While on a tour this past week I had the opportunity to sit with a retired public health director. He drew the lucky wild card and retired just before we even knew there would be a pandemic. In his closing interview he noted specifically that he would recommend budget to plan and provide for a pandemic and mass vaccinations among other things. Prophetic.
It got me to thinking about how do you plan, budget, staff for unanticipated emergencies. Certainly you can’t hire hundreds of staff people for something that may never happen. No one has the budget for that and it would be a ridiculous waste of money.
Our conversation helped me to better understand our role as Amateur Radio Emergency Service (#ARES) volunteers and my role as Emergency Coordinator for Dane and Iowa Counties here in Wisconsin.
Staffing for emergencies seems to be all about relationships. You don’t have to “own” every resource you need but you need to foster relationships so if/when you need a particular skill set you know how to contact them and have a good idea of what kind of expertise they can bring to bear when needed.
As a group of #HamRadio enthusiasts we
- play with our gear
- we learn how to overcome problems
- practice our craft
- provide communications for public events
- maintain amateur radio equipment at various public locations like hospitals, and county and state emergency operations centers and
- attend a menu of training classes so we are knowledgeable about FEMA’s National Incident Management System
and that is just off the top of my head. And we do all this mostly for free, at least not for money.
We have radio frequencies allocated for our exclusive use across the radio spectrum enabling us to communicate across town across the continent and around the globe. We can communicate with the space station as well! It is true that during normal times those frequencies are exclusively for amateur use but there have been times (during WWII) when “our” frequencies were set aside for Federal use and we were not allowed to use them but that almost never happens and the frequencies were returned to #AmateurRadio use as soon as the war was over.
What the community gets for this group of folk out in back yards, parks, downtown and out in the hinterland “playing radio” is a stable of folk who at the drop of a hat can provide coordinated communications off-the-grid, with or without commercial power in virtually any conditions, either as primary incident communications or a secondary channel for additional communications.
It also gets a group of curious experimenters who have historically pushed the edges of how we can use radio waves for communications. We have figured out how to send email (#winlink), files, images, phone calls over radio. If needed we can set up computer networking and webcams. Even as I write this I am following the location of support vehicles for a Bike event using Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS), a radio based messaging system that we use for mobile stations to automatically report where they are on the course so we can intelligently deploy support where needed.
This is me, thinking out loud and trying to understand better why we do what we do and how we can do it better.