Self Evaluation Primer of Disaster Communications
By Major James R. Sohl, CAP, K5RIC, firstname.lastname@example.org
Using Internet and Cellular Telephone Services
Copyright March 1996. Reprinted here by permission.
The basic text of this document was an Internet message
written and sent by James R. "Ric" Sohl, in March 1997.
It was written primarily for USAF Auxiliary - Civil Air Patrol
and for Amateur (Ham) radio emergency service personnel, but it
relates to any disaster relief agency.
The idea came during a Ham radio club meeting where the
reliance of Cellular telephone service and the Internet during
disaster events was discussed. A concern that government and
private sector agencies that provide disaster support were beginning
to rely more on Cellular and Internet services, could create
problems during actual disaster events.
This is because the main training and evaluation program
for disaster relief training and planning is simulated disaster
events. Most of these do not provide a realistic situation
regarding a major event and the loss of a large percentage of
public communications services.
This "Internet / Cellular Communications Exercise"
is designed as a self evaluation for any disaster relief
agency. Be honest, you only hurt yourself, and your agency, by
not doing a true evaluation.
Even though the event is directed toward Civil Air Patrol
and Amateur radio staff, if can be used by any agency
It does assume some factors, that do not relate to the
general public. Most disaster relief agencies have trained members,
who are better prepared to deal with a disaster event. Therefore
the following is assumed:
- has received training in disaster relief,
- First Aid training,
- Survival training at least to a basic level,
- Expects to travel (and possibly has travelled) to a disaster
- Is prepared to perform some duty to provide relief / support to the event at hand.
- Understands that disaster relief work is hazardous
- Understands that communications between the
disaster area and surrounding areas is required.
- Understands that communications are also required within the disaster
- Understands that these communications provide a vital link to coordinate
support and prevent loss of life, and
- Understands that the efficiency and safety of ones staff
is greatly improved with good reliable communications.
- Is somewhat aware that a disaster can occur in your own home city and,
- Has made prior plans to have a "Disaster Kit"
readily available to provide for necessary Equipment and personal gear for a 72 hour
(or longer) time period.
The scenario for this simulation, was based on my experience
for more than thirty years in disaster / relief ground
and air support missions. The training records are noted
at the end of this document.
I know that some Civil Air Patrol (CAP) members, and amateurs
are thinking that our radio networks are outdated, in particular
our High Frequency long range networks. This is not limited to CAP
and amateur radio, as many key staff people in many agencies / departments,
feel the same way. Because of that, I have created the following:
Here is a little Internet / Cellular phone communications
Your community has just been hit by a disaster.
The following conditions now exist.
- No commercial power will be available for
72 hours. 60% of the power lines are down.
- 60% of all radio towers are out of service for 72 hours,
at a 45 degree angle to your city from South to North. (Odessa, TX
watch out, your trunking system just died, totally)
- Land line telephone service is lost to 60% of the community.
(This occurred at Alpine, TX, and occurs many weeknights between
Midland and Odessa, TX)
- Cellular telephone service is overloaded, and it takes
two hours to get a line, and you may only use the service for
3 minutes. (This occurred at Alpine, TX and occurs often in larger
- All city and county radio networks are reduced by 80%
(this figure is real for most trunking networks unless very well
planned. I based this one on Odessa Tx. and the locations of
- 60% of the broadcast stations (radio and television)
are off the air (see item 2.)
- The Cable TV system and satellite TV services
are completely out of service. (see item 1.)
- All Internet service providers are out of service (see
item 1, 3, and 4, this is not a joke.)
- 25 % of your fire department and police department equipment is destroyed.
- No gasoline is available from any underground tanks,
and the local government has taken over all overhead fuel storage
tanks for government use. If you can show them that your use
will support the recovery effort you may be able to get a small
amount of fuel.
- You have planned ahead (right) and have an emergency
gasoline powered generator to power your radio equipment, your
generator uses .7 gallons per hour of operation, how much fuel
do you have on hand (this may include your automobiles fuel tanks
if you have a way to get the fuel out) you have ________ gallons
of fuel, and can operate your generator for _______ hours. If
you use your automobile to charge your batteries, remember the
fuel consumption will be MUCH higher.
