Emergency planning

Canada’s Auditor General Sheila Fraser has slammed the federal government’s lack of emergency planning that puts the country’s actual infrastructure in jeopardy. Following 9/11, millions of federal dollars were spent to develop interim emergency response plans but now, nine years later, nothing has been endorsed let alone implemented.

Especially worrisome was an expressed desire to create a radio system capable of connecting all police, fire and other emergency responders during times of national or regional disaster. Of course, every amateur radio operator knows how difficult this is to implement and complex to maintain. On the other hand, putting trained (and often training happens on the job) ham radio operators with handi-talkies at the local police, fire and ambulance station with other hams dispatched to the Red Cross shelters, city hall and regional centres can create a functional emergency communications network.


And yes I know this is a utopian viewpoint but here’s how it starts. On Hallowe’en, I invited my wife Marion, VE3HEN, to accompany me on the Halton ARES Goblin Watch. Conducted in conjunction with Halton Regional Police, the ARES group mustered about a dozen vehicles which simply drove around communities in Halton Region ready to report any vandalism or other issues associated with the night.

Thankfully not much happened during the evening (one intoxicated underage youngster found his way home and a couple in a suspicious vehicle were left alone to do whatever it was they were doing at the back of a school parking lot) but being out driving around wasn’t the main objective. The hidden agenda included making another connection with senior police officials who approved of the activity as well as officers on the street who likely had never heard of amateur radio before that night. The event also gave the net control operators of VE3HAL practice in running a formal, directed net. I’ve run nets in the past and it’s not easy to strike the right tone of efficiency yet be friendly and fun. The controllers at VE3HAL did a great job. Several mobile stations were also outfitted with APRS equipment which made for some fun when one of the operators drove out of his assigned area to get a coffee. Car 54 where are you?

So here’s the point: While the government works to fix this issue of emergency preparedness, we have work to do as well. Part of the work we need do is help the federal government realize the role that ham radio can and does play in emergency response and community service. So how do you get involved? Join your local ARES group and support their efforts in your local community. Lobby your provincial governments in regards to upcoming or existing distracted driving legislation. In other words, get involved and invite new hams in your communities to get involved.

And, the Halton Goblin Watch gave Marion her first opportunity to fully participate in a formal working net. And she did pretty well. There were a few lessons learned — like make sure you haven’t accidentally changed the repeaters split when you respond to a call from net control and you can’t figure out why they don’t hear you :) — and this event was perfect for learning these sort of lessons.

2 Responses to “Emergency planning”

  • Hi

    One of the first issues is understanding that Amateur radio is typically involved in the humanitarian side of emergencies and not the Police, Fire, Paramedic. If you present the role of Amateur radio as supporting humanitarian relief efforts you will get great support from Government.

    If you try to tell them that a few hams with HTs will replace their multi site, multi channel trunking system, then you may get a few laughs, or just a cold stare. Public Safety turns to their commercial providers when things fail. Motorola built a trunking switch in 36 hours after 911. The Police and Fire already have portable and mobile radios, so they want infrastructure to make them work, not a bunch of volunteers. It is better for them to focus on getting a temporary repeater on the air.

    The concept of Interoperability is not about holding two HTs or holding a VHF and UHF radio. Public Safety is aware of these concepts and already uses them. The interoperability they are working on is how to bring 1000 Police officers from 3 different jurisdictions into an area and have them communicate with each other when they are no longer in range of their own repeater infrastructure. The capacity and function they are looking for is not something Amateur radio can provide.

    It is also important to understand that Interoperability is not about having Police and Fire all talking to each other. They do that at a command level face to face and then send messages on their respective radio systems. The challenge is how to expand the Police, or Fire service using outsiders who bring their own radios.

    Trunking is a great help and a great problem in this issue. Trunking brough the efficient use of spectrum, but it is propriatry solutions, so they don’t work together.

    I agree that Amateur radio needs to work on our plan and the starting point is for local Amateurs to joing their local Emergency Communications Group. It might be ARES, it might be REACT, it might be something else, but get involved.

    Peter – VE3BQP

  • I have to wonder if the operators of the ARES vehicles “mustered” for this event were all using a “hands free” devices to communicate as our now in-force Ontario motor vehicle law demands? Or were they still operating under our stupid three year “exemption”?

    I find it comical that, on the one hand, the FEDERAL Auditor General points out a glaring communications interoperability disconnect among first responders nationwide all the while our PROVINCIAL MPPs are busy enacting needlessly sweeping motor vehicle laws that throw roadblocks in the way of a radio service (ours) that might help to mitigate the problem.

    All of which simply underscores the notion that MPs and MPPs are much like diapers.

    They need to be changed often and for the same reason.

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