N1GY- The simple Approach to Ham Radio
If one studies the FCC rule book carefully, it becomes apparent that there is one major reason that we are able to enjoy our hobby of radio communications. The primary reason that we are permitted to engage in radio is to provide the nation with a large cadre of trained communicators to assist with any response the nation requires in difficult circumstances. All of the other stuff, DXing, National Traffic System message handling, amateur TV, digital modes etc. is secondary to the concept of our skills being used to aid the country in time of need.
That time of need might be a hurricane, an earthquake, floods, tornados, or something as simple as a backhoe cutting through the cables that connect a 911 center to the community it serves. Even a hospitals computer system crashing can generate a need for backup communications. At that point, restoring communications becomes absolutely vital to protect the safety of people and property. To do that various organizations have been created over the years to make this task more organized and easier to initiate. One of the most complete organizations doing this is Amateur Radio Emergency Service, a service of the American Radio Relay League. The ARRL has divided the country into Divisions. Each Division is sub-divided into Sections. Each Section has an individual, appointed by the Section Manager, whose title is Section Emergency Coordinator. Each county within the Section has an Emergency Coordinator (also appointed by the Section Manager with input from the SEC) who coordinates activities with their local county or municipal Emergency Services staff. The EC also serves as the head of the local ARES unit.
The local ARES unit or group is the heart of amateur radio’s response in times of need. The members of the local group train together and practice their skills during events called Simulated Emergency Tests (SETs). In coordination with local and regional emergency services from the municipality, the county or the state. The members also train on-line in the basics of the Incident Command System taking tests provided by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) in order to be considered expert enough to be deployed to participate outside of their local area should the emergency require more assistance than the local group can provide. All of these members provide their own equipment including radios, antennas, power plus they provide their own clothing, food and shelter for at least several days. They do this all because they love to provide assistance to their fellow citizens in time of need. They also do this because not only do the radios have to function without the benefits of infrastructure but so do the radio operators. Trying to provide communications when you are hungry, cold and wet is not fun. Sometimes it is not even possible, so the members make sure that they can do the job when needed.
In other pages on this web site, you can find discussions and projects intended to allow you to construct the equipment you will need to be of use in an emergency. There are articles on suitable radios that are mostly self contained. There are articles on power sources (batteries) that will allow one to operate for some period of time without line power or a generator. What I have not discussed so far are the preparations one should make to be similarly self-contained for that same period of time. That is also one of the reasons for this page.
In addition to your radio, antenna and power source, you need to consider what you yourself will need when the infrastructure is damaged and/or unavailable. This particular list comes from the South County ARES Group in Southern California.
Grab and Go Kit Check List
o 2 meter HT plus 12 hours worth of batteries (a dual band 2M/440 is better)
o Consider a waterproof bag to protect it from the elements
o 1/2 wave gain antenna for better performance and a magnetic mount antenna
o AC to DC adapter and auto cigarette lighter plug cable to power HT
o Remote speaker/microphone or headset
o Headphones with correct connector to plug into radio, for use in noisy areas
o Extra coax for antenna and connectors and adapters for radio
o Thomas Guide Map book or other maps
o Repeater listing frequency Directory
o Users manual for your radios or cheat sheets
o Message forms, writing pads, pens and clipboard
o ARES badge, copy of FCC license
o Appropriate clothes for the weather, terrain and duration. Dress to stay warm and dry.
o Hat, sunglasses and sun block during warm sunny weather.
o Food, water, and needed medicines for at least 12 hours
o First Aid Kit, First Aid and CPR training?
o Night time gear, flash, light extra batteries and bulb, reflective vest, flares in vehicle
o Small tool kit, gas and water shut off tools
o Second radio with 12 hours of battery power
o Base station antenna i.e.. J-pole and mounting hardware
o 50 feet of coax with connectors
o Scanner radio and frequency list of local public safety agencies
o Large 12 volt battery, Gel or deep cycle, charger, 100 feet of AC power cord, large gauge
o Poster paper, markers and tape for signs
o Hard-hat for your head
o 3-way electrical adapter (for 2 prong outlets)
o Waterproof paper Each ARES group will have a similar list which may be slightly different to this one.
Different areas of the country will have different needs in terms of personal protection from the elements. Different seasons of the year will also require other items of clothing and other items. This list is also only for a very short term deployment (less than 24 hours) The list for a longer deployment will have many more items particularly in terms of power, food, clothing and personal shelter. These longer lists are normally available from your local ARES team. Many ARES groups have acquired trailers or RV type vehicles in which they have constructed their own Emergency Communications Centers. Often these are built in coordination with their local governmental ES agencies and are equipped with governmental radios in addition to the amateur gear. Usually they are equipped with gasoline or diesel generators to enable operations for an extended time period. This fact does not relieve the individual operator of the responsibility to ensure their own survivability and comfort since few of the operators deployed will be working in said trailer or RV. They will usually be operating from emergency shelters or feeding or first aid stations out in the community they serve. So far we have been dwelling on the very serious aspects of serving in ARES and they are very important, however there are lighter aspects to training and serving in ARES.
ARES units also often volunteer to assist with communications for community events such as charity bike races or various foot races sponsored by charitable agencies. Some units volunteer for community events such as town fairs and the like. These are excellent opportunities to test your equipment in a non-emergency situation and also to demonstrate the value and fun of amateur radio. Many good contacts are available within the community. By participating in these fun events you also join a network of people who can assist you in the future. One of the people I met at such an event was very helpful when I needed some welding done for a tilt-over flagpole antenna that I was building. The movers and shakers in your local community are often the same people you will be working with in a disaster response situation. Building relationships with them in these non-emergency events will pay big dividends when the situation is much more serious.
The opportunity to serve your community in times of need is a very big responsibility but it is also a huge honor. All of the gear that you acquire to be of service is needed by you in the situation, and most of it will be of use even when you are not so occupied. Your radios and antennas etc. are just as useful on a day of casual DX at the beach or in a city park. The discipline you develop to make sure your go kit is well stocked and ready will also serve you well when getting ready for Field Day or a family vacation. Please really consider serving your community as a member of your local ARES group. It is a wonderful way to serve your community and a wonderful way to hone your skills as an amateur radio operator.