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Amateur Radio Operators Aid Government Communications During Emergencies

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski

June 23, 2010 By

Following the 2007 storm, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (pictured) funded improvements to the state's amateur radio infrastructure with a $250,000 grant for Winlink systems in each of the state's 36 county-level EOCs.

Amateur radio operators, who use various types of radio communications equipment for nonprofit purposes, can provide a valuable resource to state and local governments during disasters. In Oregon, about 1,800 Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service volunteers are authorized to work in state and county emergency operations centers (EOCs) facilitating communication during disasters. For example, during the Great Coastal Gale of 2007 that knocked out communications to the state's Columbia, Clatsop and Tillamook counties, ham radio operators used a radio frequency messaging system called Winlink to transmit the counties' requests for assistance to the state's Office of Emergency Management.

"Monday morning the governor came in and we were briefing and later on called amateur radio operators 'angels' because that was the only source of communication we had to the coast," said Marshall McKillip, the Emergency Management Office's communications officer.

Following the storm, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski funded improvements to the state's amateur radio infrastructure with a $250,000 grant for Winlink systems in each of the state's 36 county-level EOCs. "We bought the appropriate equipment and then organized the delivery, the set up, the training and everything with amateur radio resources," McKillip said. "It was quite a task for the amateurs to take on, but they did a great job."

Amateur radio operators can play a variety of roles that allow public safety officials to maximize their resources, including facilitating communications; providing emergency managers with on-scene situational awareness; and helping manage large-scale events, such as state fairs and marathons.

Earlier this year as blizzards blanketed Delaware, Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service members manned ham radio stations at the Sussex County EOC, and 60 ARES members drove around the county's 958 square miles reporting what they were seeing and confirming reports from the National Weather Service. "While [the police and emergency medical services] were moving around, they had better things to do than stop and measure the snow," said Walt Palmer, public information officer for the American Radio Relay League in Delaware. "So that's where amateur radio's guys were coming in."

At one point during the storms, the county set up two shelters for approximately 70,000 residents, all of whom were without electricity, and deployed an amateur radio operator to the larger shelter to facilitate communication with the EOC. "We were able to get good information back from the shelter as to how many people were there, were they making out OK and that kind of thing," said Sussex County EOC Director Joe Thomas. "We actually tried to get an operator in the second shelter, but we never did get to that point because of the snowstorm."

In the aftermath of a disaster, amateur radio operators are often the first to report what happened to emergency managers so they can start formulating a response.

Go to Emergency Management to read more about how amateur radio operators aid emergencies.



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