Ham Radio, An Unlikely Lifeline

Amateur radio, or ham radio as it is most often called, was the original electronic “social media” with initial contacts between radio stations taking place in the 1890s, Steve Aberle noted in Domestic Preparedness.

According to the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the nation’s largest amateur radio society, Congress passed the Radio Act of 1912 requiring radio hobbyists to be licensed. The ARRL and FCC put the number of licensed amateur radio operators in the U.S. at 760,165.

Emergency services consist of two components: the Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES).

ARES is active before, during and after an emergency; ARES is generally responsible for emergency messages. RACES is activated only during an emergency and briefly afterward if government emergency management officials feel they need additional communications support. RACES is usually deactivated shortly after the emergency is declared over.

Ham radio is viewed as a supplemental resource. It may be needed because the main commercial communications systems are either overloaded or inoperable.

Operators can be employed in a wide range of situations and applications. They form a communications bridge until the main capabilities are restored.

Domestic Preparedness’ Aberle says, “Ham radio resources are available for emergency communications support to any public service agency, and can bridge interoperability gaps between served agencies on a local, tribal, and/or state level. Potential ham deployment locations include, but are not limited to, auxiliary command posts, emergency operations centers, emergency shelters, evacuation sites, fire stations, medical facilities, mobile disaster vehicles, police stations, public works sites, and volunteer intake centers.”

Ham radios are particularly useful because operators use a network of repeater ham stations as a way to communicate to other amateur operators around the world. The Useful Repeater Data Base Tools site helps operators find other ham repeaters in their own area or elsewhere.

Ham radio is not secure, which means that confidential information such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII) should not be transmitted over it. Ham radio is also not designed for high priority messages either. However, it is perfectly fine for lower priority or logistical message traffic.

Ham equipment can be a simple as a handheld transceiver or mobile devices configured to work inside vehicles or inside more sophisticated “radio shacks” housing a number of radios and antennas designed to function over a broad radio frequency spectrum.

Licenses come in three classes: Technician, General and Extra. Each requires passing a multiple-choice test.

Local clubs sponsor “Ham Crams” where individuals can spend a day going over the material and thttp://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license-classhen taking the test. These sessions are very intense; however, the high pass rate is a testament to the method.

About the Author

Professor Lawrence Dietz has more than 30 years of diversified military and commercial sector experience. Dietz retired as a Colonel from the USAR in 2002, having held command and staff assignments in PSYOP and military intelligence to include platoon, company and battalion command. He also served as the Deputy Commander for the NATO PSYOP Task Force (CJICTF) in Bosnia. Specialties include PSYOP, information operations, strategic intelligence and tactical intelligence. His commercial sector experience has included market intelligence, marketing, customer support and legal work dealing with information technology. Professor Dietz is an adjunct faculty member teaching within the Intelligence Studies program at American Military University. You may contact him at Lawrence.Dietz@mycampus.amu.edu.