EMERGENCY Communications

What is an emergency? An incident, by definition of the ICS (Incident Command System) manual, is any “planned or unplanned occurrence or event, regardless of cause, which requires action by emergency service personnel to prevent or minimize loss of life or damage to property and/or natural resources.”

What is a communications emergency? Generally, any time conventional or commercial communications are disrupted or overloaded by an incident, there is a communications emergency. The public service networks owned and maintained by Chester County and local municipalities may or may not be disrupted. If a communications emergency occurs, ARES/RACES may be activated to relieve pressure on emergency management networks for higher-priority traffic, or to replace non-operating circuits.

The specifications of an effective emergency communication service depend on the nature of the information that must be communicated. Pre-disaster plans and arrangements for emergency/disaster communications include:

  • Identification of clients who will need Amateur Radio communications services.
  • Discussion with these clients to learn the nature of the information that they will need to communicate, and the people with whom they will need to communicate.
  • Specification, development, and testing of pertinent services.

The result of this process is our Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). CCAR’s sponsor and served agency is Chester County Department of Emergency Services (CCDES). As the coordinating agency for all incidents that elevate beyond the means of local municipalities, our affiliation with this branch of County government allows our teams to deploy for CCDES directly--as well as for municipalities, other agencies and non-governmental organizations. All deployments are at the request of CCDES. We are their resource. We are not first responders and generally operate outside of “hot zones”, but often within secure areas. Our role is to provide backup communications wherever necessary.

The pre-planned types of communications we train for are:

  • Tactical communications— generally short, informational requests and replies of information using voice modes that often support logistics operations, 911 dispatch, incident command, search and rescue, damage assessment, storm reporting.
  • Formal written traffic— written messages between emergency managers or other officials, and lengthy lists or detailed messages requiring great accuracy. Voice and, increasingly, digital modes are used, especially radio email.
  • Health and welfare traffic— requests and information to and from disaster areas about the well-being of individuals. Voice and digital modes are used.

The principal goals of good emergency communications are:

  • Timeliness— taking and delivering the message as quickly as possible without sacrificing accuracy. Using the best mode or network is important, even if it means using the telephone or fax machine. Often, this means getting out of the loop entirely, as in handing the microphone to an official.
  • Conciseness with accuracy— introducing no mistakes into the chain of communications.
  • Efficiency-- using the minimum necessary airtime or bandwidth allows better use of a channel’s capacity, and contributes to an atmosphere that makes controlling the chaos of an incident easier. Say as little as possible, yet convey all the meaning.