Family and Community Emergency Communications Plan

Could you call for help or even just let family know that you were OK in an emergency without relying on telephones, cell phones, or Internet?

For about 24 hours February 18-19 in part or all of 4 counties (Hamilton, Warren, Fulton, and Herkimer) the answer was a resounding NO. There was a complete or partial outage of all regular telecommunications systems, including cell phones. Informal reports are that the outages were even more widespread.

This incident only lasted a day, but what if it were days or weeks, coupled with an ice storm, hurricane, or other disaster/emergency situation. What if personal travel was also impossible due to ice, snow, or downed trees and wires? How would you communicate??

Cell phones don't work everywhere even in the best of times, and both cell and wired phone systems may not work in even a minor disaster or emergency situation. Be prepared to help yourself, your family, and your community.

The most powerful radio communications service available to private citizens is Amateur Radio. Getting a license is not overly difficult and equipment doesn't have to be expensive. If you are interested in getting licensed, please contact a nearby radio club. However we realize Amateur Radio is not for everyone, and even if you are interested it takes some time to get licensed.

There is a simple and inexpensive way you can get started to help yourself, your family, and your community to be prepared for emergency situations when telephone, cell phone, and Internet communications may not work.

A family and community emergency communications plan can be implemented using simple low cost FRS 2-way radios that do not require a technical test or license. Other unlicensed radio services such as Citizens Band (CB), Multiple Use Radio Service (MURS), and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) can also be used in an integrated system, with Amateur Radio operators providing the longer distance communications and links to the emergency operations center.

This will only work if enough citizens become involved. The basic idea is that if enough people in an area have the capability of at least local communications independent of any public or commercial systems, they can exchange information and relay it to where it needs to go. This might be by relaying to someone who does have a working phone, Internet, or cell connection; or to someone such as a local amateur radio operator who can reach out over greater distances.

The radios used can be simple inexpensive FRS 'walkie-talkies.' Many households already have these radios. If not they can be purchased anywhere for as little as $30. The range is very limited, but if you and your neighbors have them, you can communicate with each other and relay important information to where it needs to go. The key to such a plan is that a lot of people have the radios, know how to use them, and monitor in an emergency situation. The requires some organization, basic training, and standard procedures.

People who need or desire greater communications distance can use other radio services, such as GRMR, MURS or CB, or ultimately they can get an Amateur Radio license. Coordination between all communicators will result in a robust communications network that can not be disrupted by natural disasters, cut lines, or any other incident.

This draft document Elements of a Disaster Preparedness Supplemental Communications Plan offers a lot of food for thought.
Here is how the idea was implemented in one county: What is Neighborhood Radio Watch?
This is something any community could and should do. It will not be expensive or complicated. It only requires some organization and participation by enough people.

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