Whatever your interest and motivation for getting into ham radio, the hobby has one undeniable benefit when things go terribly wrong in the local community: it may be the only means of communication in case of natural or man-made disaster when commercial radio, television, and phone systems are down.
Even if landline and mobile phones are functional, government and disaster response agencies have priority to use these channels of communication, which means personal calls are unlikely to get through. The internet may also be disabled or compromised. In this situation where personal communication is difficult at best, ham radio is the only practical means of getting messages across town and even farther.
Unfortunately this scenario is real too many times and has led to the emergency communications (EmComm) slogan, “When All Else Fails…Amateur Radio.”
Hams have a reputation for getting radios and antennas set up quickly without commercial power and organizing EmComm networks for sharing information and passing messages. This is particularly true of VHF/UHF equipment for local communication but extends to HF radios as well for reaching greater distances as needed. There is a long history of hams passing messages around the country; the system for doing so is still in place. We may find the formal message format quaint in this modern era of mobile phones and email, but when it’s the only thing you’ve got, it’s a real blessing.
If you are a ham who only has HF equipment for communicating long distances, consider obtaining a VHF/UHF transceiver and getting involved in a local or regional EmComm group such as area Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES). Many US counties and Canadian cities have ARES groups and there are similar organizations in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
These EmComm groups provide excellent training and practice in radio operation and protocol and are where many new hams get started in the hobby. Besides gaining good experience, you’ll be providing a wonderful public service.
If you need any more encouragement to apply this hobby to your community in times of disaster, consider that you may actually save lives, as another EmComm slogan reminds us:
If you need more convincing, check these out: