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Ham Radio In Emergencies

Ham radio has always been in the forefront whenever a disaster strikes, be it a flood, a cyclone, an earthquake or whatever kind of natural or man made situation.

With the capability of modern equipment to operate from 12 Volt batteries, the reliance on mains power is not there and so Hams are ideally equipped to work out in the field where basic amenities do not exist.

Indian hams have always rallied round in every possible emergency and their efforts have always been lauded.

Examples are the Koyna Dam disaster, The Gujarat Earthquake, The Bhopal gas tragedy, several cyclones on the Andhra coast, and more recently the Tsunami, when for several days ham radio was the only means of communication between the Andamans (where a group of hams were providentially present) and the mainland.

In most cases VHF radio, with its ease of portability, small antennae, is used for local coordination and HF for relaying the information over long distances. Basic wire antennae are usually sufficient for emergency HF communication as messages are usually only required to be sent on relatively short distances.

Ham radio is internationally accepted as the MAIN means of emergency communications and has proved it is invaluable in such situations.

In most parts of the world, digital communication is extensively used as there is a recorded message which can be referred to, unlike a voice message which can sometimes be misunderstood.

Packet radio and more recently Pactor, with its high speed transmission is very useful. The Winlink Pactor stations, with local Telpac feeds on VHF/UHF have been deployed in the US and it will not be long before such sophisticated setups are integrated into Indian Emergency communication protocols. One Winlink PMBO has already been set up in Chennai and is providing communication to seafaring hams, and it can be integrated into other requirements easily.

We do have VU2JAU OM Jayu as the Regional Disaster Communication coordinator for IARU. He is situated in Gwalior and is putting together plans for a national core group who can swing into action whenever a disaster strikes. ARSI has developed a number of “grab kits” which are being deployed all over India in strategic locations so hams are enabled to just “grab” the kit, take their radio and “go”. The kits have everything including RF cables, a 40/80M dipole, fold-up VHF antenna, basic tools etc so hams can deploy without having to gather all the stuff as is usual. The kits are sealed with a list of items that are inside and it is expected that the kits are not opened until required for an emergency.

Disaster communication is a major contribution which hams make on a regular basis and which is very visible.