- Do you have food for 72 hours for all members of you
household? Note an MRE will feed two average people per meal.
(1200 Calories each, and they are a lot better than C and K rations)
- You do have five or ten gallons of drinking water don't
you? In Odessa everyone has some bottled water, but what
if tomorrow was your day to get fresh water?
- Do you have a way to keep warm during cold weather,
bed rolls, blankets, fireplace (for cooking as well. You did
plan for this right?)
- If we lost 60% of the radio towers we also lost a
great deal of homes and many would require shelter. Can your community
provide 60% of its population with emergency shelter. Your camping
gear will come in handy now, if it did not get destroyed with
A disaster noted above is a rare occasion, or is it?
Check out recent tornado activity in the Central US and check out the state of
Washington in the last two years. Much of what I described
has occurred to many communities during the last two
Is your community, and are YOU, prepared? Not just
to survive but can you help your community or the community 40
miles away? Do you have emergency radio's, both local (FM, 26.620)
and HF? Do you have spare/portable antennas, tools, food, water,
Civil Air Patrol and Amateur (ham) radio communications are
a life saver. These may be the only communications available
to contact the Outside world for Help and to take over the load for
the local networks.
When Alpine Texas was hit by an earthquake and a year or
two later, by a severe storm, the land line and cellular telephone
systems were total useless (overloaded). CAP and Amateur radio
became the primary communications link to the outside world for
the first few hours. Most of Alpine people were not even aware
that we where out of communications, or why.
Of note, most smaller areas are fed by fiber optic cable for long distance service.
This cable goes back to a main switch, usually located in another area.
One time I saw no long distance service available for two hours.
You could not call outside of the Alpine, TX area. Not Ft Davis nor Marfa, nor
Ft Stockton. Everything in this area is switched through Midland.
Granted if the need came up, the phone company should be able
to rig up something in a few hours that should allow some communications
outside the area. But how much communications can you provide
with only a few lines available? Ten outside lines (if your lucky)
to the more than 3,000 local phones. Your going to have
problems calling the hospital, much less someone outside the
During a disaster all conventional communications circuits will become
overloaded and additional networks must be put into service to
provide the needed communications to help your community get support
and aid from outside as well as provide additional communications
capacity to fill in between hospitals, Emergency Operations
Center, supporting local government communications needs (Radio
Amateur Civil Emergency Service RACES) health and welfare (Amateur
Radio Emergency Service ARES), emergency shelters, disaster support
agencies (Red Cross, Salvation Army) and providing local radio
and television broadcast stations with emergency information for
The communication requirements will vary and will be needed
everywhere, as the event proceeds and outside support becomes
available, the needs will change and may decrease.
All amateurs, both local, and from the surrounding areas
will be needed to provide the mail communications support role.
Local and long range networks will be required. After the initial
support is put into place, the Ham radio networks will began to
handle "health and welfare" messages with the outside
world and between shelters, hospitals, ect.
All Civil Air Patrol units and members will be needed to
provide many forms of emergency services, your local CAP network
can provide additional communications to support local needs,
as well as providing communications for your units non-communications
disaster response / support.
Read this message, close your eyes, and imagine that it
just occurred. Your radio tower (if you have one; many CAP members
only use a portable radio) came down, your home lost 40% of its
roof. You can put up a 20 foot pole for an emergency antenna
- Do you have any emergency power?
- Do you have a 30 watt or higher power mobile unit
installed in you automobile? If this unit was not used in
the last 7 days, count it as out of service.
- Do you have 1 gallon (1/2 gallon during cold season)
of drinking water per day per person for your home?
- Would you need to go to a store to purchase (they will
all be out of everything in one hour) food, water, batteries,
gasoline (none available) bed rolls, parts for replacement antenna's?
If you answered yes to any part of item 4, you need to go to
the store right now and get prepared.
- If you are using any portable radio
(this includes cell phones) that transmits, do you have
an alkaline battery pack (with spare batteries?) If not
count out your use of this radio after four hours of
use. If the rechargeable battery was not charged in the last 72 hours
count that battery pack as out of service. If you have not used
that portable radio in the last 7 days, count it out of service.
