How Ham Radio Works During Disaster

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You may have heard about ham radio operators providing wonderful service during natural disasters. However, have you ever wondered how the entire system works? It requires a complex and structured organization for the preparation of disaster management and the administration of communication after a disaster by a ham radio operator.

Integration Of Ham Radio Operators In The CEMP

How Ham Radio Works During Disaster

Ham radio operators make their services accessible as volunteers. However, there are guidelines and rules to follow during disasters or emergencies.

The trained emergency professionals working for the government must include these independent radio operators as part of their mission during emergencies. This plan for emergencies is called the CEMP (Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan).

To understand how a ham radio operator works during emergencies, it is important to learn the communication approach utilized by disaster experts.

Ham radio operators have to pass through various registrations and certifications before they are called upon for emergencies. Every ham operator has to register themselves with the nearest ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) which was founded by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) in 1935.

Once an individual ham radio operator registers at the ARES, they will be eligible for rendering communication services during disasters. The registration process will require the volunteer to prove that they possess the requisite expertise, experience and qualifications.

During emergencies, a district or a county can contact the ARRL representative by going through their website, They would then identify those ham radio operators within that locality. This simple system helps in the integration of experienced hams and not other random individuals.

Using Ham Radio During Emergencies

Not all disasters or emergencies will result in communication system failures. The need for a wireless network will only be required for rescue missions, when the normal communication system is inactive.

Ham radio operators will be deployed depending on the complexity of the emergency. According to the NIMS (National Incident Management System), there are three types of incidents that require ham radio operators. These are the three different kinds of complex crises.

NIMS Type 5 or Type 4 incident – This type of crisis does not require a ham radio operator, because all the communications are effectively handled by the regular commercial services.

NIMS Type 3 or Type 2 incident – In this scenario, the general communications are overloaded and there is a need for an additional backup. This is where the local hams can bridge the gap. They must remain active and perform their duties, until the normal communication services are back online. There are also provisions for bringing operators from other jurisdictions.

NIMS Type 1 incident – This type of crisis affects the communication infrastructure of the entire area including loss of cellular phone network and the internet, degradation of the electrical grid and AM or FM radio systems. In these situations, there is a need for a supplementary communication system which must be installed until the restoration of normal communication.

Ham operators establish communication where there are no public service coverage areas like a remote construction site. They ensure constant contact with the management workers, monitor highways or bridges to ensure safety and collect data from damaged areas.

These operators cannot replace a communication system completely. However, they help to establish critical communication during a crisis. Ham operators equipped with solar-powered devices can maintain connections, where other regular powered devices fail to operate.

Also read: How To Shield The Radio From EMP?

Who Can Ham Radio Operators Communicate WithDuring Emergencies?

The authorities with whom the ham radio operators can communicate are mentioned in the FCC regulations. It permits ham operators to serve the community, by communicating with entities like the FEMA, the National Weather Service, the military and other non-governmental agencies or government organizations involved in the restoration process of the disaster.

Further instructions to the ham operators about communicating come from the emergency management team deployed at the local site. The hams serve the community whenever called upon and initiates their services with equipment at various locations including fire stations, evacuation sites, hospitals or other medical facilities, auxiliary communication centers, emergency command centers, buildings that house police, the military, etc.

Ham operators use their expertise in providing data services. When they are at the site providing assistance, they utilize their experience with antennas and power sources as well as renewable energy sources like solar power or the use of batteries.

Ham operators communicate with hundreds of frequencies to send messages and establish active links with different agencies for a rapid relief effort.

Can Anyone Become A Ham Radio Operator?

Anyone can become a ham radio operator, if they want to dedicate their assistance to people in need. These people commit themselves to provide assistance during natural disasters when a community needs it the most.

Operators must qualify for these tasks bypassing several tests. The certification covers a wide spectrum of subjects and topics, such as principles of electricity, electronic circuits, how to use a basic transmitter and receiver, antenna dimensions, resolving issues related to their usage and safety precautions.

The ham operators have had related experience in the field of radio communications for several decades. Due to this expertise, many agencies include a person who has retired from their duty or select those who are currently serving as first responders.

Incorporating Ham Operators In Emergency Management

There are several ways that emergency management coordinators can involve a ham radio operator. There may also be a plan to establish an emergency contact unit that includes ham operators. They can also host a licensing class to teach new operators.

In areas without frequent emergencies, it is useful to maintain close contact with local radio operators.

Also read: DMR ham radio reviews


The importance of ham radio operators during emergencies cannot be over looked. They possess expert communication knowledge, even when there are no disasters. The hams understand the situation and can setup emergency connections in that area.

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