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.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

You Can Help

Last night I was out doing the ham radio thing with Flintshire Raynet. Raynet is the radio amateurs emergency network and we work with the other emergency services under the control of the County Emergency Planning Officer. We are effectively on call 24 hours a day seven days a week should we be needed. Fortunately it does not happen much that our services are required and so we keep in practice helping out at public events such as fun runs, charity walks, parades etcetera.

The event last night was a firework display and bonfire to raise money for another emergency organisation manned by volunteers the RNLI. The RNLI is the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and 99% of rescues at sea around the UK coast are carried out by these guy and gals. They are the bravest of the brave in my opinion, because ships do not tend to get in to trouble on calm sunny days they wait until there is a hurricane blowing to break down, sink or run aground.

Flintshire Lifeboat always put on a top notch firework display and last time was no exception with thirty full minutes of wizz, bang, flash and plenty of oohs and arrs from the crowd. One of the attractions of this display compared to others in the area is the setting. The crowd gathers in a large car park adjacent to the lifeboat station which faces Flint Castle. The fireworks are fired from within the castle and every flash lights up the castle in a different way. It is very picturesque and with the explosions the imagination is transported to that of a castle under siege, or maybe that is just me being an old romantic. There was a massive crowd and crowd control was being carried out by the Police in the form of their special volunteers now called 'Community Officers' or something, volunteers from the Army cadets, Air Force cadets and the lifeboat crew and support staff. The volunteers from St John ambulance where in attendance and a firecrew some of whom are full time firemen but most of whom are part time volunteers. In fact a lot of the same faces I have seen in real emergencies.

Julian G4ILO who is someone I respect said in a recent blog post "My opinion is that emergency communications is a job for the experts and the last thing they need is a bunch of amateurs trying to help but more than likely getting in the way." I think possibly he is like a lot of radio amateurs misinformed. He also says "The Cockermouth floods were the nearest I have ever come to being directly affected by a disaster and it never even entered my head that as a radio amateur I might be able to help." I find that some what sad that he just sat there and let someone else do it.

Ask anyone who was involved with the Lockerbie bombing, when terrorists brought down a passenger aircraft over Scotland what happened to communications. They will tell you that the mobile telephone network was swamped so much that it when someone from the worlds press got a connection they kept the line open for days, making use of that form of communication by the emergency services impossible. Fire, Police, Ambulance and others were drafted in from all over the UK. The various services and services from different areas could not talk to each other because the radios were on different frequencies and the services simply did not have enough frequencies for the huge numbers of messages being passed. Fire, Police, Ambulance, Air Crash investigators, Army, RAF rescue, WRVS, and many others had to be coordinated. It was hundreds of Raynet volunteers that provided that communication and without it the whole thing would have been even made more difficult and taken longer.

When we had floods at Towyn in 1990 the then Clywd Raynet (county boundaries have changed since) played a major part in the rescue operations. Evacuees were ferried to emergency centres set up in schools and later moved to accommodation at Bodelwyddan Castle. This was a major incident and serious enough to bring Prince Charles and Lady Diana in to reassure the evacuees and thank the volunteers. Those volunteers included Raynet, St John Ambulance, Flintshire Lifeboat, Red Cross, Volunteer Firemen, Police Specials, The Territorial Army, Army Cadets, Airforce Cadets, Navy Cadets, Scouts, WRVS (Women's Royal Voluntary Service), the North Wales 4x4 club and more. Leave it to the professionals! My arse! Sure we had all the usual professional services and we had people paid to be there, such as bus and coach drivers and even the council bin men amongst others there but the volunteers out numbered the professionals by fifty to one.

More in the US than here there is a section of the ham community that thinks emergency communications groups are a joke. The problem is there will always be the wannabe cop type with a blue light and a hidden siren and the survivalist nutter for those that decry what we do to point at like some sort of overgrown school bully, but when it comes down to it they just want to do their bit. In a real emergency I have seen the most useless operator suddenly become an asset, but these days you can no longer just turn up and say I want to help. In modern times you need to be trained, and insured at the very least. Raynet provides both the insurance and the training along with a recognisable ID badge. These days there has to be procedures in place and we have to have proof that everyone has been trained. I am sure that the same goes for any amateur radio emergency communication organisation.

Amateur radio is not an emergency service but it is a tool that can be used in an emergency. It is no good saying that you do not want to join your local amateur radio emergency communication organisation but that in a real emergency you would give a hand, because you will not be allowed. If you are a radio ham you have skills that can help from time to time. Not to want to help in times of need is in my opinion as much of a sin as seeing a dying man and stealing his wallet rather than calling an ambulance.

