In Emergencies, Volunteer Amateur Radio Operators Fill Vital Roles
Amateur radio operators will provide critical communications if Hurricane Dorian slams into Florida and affects Hillsborough County next week.
On Friday, leaders of the County's Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES) were calling in volunteers to man portable radios at emergency shelters as well as embed with emergency responders at fire district offices throughout the county.
RACES volunteers are vital links between these remote locations and the County's command center at the Public Safety Operations Complex. The operators will be in place throughout the storm, regardless of the usefulness of other means of communication - land-line telephones, cell phones, and similar devices that can be disabled by high winds or rising water.
No evacuation shelters had opened in Hillsborough County on Friday, which was days before the hurricane was forecast to affect West Central Florida.
There are thousands of licensed amateur radio operators in the County. Many train and volunteer to provide communications in emergencies. "We're essentially the last line of defense when other communications fail," says Matt Gibson, a RACES Assistant Emergency Coordinator and Public Information Officer.
Gibson is part of a command staff of eight amateur radio operators stationed at the Public Safety Operations Complex throughout the storm. They speak at least once hourly with 60 to 70 of their volunteer counterparts, positioned throughout the County. The command staff passes along important information from evacuation shelters and fire districts to emergency managers.
The amateur radio operators also are prepared to step in if others means of communication among emergency responders breaks down.
The volunteers are former police officers, firefighters, and military veterans, among others, whose interest in amateur radio becomes vital in emergencies such as hurricanes. "We view our service as a way to give back to the community," Gibson says.