The role of an Emergency Communication Team (ECT) member is to ensure that authorized messages are transmitted to its intended destination by the most expedient and secure manner and that received messages are forwarded to the intended recipient as quickly as possible. The more time focused on this primary task, vs adapting to a non-standardized system, the more effective the operator can be. The ECT serves as a “Plan B” option when primary communications systems are challenged or disabled. The ECT will be activated as a backup system when “regular” systems, such as the telephone network and email are not functioning. Other backup services include commercial radio frequencies, satellite telephone, and marine radio. Amateur Radio Operators, who willingly volunteer their time, radio equipment and expertise in aid of the local authority’s emergency response and recovery efforts are greatly appreciated.
The Strathcona Emergency Program provides the majority of the emergency communications equipment required to operate this service. A ‘library’ of equipment and tools is maintained that ECT members can sign out in order to practice and develop their skillset further. While advanced communications systems have become ubiquitous in the commercial and public service worlds, their sophistication and reliance on shared commercial networks increases the probability of ‘system overload’ during crises, the potential for the loss of a range of services if cell and communication towers fail, or a complete loss of service if communications infrastructure is lost to natural disaster. In addition, while first responders typically have primary and secondary communication systems, this is not true of many support agencies, such as local government and First Nation Emergency Operation Centres and Emergency Support Services facilities.
WHY USE AMATEUR RADIO?
- It can play an important backup communications role between EOCs and strategic community locations during emergency events.
- Most equipment is portable and can operate independently from the main electrical system.
- The wide variety of available amateur radio frequencies enables multiple networks to be established to serve different emergency support functions.
- Increasingly, amateur radio is becoming interoperable with other communication systems (e.g., Internet email, VoIP, etc.).
Amateur radio has a long history of public emergency communication service. This is particularly true during natural disasters that cripple public telecommunications and broadcasting services, and where amateur radio is often the only surviving means of communication. Amateur radio operators have the skill, equipment and experience to provide immediate support when other communication methods are unavailable. Amateur radio is suitable for emergency activities because most of the radio equipment used is battery powered, highly portable and capable of operating on a wide variety of frequencies. This enables interoperability across frequency bands and rapid deployment of networks within and outside communities.
Operators are also generally well versed in improvising and restoring communications under primitive conditions (as may be found during disasters) because they practice this skill as a key part of their hobby.
Voice communication allows the user agency to pass messages over voice networks connecting several locations inside and outside the impacted area. The messages may be pre-written and forwarded using a standardized format (similar to telegrams), or unwritten where personnel of the user agencies may talk with each other.
Data communication allows the user agency the ability to pass messages over a digital radio network connecting several locations inside and outside the impacted area or region. These messages are entered by computer keyboard and transmitted to another location. Typically, these messages contain lists of items or details of such complexity and length that using the voice traffic service is impractical.