There can be advantages to being a member of such organisations too. Last night I got to help some real heroes keep their lifeboat afloat and that gives me a warm feeling inside. I also got to see a fantastic firework display and meet some nice people who were helping make it a great event.

One last thing; One of my on air buddies works for a communications company and he does not like the idea of Raynet on the basis of it takes work away from the professionals. If Raynet were not manning say a fun run then the organisers would have to either bring in his company or hire his radios to use themselves. Where I have no problem is that we are not allowed to help out at commercial money making events. So if we man the fun run the funds raised go to the Heart Foundation, Cancer Relief or whatever charity the event supports. If his company does it a large chunk of donated cash goes in to the company's pocket instead of where it was intended. I know which scenario sits best with my conscience.

In the event of emergency who are you going to call and then who do they call? Volunteers that's who.


  1. Strange that you can only think of events that occurred more than 20 years ago as examples of when Raynet played a role in a major emergency. I believe that Raynet was started after the 1953 floods in Essex when the lack of communications of the police and other services was found to be a major problem. So I'm sure it had a useful role to play at one time. But I rather think things have moved on since then, and I like to think they have moved on still further since 1990. Personally if there is an emergency I would like to think the necessary communications infrastructure is there because it is someone's job to make sure it is there and that it works, not rely on hobbyists who may have sold their rig the week before or taken it to bits to modify it.

    It would seem from what you wrote that the job of Raynet today is mostly to provide free communications for charity events. Now I'm not saying that is a bad thing, the example you gave is certainly a good cause, I won't argue with that. But you don't really need to be a radio amateur to do that, CBers or license free radio users could probably do an equally good job. Perhaps Raynet should be renamed Radio Amateurs Event Assistance Group. But it wouldn't allow them to sound so important.

    As for "If you are a radio ham you have skills that can help from time to time. Not to want to help in times of need is in my opinion as much of a sin as seeing a dying man and stealing his wallet rather than calling an ambulance." Following on from your comment that "I find that some what sad that [G4ILO] just sat there and let someone else do it." I think that runs pretty close to being a personal insult.

    Actually I think it is arrogant and self-important to believe that being a radio amateur means you possess skills of special value in an emergency. The skills required to handle communications in an emergency are basically how to operate a radio and pass traffic, something you don't need to have passed a ham radio exam in order to do. Nor do you need to use the ham bands in order to do it. I'm sure the RNLI, Mountain Rescue and other volunteer emergency services use radios. If I wanted to volunteer the use of my radio skills in an emergency context I'd go along to the Mountain Rescue HQ and ask if they needed a radio operator. Then I could be involved in real emergencies every week, instead of playing at it like Raynet.

  2. Julian I have no wish to insult you and you are of course entitled to your opinion. I am sure we can all get along in spite of any differences of opinion we may have.

    As for more recent emergencies they did not have the impact that Towyn did. There are plenty of people who became radio amateurs who were members of the RNLI and Mountain Rescue service after working with our Raynet group.
    Having been involved with mass searches working with Mountain Rescue and the RAF I can tell you that they have been only too happy to have our assistance.

    Tell me which CB or licence free user could climb to a mountain top to set up a repeater in the dark? The Police, Mountain Rescue and even the Army did not have the know how or equipment, at least available. One Raynet member had it in his car. Radio amateurs in every search team ensured coordination. In one case we found a heart attack victim in a gully and in another we failed to find the body of a young girl.

    Sure we are playing at it most of the time, but our playing at it means we are more adept at it than the so called professionals who are only there because they are getting paid.

    Raynet was actually a civil defence idea from the days of the Cold War. Government approached the Radio Society of Great Britain. Those experts approached us the same way as when we are called out it is the experts that call us out. We don't ring up disaster control and say "Can we come to your party?". If the professionals call us then why do they do it if we are a bunch of wannabes doing what anyone could?

    There are exceptions to the rules but, we do what we do because we care and are every bit as good as the professionals. Our commitment is shown by our willingness to help even in the face of criticism of our peers.

    You say things have moved on since the 1953 floods in Essex. I say the faces have changed but the song remains the same. Lack of funding, lack of equipment lack of training and lack of commitment from the very professionals who you say we should leave it to.

    RNLI, Mountain Rescue and other volunteer emergency services are just playing at too?

  3. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Edmund Burke.

    Two 18 hour days with search teams one cop, one mountain rescue and a ham to fifteen civilians. 600 people searching for a lost six year old girl. I was in the team that found her. Don't tell me that I am arrogant and self-important or just playing. That vision will haunt me for the rest of my life but it will not stop me doing it again.

