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Communications plans need to be in place BEFORE disaster strikes!

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  • Communications plans need to be in place BEFORE disaster strikes!

    I just returned from a two-day state hospital conference on disaster preparedness. We had several sessions that covered different incidents in WA in the last year and how healthcare (hospitals and EMS) was involved. What stunned me was that, without exception, every description very early on included something to the affect that "we had no communications". Worse, nobody seemed to notice or see anything unusual about that! This was true even in a school shooting incident, where phone service was undamaged, but responding agencies lacked the appropriate phone numbers or radio frequencies to communicate and coordinate with each other. Imagine how much worse it was at the Oso mudslide or the Carlton Complex Fire, where both landline and cell service were interrupted!

    This institutional lack of planning for emergency communication is unacceptable. Agencies that may respond to disasters together need to have plans in place to be ready for the worst during chaotic scenarios. At the very minimum they should all have phone lists with all relevant up-to-date landline and cell numbers. Much better would be to have radios programmed with all the necessary frequencies and to know exactly what channel each agency uses. A working agreement with local ARES to coordinate long-range communications would also be huge. Most hospital and EMS personnel seem completely unaware of the capabilities that amateur radio operators offer.

    I realize that in big cities and with many agencies this communication planning becomes a real challenge. However, it needs to be done! There is just no reason to hear the same complaint about lack of communications for one incident after another, with nothing being done to correct it. We are actively working on this in our little community. Hopefully the urban areas will take heed too.

  • #2
    Three things need to happen for proper handling of a disaster.

    1. The disaster plan needs to be three typewritten pages or LESS. In most disasters, you will never get off the first page, before safety dictates actions.

    2. Money and education need to focus on the "pre-event" part of the disaster. 10 minutes in to a disaster is not the time to figure out your shortcomings and manpower shortages.

    3. The key person/persons need to be single and prepared. Having a CEO/Corp person in "charge" is an accident waiting to get worse, as they can not focus on the event. They will focus on the business. Business continuity is good, but it too - is secondary to the disaster, health and welfare.

    As to the comms plans, Jim is absolutely correct....many organizations and served agencies EXPECT infrastructure that is know to fail, to remain in place and 100% functional in spite of reality and past experience. In the absence of commercial power and comms, they often expect that impossible to find and fund, "Someone" to pony up equipment, expertise and support to duplicate what "was".

    Post 9/11 hundreds of millions of dollars was provided by the feds and the states to "internetwork" radios and first responder devices so that fire could talk to the LLEO, and hospitals could communicate directly with triage on the scene. Not one locality or state has completed a system that will do so, let alone provide any testing, training or status updates as to why. The money has been spent and the system is no better off today than it was 15 years ago.

    Once again, the ONLY communication available to hospitals, shelter centers, warming locations, emergency Red Cross during the first several days of our Feb 2015 ice event was a loose but capable cadre of ham radio operators in Fentress, Cumberland and Putnam County TN, and the city of Crossville. Everything else was down, damaged or lacking needed infrastructure.

    And not one served agency thanked the radio operators or provided any funding or asked them to be involved in the post mortem assessments of "what went wrong" - much as it has been for 45+ years of my involvement with ham radio emergency response.
    fcphdJim likes this.

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    • #3
      I just watched the movie San Andreas. It is about human reactions to a terrible and unimaginable earthquake. While watching the movie, it dawned on me the importance of communication. In the story when the disaster had happened, the daughter was still able to contact her father using her mobile phone. But the daughter is in the ruins already. Well, in disasters like that when buildings were torn down and collapsing, how could the mobile phone work?

      Anyway, when real disaster strikes like that in the movie, how do we communicate? I have no clear answer to that except maybe smoke signals?

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      • #4
        Absolutely a huge issue here. Radio communication devices that operate without phone lines or cell towers should be standard equipment in all hospitals, schools, and any other large building such as a mall, large office, or big box store, anywhere a large number of people might be at the time of a disaster. I don't know why this isn't already in place since radios and walkie-talkies are so easy to obtain and use.

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        • #5
          Hospitals are already federally required to have redundant communications options and updated disaster plans. Where I work we have the regular radio they use to communicate with EMS, a Hospital Emergency and Administrative Radio (HEAR), a satellite phone, and both UHF and VHF amateur radios.

          The problem is that there are only two of us who are licensed hams and ARES members who can legally use the amateur radios, and at the moment we realistically have only about three employees who understand the use of any of the other devices. Worse, the hospital has no real plan in place at the moment to communicate with any agencies besides EMS. Rest assured, our soon-to-be-updated disaster plan and employee training will remedy that!

          Fortunately I live in a county with very few people, and everyone in emergency-related positions know each other. We also have a relatively high percentage of hams in the area. Because of this we have people in all agencies who have radios with the correct frequencies already programmed and who know enough to handle inter-agency communications. Hopefully soon we will be able to actually formalize the system in our county's comprehensive emergency management plan.

          In an urban area this is much harder to organize and put into practice. It should still be a high priority though. With all the money spent and all the technology that we have available it is simply ridiculous to still hear, "We couldn't communicate!"

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          • #6
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