Posts from — November 2010

The Role of Amateur Radio In Disaster Communications

When disaster strikes, terrestrial communications go down and cellular networks are immediately overloaded or destroyed, there are a corps of amateur radio operators around the world ready to help. Amateur Radio technologies are constantly evolving, and have in its history found a high degree of importance in emergency communications. The technologies and operations procedures are highly developed and many operators have trained and participated in handling emergency communications traffic – acting as a liaison between the public and official sources. “Ham” operators as they are referred to in slang terms are professionals in their ability to communicate locally and around the world. To get their FCC licenses they have to pass stringent testing to gain their station permits. Operators take pride in their knowledge, practices and equipment. Most experiment in differing genres within the art.

Amateurs as individuals and groups both locally, nationally and worldwide have always put emergency communications at the forefront of the technological hobby. When emergencies start or disasters occur, the rag chewing (normal conversation) stops. All amateurs both by habit and regulation respect the importance of emergency communications and focus on the situation at hand. There is a true camaraderie that overrides any differences of opinion. Perhaps it’s because Amateur Radio privileges are hard-earned and thus not given freely. In the days of internet, family radio and citizens band operators, many regard hams as a cut above the rest as civilian communicators.

There are many amateur radio groups locally, nationally and worldwide on a casual to official basis who specialize in emergency communications – more than can possibly be mentioned in this article. Emergency communications envelops more than severe storm observation – but any emergency where communications is vital. The groups meet, train and practice their techniques in quieter times to be at the ready as situations call. We can only mention some of these groups, but as a writer, I highly encourage all groups to make themselves known in the media at large.

ARES stands for Amateur Radio Emergency Service. It is an American Radio Relay League and Radio Amateurs Of Canada sanctioned cadre of highly trained amateur radio operator volunteers. In the immediate aftermath of the Katrina Hurricane Disaster, AREA radio amateur operators provided primary communications for the activities of the American Red Cross. When Hancock, Mississippi lost all contact with the outside world – including the loss of 911 service, the hams pitched in with the innate ability to operate off the grid in providing a link between the general public and emergency services. Amature Radio operators were also enormously busy in providing emergency communications during the 2003 North American blackout. The hams worked directly with each other both by point-to-point communications known as simplex as well by use of a repeater placed on top of the Chrysler Building in New York. Joining ARES requires both an amateur radio operator’s license and a willingness to serve. In Canada, ARES is coordinated by the RAC – Radio Amateurs of Canada. Like many structured organizations, ARES maintains different levels – Emergency Coordinators (EC), oversees organizing local groups as well serving a leadership role in emergency operations. Assistant Emergency Coordinators (AEC) are assigned specific geographical areas to serve. They also act as a contact point during Skywarn operations. Next in line is the District Emergency Coordinator (DEC) whose duty encompasses operations of surrounding county and cities within a given area. And rounding up of the layers is the Section Manager who oversees operations in more densely populated areas and states. In the U.S., there are seventy one geographic administrative areas while in Canada, there are eight.

RACES stands for Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service. RACES was enacted in 1952 and is a standby communications entity which operates during times of war, superseding standard amateur radio practices. It is coordinated by both the US Army’s Office of Civil Defense and the American Radio Relay League. In times of wartime civil peril, only previously authorized operators are allowed to transmit on frequency bandwidths assigned to the amateur radio service – all others are ordered into immediate radio silence for the duration of an event. In practice most amateur radio operators are to be assigned as control operators in times of emergency. Times in which RACES rules go into effect include natural, technological accidents, nuclear attacks, terrorist incidents and bomb threats.

Military Auxiliary Radio Service, otherwise known as MARS is sponsored by the US Department of Defense and is separately operated by the Army, Navy and Air Force. It also incorporates radio operators who are on active duty, reserve and National Guard Units, including Navy and Marine Corps as well the National Oceananic and Atmospheric Administration ships and Coast Guard cutters and shore stations. MARS specializes in worldwide emergency communications. There are over 5,000 dedicated and skilled ham radio operators who make up the specialized corps whose motto is to “Proudly Serving Those Who Serve” in its voluntary force. MARS main mission is to provide auxiliary communications for the military, federal, civil and disaster officials during times of emergency. On a day-to-day basis they are involved in handling communications traffic between service personnel – active duty, reserve, guard, or retired as well specific federal employees outside the United States.

MARS involvement was in evidence after terrorists attacked and destroyed the World Trade Center on 9.11.2001, providing emergency communications traffic in the aftermath. On January 12th, 2010, after a massive 7.0 earthquake, MARS again was on the ground providing emergency communications amid the aftershocks during the interruption of normal communications and working out of tents. The MARS operators traveled in teams along with medical and humanitarian organizations. All the people providing emergency services at these incidents and others are true heroes.

Skywarn is a program operated by the United States National Weather Service with the primary objective of supplying eyewitness accounts of severe weather activity. The information is used to determine the nature of developing severe weather activity as well intensity in issuing warnings and watches. The spotters are trained by local National Weather Service offices. Many of the Skywarn volunteers are highly trained amateur radio operators utilizing voice and digital communications.

ARRL/RAC Field Day is an important amateur radio tradition occurring in the fourth full weekend in June of each year. While some may consider it a contest, its underpinnings are highly serious in nature. Field day is conducted ’off the grid’ and runs good weather and bad. Equipment is powered by generators, solar and wind turbine as well battery operation and other specialized means. There are many special technologies used and modes of operation, including voice, data and Morse code. All bands are used excluding 60, 30, 17 and 12 meter bands. Transmit levels are also equated into the mix. Hams contact hams all over the United States and Canada recording data on reception, intelligibility, power output, time of day, call identification – amateurs work as a team in contacting as many stations as possible around North America. Many clubs will invite both the media and general public to observe during the event.

When weather, natural, man-made or war/terrorism emergencies strike, amateur radio operators fill the void left by busy governmental, humanitarian, safety and law enforcement agencies. They are highly trained volunteers whose hobby has a very serious side in serving humanity in areas of their expertise. If you are interested in knowing more about amateur radio, then visit ARRL at A good book to read on the subject of Emergency Communications include ARRL’s Storm Spotting & Amateur Radio and Guide To Emergency Survival Communications by Dave Ingram.

About The Author: Andrew Boggs, BA has worked extensively in print and broadcast news both locally and nationally covering stories as a stringer for United Press International and Associated Press. He has also contributed as a stringer for ABC, CBS, NBC and Mutual Radio news. Currently he writes for Digital Journal and Bleacher Report as well webmaster for He also holds both FCC commercial and amateur radio licenses.

November 15, 2010   5 Comments

To all American Veterans past and present…

The staff of Ashbury International Group expresses our sincerest heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to all American Veterans past and present.  Thank you for the sacrifices you and your families make everyday to protect our great nation.

November 11, 2010   2 Comments

Band-Aids® – Not Gonna Cover It! (Part 2)

What Everyone Should Know About Disaster Medical First Aid (Part 2)

Last week we discussed the various personal injuries that should be anticipated as a result of calamities, emergencies and disasters. We mentioned that only 1% of the population in the United States is a First-Responder and how the other 99% relies upon so few to provide medical assistance to so many! We asked the question – so how do we stay alive and preserve lives of others? This week we crack open that first aid kit you’ve stashed away and apply a little scrutiny.

In the world of Emergency Medical Services (EMS), there’s a saying. “If it’s ugly, cover it up.” Now we’re not talking about Grandpa’s foot corns or that nasty looking, hairy mole growing on Auntie’s back, but this saying really is a great rule of thumb. Bleeding wounds need to be covered and compressed to get them to stop. So what do you need? First is protection for you as the emergency first aid provider. Blood-borne pathogens are a very real threat and always a serious safety concern.  Non-latex gloves are a necessity – and not just one pair. Have a minimum of 3 pair – all extra large (they fit almost everyone). Also, protect your eyes from spurting or splashing blood with goggles.

Sterile gauze and roller bandages are essential items to have on hand during a bleeding incident. You need to create a pressure bandage (remember that first aid class mentioned earlier?) which stops most bleeding. Don’t have gauze? Towels, sheets, shirts – any clean fabric makes for a good emergency alternative. Most bleeding will stop with applied pressure.

But wait. How about family members or co-workers mentioned in part 1 of this blog post who might be taking blood thinners – Coumadin (also often known by its generic name warfarin) Dicumarol, Miradon, heparin and even aspirin are common blood thinners or anticoagulants. Also consider those who may have bleeding disorders (Hemophilia or congenital disorders). What about an arterial bleed? Arteries are under direct pressure from the heart. Thus, if an artery is cut or nicked, bleeding can be substantial and often difficult to stop. Seriously consider including a hemostatic (a substance which, when placed in or on a wound, quickly stops bleeding) in your emergency medical supplies. A hemostatic promotes rapid clotting in bleeding wounds. Celox® is the hemostatic of choice for the ICE PACK™ Medical First Aid module in our Emergency Sustainment System (ESS). We use the Celox® Trauma Gauze which is simple to apply, requires no medical knowledge or training, and can be used for both moderate to severe bleeding as well as covering serious burns.

Fractures & Dislocation
Broken bones and joint dislocation are common injuries among many natural, man-made and war/terrorism disaster scenarios. The most important thing you can do is to immobilize the affected limb or joint with a splint. This minimizes pain and helps limit further damage to the limb or joint. Christy Hodge, a National Registered Paramedic, says that just about anything can be used to splint an injury including magazines, rolled newspapers, or even selected pieces of broken debris. However, if you want to truly be prepared, consider adding a SAM® Splint to your supplies. The SAM® Splint (also included in our Medical ESS) is made of a thin core of pliable aluminum alloy sandwiched between two layers of malleable foam. It allows you to form a ridged splint into just about any shape you might need. This blog post is by no means a first aid course, but always remember to splint above and below the injured site and don’t secure the splint so tightly as to cut off circulation!

