Operating In An Emergency

By Jonathan Imberi

In An Emergency 
Monitor your local emergency net frequency.

Make contact with your local EC or RO.

Take immediate steps to follow any prearranged plans.

Stay off the air unless you are sure you can be of assistance.

In wide spread emergencies, monitor W1AW for the latest bulletins and news.

When country or community ask for emergency communications, Amateurs need to respond. They put their mobile and portable radio equipment into service, using alternatives to commercial power. Generators, batteries, windmills, or solar energy can provide power for equipment during an emergency. Amateurs should have some way to operate their station without using commercial ac power. Power lines are often knocked down during a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or ice storm. 

A dipole antenna is the best choice for a portable HF station in emergencies. The antenna can be installed easily, and wire is light and portable. If you carry an ample supply of wire and you'll be ready to go on the air no matter the time or place. Remember to have at least one spare charged battery pack. One of the most important accessories you can have for your handheld radio is several extra charged battery packs. 

A handheld transceiver can be used in a variety of emergency situations. You can use one at home, in your car, or just about anywhere. For example, it can be used on an emergency search and rescue mission. 

If you find yourself in a life or property-threatening situation and you want to make an emergency call for help, it is very important to know the basic procedures. The proper distress call to send for Morse Code (CW) is SOS several times and then your call sign. Pause for a reply and then repeat the procedure until you receive an answer. The letters SOS need to be sent as a single character with no pause between the letters. The proper distress call for voice operation is MAYDAY sent several times followed by your call sign. You should pause for a reply and then repeat the procedure until you receive an answer. You can use any frequency and any mode that you think will be the most likely to bring a response. 

First-response communications in an emergency involving a few people in a small area are called tactical communications. This type of communication is unformatted and hardly ever recorded. Tactical communications are urgent instructions or requests. Some examples are "send an ambulance", or "would someone please bring the bottled water to tent 2". 

Two meter repeater net frequencies or the 146.520 MHz simplex calling frequency are usually used for tactical communications. Mobile, portable, and fixed station equipment is popular for these frequencies. Tactical communications are very important when working with government and law enforcement. Because many people do not understand the 24-hour system or Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), use the twelve hour local time system for times and dates when working with relief agencies. 

Tactical call signs, which describe a function, location, or agency, make tactical communications more efficient. They promote coordination and efficiency with anyone who may be monitoring. The set of tactical call signs remain the same when operators change shifts or locations. Amateurs may use such tactical call signs as parade headquarters, finish line, Red Cross, or Net Control. Tactical call signs do not fulfill the identification requirements of Section 97.119 of the FCC rules. Amateurs must also identify their station operation with their FCC assigned call sign by identifying at the end of the operation and at intervals not exceeding ten minutes during the operation. 

There can be a large amount of radio traffic to handle during a disaster because phone lines still in working order are often over loaded. These phone lines should be reserved for emergency use only. Shortly after a major disaster emergency traffic messages are sent from the disaster area. These messages have life-and-death urgency or are for medical help and critical supplies and need to be handled first. Next in line is priority traffic. Priority traffic are emergency-related messages, but are not as important as emergency messages. After priority traffic is handled, health and welfare traffic which pertains to the well-being of the evacuees or the injured are handled. 

The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) is an amateur service that provides radio communications only for civil defense purposes. RACES is active only during periods of local, regional, or national civil emergencies. 

You must be registered with the responsible civil defense organization to operate as a RACES station. RACES stations may not communicate with amateurs not operating in a RACES capacity. 

Only civil-preparedness communications can be transmitted during RACES operation. These are defined in section 97.407 of the FCC regulations. Rules permit tests and drills for a maximum of one hour per week. All test and drill messages must be clearly identified. The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) is sometimes confused with RACES. ARES is sponsored by ARRL, and presents as way for local amateurs to provide emergency communications while working with groups such as the American Red Cross and local Emergency Operations Centers.