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Hurricane Ham Radio – Backing Up the Pros

hurricane ham radio

Hurricane ham radio is about hams supporting public safety professionals with a variety of communications services that work during tough times. 

It’s been a busy summer for ham radio operators involved with public service activities. First Harvey, then Irma. Amateur radio provides supplementary communications and, sometimes is the only source of contact during emergencies.

Hurricane ham radio is about the volunteers that belong to the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and its related organizations at the local, regional and national levels. Ham operators play a big part in disaster response, from monitoring and reporting on storms to providing to  providing emergency communication where all other methods fail.

In addition, they operate regular networks or “nets” that provide information and messaging services. These include:

  • Hurricane Watch Net. HWN operates on 14.325 and 7.268 MHz covering most of the United States Atlantic seaboard, Caribbean, Central America and Gulf of Mexico. Since 1980, HWN operates side-by-side with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It provides real-time information to effected areas, as well as “ground truth” observations to forecasters. This includes observed and measured weather data, as well as initial damage assessments. In the affected areas, the hams may be located at local Emergency Operation Centers. When necessary, HWN also works with the Canadian Hurricane Center.
  • Salvation Team Emergency Radio Network. SATERN is active on HF nationally  and VHF locally.
  • At the local level, there are dozens of amateur radio high frequency networks geared up for emergency communications. These operate mostly on the lower HF and VHF bands. Recently, voice communications been supplemented by digital networks.

Hurricane Ham Radio – Training and Preparation

Hurricanes typically damage normal communication infrastructure including broadcasting, cellular and land-line systems. Hams are trained to set up emergency systems on short notice. This includes erecting antennas, transmitters and repeaters in almost any location. Preparation means keeping emergency communications kits ready-to-go at a moment’s notice. Training includes regular and annual drills for this purpose. It also includes readiness to work side-by-side with first responders and public safety organizations.

Three aspects of preparation and training make hurricane ham radio unique. First, hams know how to operate all kinds of radios under all kinds of conditions. This includes a variety of frequencies, some local, some long distance. It also includes a variety of voice and digital modes for passing messages. Second, hams know how to set up temporary, portable and mobile services under challenging circumstances. They know their stuff and how to stay on the air when other methods fail. Finally, they have the discipline to communicate properly with each other and also to inter-operate with professional first response and incident command.

For more information, contact your local ARES organization. Where I live, it’s the Calgary Regional Amateur Radio Emergency Service.

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