Disasters kill one million people each decade and leave millions homeless worldwide.
In all, the United Nations reported 360 Natural disasters in 2005, with a death toll of 91,900 in addition to the tsunami that claimed some 250,000 lives. Tens of millions were left destitute and in need of aid. When relief workers arrive on the scene, they often find a complete or partial breakdown in telecommunications – telecommunications that are essential for finding out where the survivors are, how many people are injured or are dead, and how many need medical help or transportation to medical facilities.
Aid workers rely heavily on telecommunications to coordinate complicated logistics and ensure the effective delivery of rescue and relief operations.
The use of telecommunications resources by humanitarian organisations is often slowed or prevented by regulatory barriers that make it extremely difficult to import and rapidly deploy telecommunications resources for emergencies. Similar barriers impede the establishment of disaster preparedness and prevention measures. The Tampere Convention offers an immediate solution by providing ‘measures designed to prevent, predict and prepare for, respond to, monitor and/or mitigate the impact of disasters’. From Jan Egeland UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator and operational controller of the Tampere convention.
This second GAREC Global Amateur Radio Emergency Conference was held in conjunction with the ICEC (International conference for Emergency communications) over June 19 and 20th. Delegates represented Government organisations, Voluntary organisations and Private industry.
Speakers at the introductory session attended by both ICEC and GAREC delegates included:
Former Secretary General of the ITU Dr Pekka Tarjanne.
Finland Minister of Foreign Trade and development, Ms Paula Lehtomaki.
United Nations Under secretary-General for humanitarian affairs, Mr Jan Egland.
The representative for the International Federation of the red cross and Red cresent societies, Mr Johan Schaar Vice president if the IARU Mr Tim Ellam.
So far 35 countries have ratified the Tampere Convention. Getting more countries to ratify and applying the convention was the primary consideration for this years ICEC conference.
In the combined GAREC ICEC session, lesson learned from disasters which occurred in the past 2 years were shared. The importance of permanent availability of a percentage of commercial satellite communications bandwidth for disaster communications was expressed. The willingness of the private sector to provide same was welcomed.
Unfortunately, some countries apply big fees by way of import taxes or annual licence fees which effectively prohibit aid organisations receiving such equipment on cost grounds despite it in many cases being given free in the first place.
The value of the Amateur radio community was recognised. Tim Ellam of the IARU emphasised the professionalism of the Amateur Radio community around the world providing trained operators, technicians, and engineers for disaster relief communications. He further explained that the word Amateur had little relevance here other than to recognise the fact that these individuals offer their services for no financial reward.
The GAREC sessions were attended predominately by the representatives for the National Amateur radio Emergency groups from around the world. Kay Craigie of the ARRL chaired the meeting.
The new IARU emergency communications manual was discussed. Much of the content will reflect that in the ARRL Emergency Communications Handbook though of course with an international emphasis. Delegates suggested that this be small and hand transportable for ease of use in the field. Another idea discussed was to provide a laminated A5 card containing the IARU region 1 GAREC centre of activity frequencies and the AREN, RAYNET, RACES and other counterpart organisations frequencies.
Numerous presentations were delivered by country representatives. Paul Gaskell of Raynet shared knowledge of in-tunnel radio communications experiments conducted in the past year with the railway authority. They found the best frequencies to use in what is a very specific application. Mention was given to activations in the past year including the London Bombings, Oil depot fire and a Bomb scare evacuation from a residential area.
VU2UMI of NIAR India shared the difficulties they have in recruiting enough amateurs as the amateurs just aren’t there in sufficient numbers. The NIAR put a lot of effort into demonstrations of Amateur radio and running courses often in remote villages. They also demonstrate capabilities inc. SSTV, RTTY etc to the Government agencies. VU2RCR reiterated the need for more active amateurs in his region and not so much a need for additional equipment.
These are just a few of the many excellent presentations that were delivered.
The ITU are very active in the area of emergency communications. Among other projects they are working to get training going in poor countries to train hams and get more licences out there.
Equipment on display at the conference included backpack satellite communication systems from two companies, an E-Net Emergency GSM Network and a HF amateur radio station. The Emergency GSM Network, about the size of a VCR with a small antenna on top can be set up where no existing network exists or the existing network has failed or become overloaded.
The conference provided a great opportunity to build relations with our counterparts in other countries. While in Ireland we are lucky not to be afflicted with earthquakes, hurricanes and so on it was of benefit to listen and talk to others who have first hand experience of real disaster situations.
For more information on Amateur Radio Emergency Communications visit www.aren.ie