The Southeastern Division encompasses the Alabama, Georgia, Northern Florida, Southern Florida, West Central Florida, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands Sections and has the largest number of members of the ARRL’s fifteen Divisions.
Last week’s note described the snowmageddon event that visited Alabama January 28th, 2014. I searched for information about what happened when the actual story was hidden in the answer to “Who?” A well known and somewhat trite statement explains that if you ask the wrong question you get the wrong answer. I had started by asking “what” had happened and the answers were it snowed and we did what we could. When I began to ask the “Who” question a different story developed.
Who responded from the amateur radio community? Who did they help? Who worked from their home? Who worked from mobile station? Who worked the radios from the EMA? Who did the hams work with to provide aid?
If you will listen to any good story teller you will note that they will set the stage and then develop the characters that have a part in their story. The January 28th snow event is Alabama consisted initially of a solid white, very slick stage but the cast of characters, consisted of the people that are described in the answers to question, “Who?” Very quickly the story line rapidly expanded when it was discovered that there were many loosely coordinated activities being conducted by trained and equipped Amateur Radio operators. Operators working almost independently to provide aid to those effected by the snow.
I would have liked to have a list of the amateur radio operators that worked during the event but no such record exists. I would like to have know how many parents received messages from hams that their children were at school, safe, but that the roads were not passable. Don’t go. I know you can drive on the snow and Ice but the roads are blocked by those that have proven they cannot drive on snow and ice. It would have been good to have a record of the number of operators that assisted law enforcement to locate stranded motorists that were in distress. The drivers or passengers that had special needs, not just uncomfortable but in distress. No paper, no record.
I would like to have the information on how many messages were passed about blocked roads and who passed them. A good quote from someone that was directly involved would be golden in an article about the event.
The real story began to appear. There were a large number of Alabama Amateur Radio Operators that provided communications assistance during the light dusting event. These licensed operators purchased their own equipment, spend time developing the communication skills need to aid in an emergency and moved to action. They had honed their skills in test exorcises, while providing communications support for public events, working practice nets and just having fun.
These amateur operators known as Hams had again met the challenge of a disaster and had provided aid using their own equipment without compensation. They not only worked without compensation licensed amateur operators are forbidden by law from receiving any compensation beyond a thanks.
The who of this story was the ham radio operators and all that they assisted but just a cast and stage does not make a story. You will find that when the questions about what, who, when, where and how are answered with facts, good stories almost write themselves. More next week. If you are going to tell a good story it helps if you know your audience.
Our Public Information programs tend to concentrate on providing some sort of story or information to the “Public.” Our efforts are focused on reaching people who have little if any knowledge about our hobby, our passion. Unfortunately our efforts are built on a very weak foundation. Our emphasis should not be on the “Public” but on the “Information.” I will be writing a weekly short note on the subject of information and information distribution to the amateur radio community, posting them on this site. This first note is intended to set the stage for future notes.
Our efforts to inform should first focus on the acquisition of the material needed to tell the story of ham radio. The central portion of Alabama was promised a light dusting of snow for the morning of January 28th, 2014. We got a light dusting of snow that melted and then refroze by about 11:00 AM. This first bit of white stuff was followed by another 3 to 6 inches of additional “light dustings of snow.” The snow and ice event trapped people at work, and at schools. Schools were full of students unreachable by buses. Our entire local and interstate road network went into border to border gridlock. As of Midnight on the 28th there were thousands of stranded cars, statewide over 10,000s of people in shelters, hundreds or thousands of accidents and just a generally nasty mess.
Because of the way the event developed most the local EMAs in the effected area stayed in the stand-by mode. Nets were not activated but, while the cell phone tower went into meltdown, unusable for hours, the ham radio operators went into action. Following the event I went in search of basic information about the ham radio response and was very surprised to discover there were few records documenting the amateur radio activity. At first this lack of information was truly disturbing. How could we have an event that did as much damage to our state as a small to mid size tornado, an event that involved many, many amateur radio operators and be unable to find anything that could be used to write a story. The lack of records almost suggest that it didn’t happen.
We did not have a record of the event, we didn’t have the facts, the facts, the information to describe the amateur radio communities efforts to mitigate a disaster. The disaster that had arrived in the form of 3 to 6 inches of a “Light Dusting.” Maybe there was something in the information I was missing.
There was a big story hidden in the event but I was missing it. Come back next week and find out what I was missing and what we can do to capture facts about our activities that will allow us to promptly share with other an accurate picture of amateur radio.
N4EDT – Ed