Other Considerations

Diarrhea. Not a pleasant subject, but even a less pleasant experience – especially if you are in an emergency situation. Put some anti-diarrheal medication into those medical supplies of yours. We do! (As an aside, make sure you’ve planned adequately for sanitary disposal of human waste) Just remember – all medications have expiration dates. The subject of OTC (over the counter) drug expiration is actually a bit controversial, but the rule around here is to replace drugs once expired. It probably won’t break your budget and it is safest to rest easy knowing you have full-potency with any drug.

Pain & Inflammation. Ouch! Not many injuries or illnesses come without pain and discomfort. Make sure you include a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol™) as well as an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen (Advil™). Both drugs reduce fever. Ibuprofen is also a pain reliever, of course, but some have heightened sensitivity to drugs. Keep this consideration in mind for all your medications. If you include aspirin for instance – does anyone in your family or those working around you have an allergy to aspirin? Some people do. Be sure you know about drug allergies and sensitivities of family members and co-workers to medications before you add them to your medical first aid supplies!

Prescription Drugs. Speaking of medications – what about that pill you take for high blood pressure or for thyroid disease or a hundred other ailments which require maintenance prescription drugs? You should certainly try to stock up on these important drugs. In most cases this is actually easier said than done, however. First, prescriptions are written around the concept of a single monthly dose of medication. Don’t skip your dosage just to try to increase your emergency stock! Doing so is not healthy and, depending on the drug and medical condition, could be life-threatening. Getting your physician to prescribe you more than your monthly dose could be challenging. Not to mention insurance companies won’t pay for more of a drug than what you are taking on a monthly basis – so it could be expensive if you have to pay “out of pocket”. Solution? Talk to your doctor about your concerns about having a backup supply of meds. Together you will likely come up with an alternative for your particular condition and circumstances. Here is one final note on prescription drugs. Regardless of your position on drug expiration dates, don’t ignore the expiration date on nitroglycerin (often prescribed to heart patients) and insulin (diabetic patients) in particular. These medications (among other specific prescription drugs) should not be taken after their expiration date.

Dental. It’s safe to say that few people enjoy a trip to the dentist. However, a sudden severe toothache, broken crown or tooth damage in the middle of a disaster situation could have you begging to hear the screeching whine of a dentist’s drill. Swollen gums due to something as significant as facial trauma or as simple as food stuck between your teeth can bring miserable circumstances to a whole new level. So – don’t forget your teeth when you are scrutinizing your emergency medical first aid kit! Include the simplest tools of dental care such as floss and toothpicks. Other important items include salt (rinse your mouth with warm saltwater to relieve toothaches & sore gums) and Orabase with Benzocain (for canker sores, cold sores, fever blisters). Some may remember mom saying to put an aspirin on a tooth causing pain or on an irritating canker sore. Mom was wrong. Aspirin slowly dissolving in close contact with the skin can produce chemical burns.

The following are additional important items that any first-rate disaster medical emergency kit should include:

  • First Aid manuals and guides (signed up for that first aid class yet?) Give thought to whether your situation requires these items in other languages.
  • Notepad & pen (document those medications as well as what medical interventions were done & when)
  • Headlamp
  • Hand sanitizer; gels or wipes
  • NIOSH N95 respirator
  • Goggles (eye protection)
  • CPR barrier
  • Alcohol wipes (Lots!)
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Trauma shears
  • Tweezers & magnifying glass
  • Hypoallergenic medical tape
  • Bandages (not just Band-aids®, but abdominal trauma pads as well for large-area wounds or excessive bleeding and butterfly strips for wound closure)
  • Gauze dressings (including gauze roll)
  • Foil blanket (for exposure)
  • Sunblock
  • Heat and cold packs
  • Cloth slings
  • Tarp (to protect the injured from the elements and harsh environmental conditions if needed)
  • Over-the-Counter (OTC) meds including: aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, a decongestant (tablets) diphenhydramine HCL (Benedryl) for allergic reactions, anti-diarrhea, eye drops, antacids. Note only certain types of decongestants are recommended for those with high blood pressure.
  • Several pairs of extra large size latex gloves
  • Emergency Dental Kit

How did your first aid kit hold up under a little scrutiny? Our Monday Matters final thought – “Survivor or statistic. The choice is yours…” (yes, it’s our company tag line, but it couldn’t be more appropriately used than in this discussion!). Reading this blog post is absolutely no replacement for qualified professional medical advice and certified first aid training. Contact the Red Cross and schedule first aid training for your family or office now!


Did you miss part one is this series? Click here to read Band-Aids® – Not Gonna Cover It!

November 8, 2010   3 Comments