    Mad Brad

  4. That is not what we want to see Brad, but I have had the joy of finding someone who recovered. Just that one incident makes it all worth while. The search coordinators used Raynet because there was no mobile coverage and the Police's UHF radios were useless away from their basestation and in the mountainous terrain. There were simply not enough mountain rescue guys and even of their less radios.

    Possibly a more apt quote from Edmund Burke...
    No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.

  5. Raynet can be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view, and believe it or not there are quite a few sceptics out there.
    As with all types of volunteer organizations there will be people who do not like whatever it is they do.

    BUT when the time comes, and needs must, radio amateur's do give up there time and resources for the greater good of there fellow man .
    I was involved in the Towyn floods from the begining when the water first breached the sea defences and for the whole time of the emergency.
    IT was Not the case that all the radio operators were RAYNET members, but a lot were ordinary local radio hams,a lot of them became Raynet members. ( and even set up there own local groups after the event..)
    One thing was clear at the time of this event at Towyn was NONE of the user services, Air sea rescue/police /Ambulance/Fire ect had the ability to talk to each other directly on a local network .they were all one different parts of the spectrum , some amateurs were given permission to use their radios that had this ability to co -ordinate emergency traffic (on a temporary basis only) some time later after this event it was decided to have a radio system that was compatibly between all emergency services and comm channels to allow direct talk back to each other,
    The system they have nowadays, was brought about after seeing capability that the Radio amateurs had at that time.
    "The co-operation between volunteers and the "Emergency services" was extraordinary, as well as red cross, social services , lifeboat crews, who rescued hundreds of people.
    I personally have no wish to be seen as a member of the Fourth/Fifth /Sixth /Emergency service or the AA />.?(as some people have a likening to do with flashing lights and stick on signs), but as a person that would help his fellow man no matter what the problem .
    Training helps to do the job better , BUT what is often needed in the first instance is a helping hand , not criticism from people too full of there own self importance that just sit by the warm fire ...and then proceed to tell everyone else how it should be done ...

    Smell the coffee(or dirty sea water)

  6. Our Sheriff were a ham and every one new he hated Emcomers near as much as CBers and Hells Angles. When his son went missing the local Emcom hams organised a search.After his son was found he said the he changed his mind about Emcoms. He still hate Hells Angles and CBs even tho it were the angles who found his kid.

    Peace dude from the Dawg

  7. Steve. We shall have to agree to disagree, and what I particularly disagree about is that being a radio ham is a special skill that confers upon one the obligation to volunteer in emergencies, as you appear to be implying.

    I am still offended by your comment that "Not to want to help in times of need is in my opinion as much of a sin as seeing a dying man and stealing his wallet" especially given the fact that after the Cockermouth floods Olga and I made a substantial donation to the flood relief fund set up by the local Rotary club which was used among other things to help replace equipment belonging to the Mountain Rescue group that was damaged. I personally think that was probably a more useful form of assistance than anything I might have done standing around with a walkie-talkie.

    Like anyone else, if asked to help in an emergency situation in any capacity whatever, I would if I could. But since, as you rightly point out, untrained people may be no help whatsoever, it must be a matter of personal choice whether one joins a group and participates in the training. Most people have some sort of skill that could be useful in a disaster situation. Are they to be criticized for staying at home too, or for only offering their services in a professional capacity?

    What really offends me is the fact that you chose to make a personal attack on me, by name and by call, in your own blog rather than making comments in my blog post that you quoted from. Although I was a subscriber to your blog there is no guarantee that I would have read this particular post to know that I was being attacked in it. You could have made the points you made without mentioning me in person. Sadly, it seems this kind of online personal attack is becoming increasingly common in this hobby.

  8. Julian I as I said I do not wish to offend you. If I was looking for someone to offend there are plenty of morons out there I would much rather slate.

    The reason I included your quotes were both to point readers of my thread towards an opposing opinion, and let them make up their own mind as to whose opinion was more right, and to drive newcomers to your most excellent blog.

    What was said is said and there in black and white. I can't take it back but I apologies if I could have written it a different way. If I had not quoted you however it might have come across as a sly dig at you and I prefer to do things out in the open. I might also have been accused and been under attack by others who share your views of having a go at them as well.

    Anything we say on the Internet is like the literary equivalent putting ones head above the parapet. There are always snipers ready to take your head off. Please consider this a friendly fire incident. I will try harder not to offend you in the future.

    As Voltaire said, "Opinions have caused more ills than the plague or earthquakes on this little globe of ours." and to paraphrase a quote often wrongly ascribed to him, I may disagree with your opinions, but I defend your right to state them.