Musings of an Emergency Coordinator

The last little while has seen some attention to our part of the world with earthquakes off the west coast ofVancouver Island.  This quake was enough to get media attention and to some degree the attention of the public. Initial media reports were not complete and certainly raised the level of concern of the general public.


There always seems to be the issue of communication during a crisis.  In my forty plus years of being exposed to and involved with emergency communication I have noted that in every debriefing there is the mention of communication. How it either failed or did not live up to expectation.  The failure of the cellular phone system during the recent Stanley Cup events inVancouveris one such example. In today’s world if you turn off cell phones and social media then stand back and watch things grind to a halt followed by confusion and anger. These items are mentioned not to make a case for amateur radio emergency communication. . That case had been made more than enough times. They are only mentioned to show how much society today demands instant information.   Communication is critical.


In my travels I have yet to meet an emergency coordinator who said


I have enough volunteers


I have enough equipment


Everyone that is part of the emergency response system is on the same page



Over the years I have often heard amateurs say “I don’t need to join an emergency group when something happens I’ll be there.”


.  Although I rarely say it I often think……. yes you will be there, BUT


1. Will you have the appropriate training?


2. Will you know where to report?


3.  Will know what the expectations/protocols are of the group, to whom you are providing the service,


4. Will you be familiar with the local emergency management protocols?


5. Will you meet the criteria set out by local government to even access the appropriate areas?


6.  Will you remember that you are a radio operator and not someone who makes operational or administrative decisions?  Will you remember that you are part of the wheel and not the centre of the wheel?


7.  How do you respond under stress? Do you even really know?


8. Will you know how to operate the equipment?


In essence you will be part of the problem, not part of the solution.



Time spent with an emergency communication group does not have to be excessive. If you are fortunate enough to have a weekly net then combine that time with a monthly meeting and it could work out to roughly two hours a month.  Simulated emergency exercises of course would add time.


In speaking with emergency communication volunteers they say that the more realistic the simulated emergency exercise the more they like it.  The exercise is a time to learn, both how you will react, and what your job is.  Some folks say that sitting at home and checking into a net is nothing compared to attending a realistic simulated exercise and trying to remember everything from the logging process, to setting up the grab and go kit, to the phonetic alphabet.  Some even forget their own grab and go kits.  You know things like food, water, medications (if required) etc.


They soon realize the statement   “If you can’t take care of yourself how you can expect to help others” is a very valid statement.  They also realize that they respond differently when under stress. Having been exposed to the stress and being debriefed after an exercise lets people learn they are not alone  when their stress reactions kick in. It also provides each person the opportunity to learn and think about how they did, what they would do differently next time, and how they can improve their performance.


Not every amateur operator needs to be involved in emergency communication, but we need enough to do the job and right now we are sorely lacking.


I once read an article which said a good ham has a motto.  Preparation, Education and Service to the Community. When you think about it most hams would probably agree with that statement.   Service to the Community is an interesting topic in itself.


We are fortunate in this country not to have the volume of serious events that occur   south of the border.  Never the less we need to be prepared.  The first step in that preparation is to get people thinking. After you have made your decision whether or not to be involved in emergency communication then stick to it. Get involved or stay out of the way of those who are trying to do the job. If you do that you will be serving your community.


I could go on but the purpose of this is not to anger anyone, not to frustrate anyone and certainly not to take sides.  The sole purpose is to make amateurs think seriously for a moment or two how they would react in a critical situation keeping in mind the points previously mentioned. Can you spare a couple of hours a month?



Coast Emergency Communications Association