Be pre­pared

West-Cum­ber­land Ra­dio Club does the talk­ing when oth­ers can­not

The Amherst News - - FRONT PAGE - By Christo­pher Gooding

Small, but mighty. Ama­teur ra­dios can be used to es­tab­lish com­mu­ni­ca­tions across the province in an emer­gency. Cum­ber­land County’s EMO co-or­di­na­tor Mike John­son said ama­teur ra­dio op­er­a­tors play a vi­tal role in an emer­gency, such as what’s tak­ing place in Texas with ood­ing from hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

Forty-eight hours into the state of emer­gency in Hous­ton, Texas, where a trop­i­cal storm caused mas­sive flood­ing a new trou­ble was emerg­ing: peo­ple couldn’t charge their cell­phones.

It seems triv­ial in face of the ris­ing wa­ters, loss of life and need to evac­u­ate the city that is home to 2.3 mil­lion peo­ple, but los­ing the ease and con­ve­nience of mod­ern cell­phone com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a real anx­i­ety for many try­ing to stay in con­tact with loved ones dur­ing an emer­gency, Cum­ber­land County Emer­gency Mea­sures Of­fi­cer Mike John­son ex­plains.

“One of the big­gest con­cerns peo­ple have is the abil­ity to recharge their emer­gency de­vices,” John­son said. “One of the things about our so­ci­ety to­day is that we are so con­nected and when we sever that con­nec­tion our nor­mal world goes away.”

New York City ex­pe­ri­enced sim­i­lar cir­cum­stance in 2012 when Hur­ri­cane Sandy plum­meted al­most two mil­lion city res­i­dents into a power out­age. Some of the first im­ages fol­low­ing the storm were pub­lic cell­phone charge sta­tions set up by pri­vate cit­i­zens still with power.

More re­cently, At­lantic Canada ex­pe­ri­enced its own cell­phone shut­down at the be­gin­ning of Au­gust. A ma­jor ser­vice out­age caused by dam­age to Bell Aliant’s fi­bre op­tic grid im­pacted In­ter­net, TV, wire­less and land­line phones. The 4 1/2 hour dis­rup­tion caused flights to be de­layed at both Monc­ton and Halifax air­ports, but more griev­ous was the loss of 911 ser­vices to the area and Trunk Mobile Ra­dios, or TMR, which con­nect emer­gency re­spon­ders through­out the re­gion.

While many At­lantic Cana­di­ans looked at the dis­rup­tion light­heart­edly on so­cial me­dia, John­son’s net­work was re­spond­ing be­hind the scene to put an emer­gency com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem in place.

“When you have the phones go down and TMR go down you don’t have a lot left,” John­son said.

What is at their dis­posal is ‘ham.’

Ama­teur ra­dio, or ham ra­dio, uses a non-com­mer­cial ra­dio fre­quency and its roots go back to the 19th cen­tury. To­day, op­er­a­tors can use the tech­nol­ogy to com­mu­ni­cate with across the globe and even the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion and it is those li­censed op­er­a­tors who go into ac­tion when a mas­sive com­mu­ni­ca­tion dis­rup­tion ser­vice oc­curs.

“We have an in­cred­i­ble group here. It’s the West Cum­ber­land Ama­teur Ra­dio Club. They re­spond by go­ing out and man­ning the fire de­part­ments,” John­son said.

Ox­ford, Tid­nish, Amherst. Pug­wash and Springhill have ham ra­dio equip­ment on site and some­day John­son ex­pects to see the re­main­ing de­part­ments equipped. Un­til then, op­er­a­tors can bring in equip­ment. With the vol­un­teer op­er­a­tors avail­able to man th­ese ra­dios, it frees up a trained fire fighter to re­spond to emer­gen­cies. A ham op­er­a­tor him­self, John­son says the ra­dio com­mu­nity is happy to re­spond dur­ing an emer­gency. They’re also ob­li­gated to. “Hav­ing that level of com­mu­ni­ca­tion when ev­ery­thing else is down is ab­so­lutely in­valu­able. With the ama­teur com­mu­nity, part of their li­cens­ing re­quire­ments are when gov­ern­ments come to them and says ‘We need you to op­er­ate,’ they are re­quired through their li­cens­ing… it’s a com­mit­ment.”

Emer­gen­cies can­not be pre­dicted but they can be planned for and its in the plan­ning stages pat­terns can be found, John­son said. More than 70 per cent of the emer­gen­cies in Cum­ber­land County have been weather re­lated. Whether it’s spring flood­ing or a win­ter ice storm like the one in 2009 that shut down power to Springhill, the weather has a hand in re­mind­ing peo­ple of the power of na­ture. More re­cently, ris­ing sea lev­els have tipped the tide over dyke walls out­side of Amherst. Fall 2016 did not be­come a wide­spread emer­gency, but John­son said if the trend con­tin­ues it could have con­sid­er­able con­se­quences to the re­gion.

“We have 33,000 peo­ple in Cum­ber­land County. If we had some­thing as dev­as­tat­ing as what’s hap­pened in Texas, ob­vi­ously there’s just not enough emer­gency re­spon­ders to go around and help ev­ery­body so peo­ple have to be in a po­si­tion to help them­selves.”

Be­ing self-suf­fi­cient for the first 72 hours in an emer­gency, John­son said, gives of­fi­cials time to as­sess the prob­lem, the needs, and ex­e­cute a plan and bring in re­sources.

John­son of­fers work­shops on cre­at­ing a 72-hour emer­gency plan.

“I’d like to see Cum­ber­land County pub­lic be­come one of the best pre­pared in the province of Nova Sco­tia,” John­son said.

Christo­pher Gooding/Amherst News

With a live news­feed pro­vid­ing up­dates on flood­ing in Texas be­hind him, Cum­ber­land County Emer­gency Mea­sure Of­fi­cer Mike John­son checks in with lo­cal ama­teur ra­dio op­er­a­tors.

Christo­pher Gooding/Amherst News

Small but mighty, ama­teur ra­dios can be used to es­tab­lish com­mu­ni­ca­tions across the province in an emer­gency. Many as­tro­nauts are ama­teur ra­dio op­er­a­tors and the tech­nol­ogy has been used to con­tact the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.