Emergency Communications and the Ham RVer

An original article by Don Hitt KB2ZE, Vice President of WITCARS (Winnebago Itasca Travelers Communications Amateur Radio Service)


As licensed Ham radio operators we have a role in emergency communications. Organizations such as ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service-www.ares.org) and RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service-www.races.net) are dedicated to emergency communications. The American Red Cross and Salvation Army utilize Amateur radio for backup communication with organizations such as SATERN (Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network-www.satern.org), their own Ham volunteers, and through the ARES and RACES organizations.


As RV owners we can play a unique roll in disaster services communications working from inside these other organizations.


Turtle Responders

I read an ARES E-Letter for July 19, 2006, and in it was a description of "Turtle Responders". Volunteer disaster services responders who bring their own house (RV) with them.


When a disaster or event lasts more than a couple of days, the "on-site" and "go-kit" hams are worn out. The responders need a place to live, water to drink, food to eat, and these support facilities are not always easy to provide. This starts to sound like a job for the "Turtle Responders" with RV's.


It might take a day or two for the "Turtle Responders" to get going, but when they arrive they have their own living accommodations, radio equipment, emergency power, and most importantly, the know how to run all this stuff. Equipment that is put aside just for emergencies seldom works when needed and no one knows how to use it or where to find it. In contrast "Turtle Responders" use their own equipment all the time so it probably works and they do know how to use it.


Personal Experience

So far my personal experience has been mixed. Local ARES and RACES groups have their own ideas on how to provide emergency communications using their communications trailer and go kits. When I volunteered my RV for a two day local event, I got the feeling that I was competing with their plan and their plan didn't include RV's.


I volunteered to help with Katrina communications, but I was told that the Red Cross was discouraging hams with RV's. They wanted ham volunteers who would live with the clients in shelters. I didn't go, but in hind sight, I should have. I don't know who in the American Red Cross made the decision to discourage hams with RV's, but I believe the idea was ill conceived. How many support people would have been freed up for other tasks if I provided power, communications equipment, my own housing, and I was able to stay for an extended period?



It seems to me that there needs to be layers of Ham radio emergency communications responders, just as there are with other types of responders.

First Ham Responders

They are the hams who happen to be at or near the event when it occurs.Their equipment is already setup and ready to go. The job is to get the word out that an event has happened and to get assessments of what is required to responsible agencies. We should all have emergency power for our radio equipment because, by chance, we might find ourselves as a "First Ham Responder".

Second Ham Responders

This is the "Go-Kit" bunch. Typically organized through ARES. These hams stay ready to go with portable equipment. They practice emergency communication through traffic handling and net practices. Their personal "Go-Kits" usually contain a change of clothes and some Granola bars. They can sustain communications for a day or two before they need other support.

Turtle Ham Responders

When the emergency response lasts longer than a day or two, what then? The Turtle Ham Responders (Hams with RV's) take a little while to get going, but when they get there they can stay for a while. They bring radios, generators, refrigeration, and shelter to sustain communications for extended periods. Utilization of Turtle Responders seems to be missing in most emergency plans.

Support Ham Responders

Lets not forget all the hams who come on the air to run the nets and relay messages from their homes outside the affected area. Organizations such as SATERN, Maritime Mobile Net, Hurricane Net, NTS (National Traffic System), etc. all contribute to the ham radio emergency communication network as well as the special ARES and RACES nets that come on the air when required. 

What does this have to do with WITCARS?

We want to encourage all the WITCARS members to get involved with other agencies and organizations involved with emergency communications. ARES, RACES, and SATERN come to mind. Talk up the "Turtle Responder" idea and see if they will include the use of hams with RV's in their plans. As prepared WITCARS hams we want to be ready to provide emergency communications services when called on to do so, and we want to encourage your involvement with the other ham radio emergency communications organizations.


If you’re a licensed amateur radio operator and a WIT member, we invite you to join WITCARS.  Check out our web sight at http://www.orgsites.com/ia/witcars/  Not yet licensed?  Check out http://www.hello-radio.org/ to learn more.  WITCARS is available to help you get started.