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Hurricane Katrina knocked out all sorts of communications in the Gulf Coast, including radio towers for police, fire and EMT, commercial radio and television broadcasting and cellular communications. Towers were blown down or damaged, transmitters flooded, power was lost, terrestrial land lines were down and personel evaculated. Without a terrestrial infrastructure, satellite phones often supplied the only communications links.

But there was another communications link available. One that’s been used for emergency communications since its inception over 100 years ago — Amateur Radio

The American Radio Relay League reports that 800 Amateur Radio operators from all over the US have signed up to aid the Hurricane Katrina relief and recovery effort now under way along the US Gulf Coast.

At this point, an estimated 200 Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) volunteers are en route or in the pipeline for processing and deployment. In addition, Amateur Radio manufacturers and equipment suppliers have stepped forward to donate radio equipment for use in the field.

Amateur Radio clubs are located all over the US and around the world. As of 2004 there are about 3 million amateur radio operators worldwide, 60,000 in UK, 70,000 in Germany, 11,000 in Sweden, 5,000 in Norway, 57,000 in Canada, 140,000 each in South Korea and Thailand, 600,000 in Japan and 700,000 in the USA.

In Ham Radio simplex communications (push to talk) allows skilled radio operators to talk across town on VHF or UHF frequencies, or across the world on the HF (shortwave) bands of frequencies.

Hams also have another powerful tool available, repeaters. Repeaters are radio relay devices usually located on the top of a mountain or tall building. A repeater allows the licensed Ham to have radio coverage for hundreds of miles from just a small handheld or mobile two-way radio.

Within amateur radio, one can pursue interests such as providing communications for a community emergency response team; antenna theory; satellite communication (see AMSAT and OSCAR series satellites); disaster response and Skywarn; packet radio (using data transmission protocols similar to that used on the Internet, but via radio links).

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment for communications duty in the public service.

H.F. H.F. V.H.F. U.H.F
1800-1825 kHz
1975-2000 kHz
3.50-3.55 MHz
3.93-3.98 MHz
3.984-4.000 MHz
7.079-7.125 MHz
7.245-7.255 MHz
10.10-10.15 MHz
14.047-14.053 MHz
14.22-14.23 MHz
14.331-14.350 MHz
21.047-21.053 MHz21.228

21.267 MHz
28.55-28.75 MHz
29.237-29.273 MHz
29.45-29.65 MHz
50.35-50.75 MHz
52-54 MHz
144.50-145.71 MHz
146-148 MHz
222-225 MHz
420-450 MHz
1240-1300 MHz
2390-2450 MHz

There are five primary bands that make up the Public Safety Radio Pool:

Low-Band VHF 30 MHz to 50 MHz
Mid-Band VHF 72 MHz to 76 MHz
High-Band VHF 138 MHz to 144 MHz
  148 MHz to 174 MHz
  220 MHz to 222 MHz  
Low-Band UHF 406.1 MHz to 420 MHz  
  450 MHz to 470 MHz  
  470 MHz to 512 MHz  
800 MHz Band 806 MHz to 824 MHz  
  851 MHz to 869 MHz  

The 800 MHz band includes the nationwide common-use frequencies specified by the National Public Safety Planning Advisory Committee (NPSPAC):

Calling 866.0125
Mutual Aid #1 866.5125
Mutual Aid #2 867.0125
Mutual Aid #3 867.5125
Mutual Aid #4 868.0125
Portable/Mobile 868.7875 (low power)

In addition, the 700 MHz band is scheduled to become available in 2006 after the current occupants, UHF television broadcasters, finally vacate the band and move to their new digital TV frequencies. The assignments from 764 MHz to 776 MHz and from 794 MHz to 806 MHz are reserved for public safety use.

Amateur radio has a long and storied heritage.

Not long after Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the Morse code letter “s” from Poldhu, on the southwest tip of England, to St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 1901, amateur experimenters throughout the world were trying out the capabilities of the first “spark gap” transmitters. In 1912, Congress passed the first laws regulating radio transmissions in the U.S.

By 1914, amateur experimenters were communicating nation-wide, and setting up a system to relay messages from coast to coast, the beginning of the American Radio Relay League (FAQ).

In 1927, the precursor agency to the FCC was created by Congress and specific frequencies were assigned for various uses, including ham bands.

Today, Amateur Radio operators have their own satellites, chat with space stations, bounce signals off the moon and are at the cutting edge of many technologies. Computers, digital systems, slow scan television, cross-band repeaters and other concepts.

Ham radio operators use two-way radio stations from their homes, cars, boats and outdoors to communicate with each other using voice, computers, and Morse code. Listen to amateurs talking through an FM voice repeater (RealAudio).

Although the main purpose of Amateur Radio is fun, it is called the “Amateur Radio Service” because it also has a serious face. The FCC created this “Service” to fill the need for a pool of experts who could provide backup emergency communications. Countless lives have been saved where skilled hobbyists act as emergency communicators to render aid, whether it’s during an earthquake, hurricane or other emergency.

Dennis Motschenbacher is one of hundreds of radio operators now trying to help. On Monday morning, the 57-year-old sales and marketing manager for the American Radio Relay League, packed up his 5-year-old, four-door Toyota Camry and headed for Mississippi with food, water, camping gear — and his ham radio equipment. Once there, Motschenbacher will join some 700 other ham radio volunteers providing communications between evacuee shelters and agencies bringing in food, water and other supplies.

The volunteers carry their own fuel for their generators and bring all the equipment they need. RV Solar Kits work, too. Ham radio operators can also use their equipment with laptop-based computer software to help re-establish e-mail access over the Internet to further assist with communications. Used ham radio systems can be bought for as little as $100, while newer, state-of-the-art hardware can run as high as $5,000.

In this disaster a number of ham emergency stations and networks have been involved in providing information about this disaster from WX4NHC, the amateur radio station at the National Hurricane Center to the Hurricane Watch Net, the Waterway Net, Skywarn and the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN). ComputerWorld, MSNBC, and Google have more.

An internet audio feed has been setup to stream live audio of the West Gulf ARES Emergency Net which is handling emergency amateur radio traffic for areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. The net is active 24 hours per day. A mirror of the above audio stream has been added here. Links to dozens of live, streaming sources from the area are available at Webcasters.org.

New Orleans Fire Radio and City Frequencies include a Scanner Database and eHam Radio networks. The New Orleans Katrina Wiki has additional scanner and IRC information. Radio Reference has a Wiki with the Status of Public Service Radio Systems.

e-Ham says the Maritime Mobile Service Network web site has a list of radio frequencies and online resources. The FCC has a Katrina page up with links to emergency information. FEMA has posted a listing of web sites that are being used to locate missing persons.

The Northern Command is leading the military effort. Its mission is homeland defense and civil support. Here’s a Transcript of Adm. Timothy J. Keating, Commander.

DailyWireless related stories include 100th Anniversary of Wireless, Watson, I Want You!, First Transatlantic Broadcast, Katrina Telecomunications Report, Live From New Orleans, SolarPC, On Mt. Saint Helens, Wireless Streetlight, Solar Powered AP, More Solar WiFi, 700 MHz On The Line and WiMax: Trial By Fire.

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