 hams in the U.S. and roughly 26,000 in Canada) since the early beginnings of radio have devoted their time, talent and equipment to this selfless service.

Hams help during Power Blackout

 Lessons Learned – Ministry of the Solicitor General

Oklahoma Storm City Storm Video

Canada’s Most Destructive Tornados (Amateur radio helps out in Barrie)

We keep on ticking

Duracell Batteries has used amateur radio in one of its major radio blubs. I sent a copy to the Ontario Ministry of Transport in order to encourage them to do the smart thing when it comes to granting exemptions to Ontario’s new anti-driving-while-talking-on-the-cell-phone law.

Funny (or sad) but a battery company seems to understand the power of the Amateur Radio Service more than our elected representatives. Call your local MPP and book a meeting with him or her to enlighten them on the benefits of an active and well-trained amateur radio volunteer group in their community. (You are a member of your local ARES group aren’t you?)

Here’s the link: (and thanks to VE4HAY for this):

Bill 118 decision soon


Bill, VE3XT, North/East Ontario Regional Director for Radio Amateurs of Canada has sent the following to amateurs and clubs in his region. Bill’s comments should be taken to heart by all amateurs in Ontario.

Bill C118 is coming to a conclusion and we still don’t have an exemption for Amateurs. We need to make the Minister of Transportation and your local MPPs aware of the public service Amateur Radio Operators perform while operating from their vehicles.

Please contact organizers of groups that your Amateur Radio Club provides communications for and ask them to send a letter to Jim Bradley, Minister of Transportation and your local MPPs.  If your club provides communications for marathons, bikes races, cross country ski events or any other public services, we need their support now.

Their letter might suggest that without mobile amateur radio operators, the event may be compromised in terms of safety or they may have to rent commercial radios which could put the event into financial jeopardy. The MPPs need to know that we provide an important public service to many organizations.

They don’t have to mention the Bill, but just emphasize the fact that Amateurs operating from their vehicles and provide communications for their event as a valuable community service.

If you have any agreements with local police, fire, EMO, Salvation Army or first response groups you need to contact them and ask them to send a letter as well.

If you would like to send a letter that is fine, but a note from a third party will carry much more weight.  A letter from an emergency service is even better.  A local politician is the best.

Any questions give me a call or email.

Here is the contact information for Mr. Bradley.

Hon. James J. Bradley

Ministry of Transportation
3rd Floor, Ferguson Block
77 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1Z

Here is a link to the listing of MPP’s and their mailing addresses.  A letter is better than an email.

This is important if you want to continue operating from your vehicle, do it now!

Cautionary lesson

This post comes to us via the ARRL and was been sent to all the volunteer public information officers, emergency coordinators, district emergency coordinators and affiliated club presidents listed with the ARRL.

Written by Nick White, NV9V, District 3 Emergency Coordinator, ARRL Kentucky Section PIO, the post discusses the weekend media story about amateur radio that appeared in the New York Times. Nick talks about the positive news story which had the potential of creating a negative impression about ham radio.

The following information pertains to the situation in the U.S. but good media relations information can be found here. (Also, in Canada, the Radio Amateurs of Canada site has lots of information that is useful in working with the media.)

I (VE3HG) am also available to you as a resource. (I was a vice-president of a national public relations agency.)  We amateurs in Canada are not letting the media know enough about us and the great service work being done by our clubs, associations and ARES groups among others. It’s important to the future of amateur radio that we start doing a better job of getting the word out about amateur radio in Canada. If you need help, send me an email to: ve3hg at and I’ll do my best to help.

Here’s what Nick, NV9V, had to say (with slight editing):

We were beneficiaries of some good publicity about the success of Owensboro recruiting new amateur radio operators, which had a peculiar twist that diminished the story.   Various versions of the article were picked up in regional and national print media such as Henderson, KY and the New York Times.  Attached is link to both versions.


At issue is the direct quote in the original article and reprinted in the Times describing amateur radio, saying, [amateur radio] was “a dying thing”.   

Overall, the article was positive and the amateur radio operators interviewed did a good job.  Interestingly, the Henderson paper redacted part of the original quote, illustrating how the media can selectively quote their sources.  In this instance it was a benefit, but clearly, someone opposed to amateur radio could have focused on “dying” to support a negative point of view.

Realistically, most of the licensed radio operators in Kentucky’s 120 counties have probably said something similar in casual conversation.  However, we all need to remember that speaking to the press or issuing written statements about amateur radio events is more than casual talk and can have untended consequences.  While, we enjoy the hobby and appreciate what volunteer licensed operators can contribute in the event of a communications emergency, not everyone agrees and they can use our own words against us.  Moreover, civil authorities want to know that what the amateur radio service provides isn’t “old”, “obsolete”, and “dying”, but “dependable”, “proven”, essential”, and “reliable”.

While some may say this is much ado about nothing, the ARRL spends a lot of effort to build the image of amateur radio of which we are the major beneficiaries.  That effort extends to our state section manager (SM), section emergency coordinator (SEC), and many DEC’s, EC’s as well as local amateur radio clubs.  As amateur radio operators, club affiliates, ARRL officials, we all have a material influence on how amateur radio is viewed by the public and government alike.

Recognizing this, I think it is all our best interest to formalize Amateur Radio PR activity for ARES and ARRL affiliated clubs in Kentucky when ever possible.  By formalize, I suggest the following:

1. Establish a policy to review press releases and interviews with county Public Information Officers (PIO’s) early, before releasing the information to the media.   In the case of interviews, use PIO’s wherever possible.  But if that position is vacant, EC’s should advise their DEC and discuss, perhaps role play, the interview before hand.  That isn’t to restrict amateur’s access to media, but help them prepare for it.  Moreover, the process doesn’t diminish ones skills, but enhances it.  I know of no PR professional that is intentional interviewed without prior preparation.

2. If you are concerned about the interview, ask for assistance.  As the Kentucky Section PIC, I am available daily and can be reached by email at   In addition, ARRL Public Relations Manager Allen Pitts, W1AGP is available to provide PR assistance by email

3. The ARRL provide an abundance of material to guide and assist local PR efforts.  For instance, see the link for a comprehensive guide to working with the media.  In addition, the ARRL recently introduced PR-101 ( ), a course intended to give hams quick instruction in public relations activities.   According to ARRL’s count, about 3 in 4 ARRL PIO’s describe their training in public relations as none, little, and some.  This course was designed to fill in the gaps.

4. Lastly, bear in mind that the key to good public relations doesn’t depend on who writes the release or gives the interview, but getting the right message out to producers that will air it and reporters that will write about it.  Sometimes that means local cub presidents or club PIO’s should be the center of attention, while at other times it may be best for the Section Manager, Public Information Coordinator, DEC or EC to represent amateur radio’s interests.  In the end, it’s about telling Amateur Radio’s story, simply and consistently.

5. In the near future, we will draft some talking points that are particularly relevant to Kentucky amateur radio issues and activities.

I know that “one” goal of the ARRL is to build Amateur Radio’s image in the minds of citizens, non-government organizations, local, state, federal government decision makers alike as a group of technically capable, conscientious, radio operators that are proficient in the use of modern modes of communications, not only, for their own personal use, but equally so in the event of a communications emergency.  That’s my interpretation, anyway.  So, lets try to make that the underlying message when get an opportunity to “Meet the Press”.  If I can help, please call.