Hams and the responsibility to educate

This is an open letter to all hams involved in disaster planning or recovery.

Now that things have settled down a bit after the recent disaster in Madison county, those who participated are beginning to compare notes and stories, write up as much as we can, and figure out what went well and what didn’t.

During the disaster, a lot of local hams served as communication resources for many volunteer organizations who helped during disaster recovery. It turns out that for a number of these organizations, one or more of the following was true:

  • Their operation depended on having operational computers
  • They had no backup power source capable of more than a few minutes runtime
  • Their operation depended on an internet connection
  • They had no one on staff who understood networking
  • They depended on outside consultants or service providers who were not available during the disaster
  • Their operation depended on equipment like battery operated forklifts with no alternate charging source

It turned out that in several cases, it ended up being the ham radio operator on site who had the deepest knowledge of computer and networking skills. In one case, even after the servers and workstations needed to provide aid were running on generators, nothing worked. No one realized that the networking switches, etc also had to be powered.

One way to really help agencies with this is to make sure that exercises inject situations which cause people to have to think this through. So during the next emergency planning or exercise, try this series of events.

The power went out.

The internet is down.

Cell phones are down.

Any phone lines provided by cable service are down.

And it’s going to stay that way for five days.

I promise you, this is not an unrealistic scenario. It just happened in an area containing a million people.

About Steve

I'm Steve Conklin, AI4QR I'm employed by Salesforce, on the SRE team for Heroku. Interests include Linux, open source software and hardware, electronics and music, and amateur radio.
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