On the ARRL PR mailing list, there’s been a lot of talk about an artice in Fire Chief magazine. The article advocates the licensing of firefighters so that they can use amateur radio repeaters in case their fancy, new 800-MHz systems fail or become overloaded in an emergency. Some on the list have noted that several jurisdictions have done this already, even going so far as to set up and operate their own repeaters.
This brings up a number of interesting considerations. For example, is this kind of operation legal? The rules clearly state that amateur radio cannot be used for business purposes, but don’t say anything about government agencies using amateur radio.
One guy noted that if these repeater systems are closed repeaters and not regularly used, there’s a good chance that they won’t work in an emergency. Regular amateur operation is a continual check on a repeater’s availability, and helps ensure that when needed, the repeater will work.
This same gentleman also noted how complex modern radios can be. He wrote:
I encountered a Director of a Health Dept. who had the idea he would buy [amateur radio] equipment and license his employees too. Then I asked him how many of them would use the equipment on a regular basis so that they would be familiar with the equipment when the disaster occurred. I showed him how complex the equipment can be with various menus and controls. Then I asked him if his employees would be trained to conduct net operations and handle message traffic. He decided to rely on Hams.
I’d like to think that this is an opportunity for Amateur Radio to move to a higher level of cooperation with emergency services agencies. While this will happen in some cases, I’m not hopeful that this will really be a boon for ham radio. For this to work, government officials must enlist the help of the amateur radio community at large, and the amateur radio community must be willing to step up and help. I don’t see this happening in lots of places…..but it might.