More than just a Ham radio blog.
is an informative, cynical and sometimes humorous look at what is happening in the world of amateur radio.

Friday, 18 September 2009

What price public safety?

St. Johns County Florida is in Hurricane country and good communication between county public safety officials and the various emergency services are essential. A 20-year-old VHF system has been proving inadequate for some time. At present each message must go through a dispatcher rather than direct when often the two officials are only a couple of blocks apart. The Federal Communications Commission has assigned the county 15 channels but in 2011, they will allow those channels to go other people if they have not put in a system.

The original cost of a new 800mHz system that allows multiple simultaneous communications between agencies was quoted at $15 million, but erection of new towers to provide the needed coverage and a new public safety communications building has bumped the cost to a whopping $35 million.

Lives could be lost because the current system is obsolete and would not suffice in a catastrophe, but budget cutbacks and the updated price of $35 million for the new system, mean the purchase will have to wait, officials said at a recent county Civic Roundtable meeting. Roundtable member Dan MacDonald of Ponte Vedra Beach said, "I have serious reservations about why we have not heard this $35 million number before. Why has it been kept undercover? Fifteen million is the only number we have ever heard."

Echoes of a thousand similar stories the world over and another example of why we as radio amateurs need to be ready to assist in times of disaster, because if we wait for local officials and politics to grind at their snails pace the job will never get done and cost us all a fortune and possibly our lives in the process.


  1. I know many won't agree but I don't think it is the role of amateur radio to form part of an emergency communications infrastructure. Radio amateurs have, and no doubt will continue to volunteer their services during disasters on an ad-hoc basis. But any planned communications system must be done on a professional basis.

    The trouble with relying on volunteers for emergency services is that when a real emergency comes, the volunteers may find they have other priorities, like looking after their own family. And how long before someone who loses family members in a disaster because the emergency services didn't respond, decides to sue the authorities when they find some of the people involved in communications were amateurs?

  2. I think we need to remember that in a lot of cases most of the so called emergency services are volunteers too. In the UK most Firemen, the Lifeboats, Mountain Rescue, Red Cross, St. Johns Ambulance, WRVS and others as well as as RAYNET are all volunteers and part of the emergency planning. Even the police rely on 'Specials' and cadets in times of crisis. Usually only a small number of those involved with disaster relief are actually being paid. That is why as a member of Raynet you are covered by public indemnity insurance. I expect that is the same in the US with their Amateur Radio Emergency Service.