- Do you have (yourself or in your unit) an HF radio,
including portable antenna and emergency power source, that was
operated in the last 7 days? If not your HF system can not be
counted on when you need it. You do not have time to fix it now.
(This only applies to Amateur and CAP staff. )
I hope that I have made you think about what it
can be like during a disaster situation. I have seen some units
that only use their radios when on a mission and worst of all
some units have no HF capability at all. (This only applies to
Amateur and CAP staff. )
During the last three years I have called on local Texas
CAP repeaters and stated "This is a simulated emergency radio
communications test, I need a CAP station to answer my call to
test your capability to provide emergency communications on this
repeater. Is there any station available?" More than 50%
of the time I have failed to receive an answer. What would happen
if a CAP member was in an automobile accident, with a CAP radio
who tried using your repeater? (This only applies to Amateur
and CAP staff. )
During a disaster your repeater may fail, can your unit
still provide support communications without the repeater? (EVERYBODY
, do your radios have "talk around"? If not, your
Internet, E-Mail, facsimile, cellular and land line telephones
have made our daily communications simple, easy and very handy
to conduct our business. However, during a disaster all of these services
will be overloaded, or not useable. They can not be relied
upon for a true disaster event. During a disaster some of
these may work, and if they do, that will make things easier,
but you can not depend on that until it happens.
The thing that scares me is that many local governments,
disaster support agencies, and even CAP units and members are
relying on non tactical communications and are not maintaining
their local and long range radio communications capabilities or
relationships with RACES and ARES.
You should use your all of your radios at least once every
week. Check into a local and HF net each week, and your station
will work when the need arises. Do not forget to pack up those
emergency back up portable antenna (including coaxial cables,
ropes, anchors, ect) systems for each band.
If your unit does not have two (one should be yours) High
Frequency radio systems, that can operate on 4 MHz and 7 MHz,
with at least the capability to operate mobile, then, shame on
you and your unit. You're not fully prepared. (This only applies
to Amateur and CAP staff. )
I am open to any comments or ideas that you may wish to pass on.
This document may be re-printed as long as the original source
and author are noted. I would like notice of any publication
that uses this material, but prior notification is not required
unless you make changes in it. If you wish to change or edit
it, please send your changes for approval by E-Mail. I have no
problems with improvements as long as I have a copy for my records.
Maj. James "Ric" Sohl
USAF/AU-CAP Texas Wing Asst. DOK
Radio Calls: K5RIC [HAM] TEXAS CAP [USAF/AU] AFA4ZV [USAF/MARS]
Training and Experience of the author:
James R. Sohl, Licensed as a First Class Radiotelephone Operator,
with Ship Radar Endorsement, that was changed to a General Radio
Telephone Operator, with Ship Radar Endorsement. All such licensee's
were converted by an FCC rule change. Licensed as an Extra
Class Amateur Radio Operator, with a station call sign of K5RIC.
FAA Licensed Pilot, with more than 300 hours mission flight time
and 1,200+ hours total time.
Training and experience, as a communications officer for several
Sheriff and Police departments, as well as serving as a Civil
Defense Director / Coordinator for Brewster County and the City
Provided industrial communications service for many years to all
types of systems, from 200 kHz to 14 GHz, transmitters, receivers
and associated equipment. Designed and build specialized communications
More than 20 years service in the Civil Air Patrol as a Communications
Officer at both Squadron and Group level, and as an Assistant
Director of Communications for Texas.
Active in training and service as a Military Affiliate Radio Service
(USAF/MARS) and active and qualified as one of six SHARES stations
assigned to USAF/AU Texas Wing.
More than 20 years training and experience with Amateur (Ham)
radio emergency services, including, Radio Amateur Civil Emergency
Service (RACES) and Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and
the National Weather Service SKYWARN program.
Actual experience in many disaster events, starting with the
Flood at Sanderson, Texas in 1965. Experience as ground team
member, , deputy sheriff, fireman, rescue squad leader, ambulance
attendant, Mission Coordinator, Mission Communications Officer,
Mission Pilot, Counter Drug Pilot, Transport Pilot, Safety Officer,
Air and Ground Operations Officer, Net control operator for ARES,
and RACES networks.