Once the incident is under way, with shelters staffed, shadows deployed, staffing established for the following shift, and basic Amateur or auxiliary radio needs being addressed, the question should be asked: "When should we go home?" That question should be asked almost as soon as the incident has started. It is important to utilize resources only so long as to be viable; if we are no longer needed, we should demobilize and prepare for the next incident. Keeping resources deployed longer than necessary is a waste of manpower, and can lead to a premature burnout of your workers.
With the advent of mobile cellular telephone technology, many of the past uses of Amateur radio operators may be supplanted with cellular telephones operated by average citizens. In a disaster situation, cellular telephones can provide an expedient means of obtaining quick, reliable communication between two points, such as between a shelter and the local Red Cross chapter office. During the Bay Area earthquake in October of 1989, the Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross obtained the use of ten cellular telephones. Red Cross officials gave the telephones to their mobile feeding stations, mobile nursing stations, and to Red Cross staff vehicles. The use of cellular telephones in that situation made the use of Amateur Radio unnecessary and resources were utilized in other areas.
One of the first areas to begin demobilization procedures is to inform Amateur radio Mutual Aid officials that their resources are no longer required and to thank them for their efforts. As these Mutual Aid resources are secured, the incident will wind down as amateurs begin to hear that the disaster situation is now under control. Mutual Aid resources should be the first released, with local communicators remaining to mop-up the operation. Briefings should indicate that outside assistance is no longer needed, and packet as well as voice modes should be utilized to help "get the word out".
Initially, Amateur radio support of the incident may be on a 24 hour basis. As the situation begins to get under control, the need for all-night Amateur coverage will become less important. Securing nets at night and then starting them again in the morning will allow tired operators to rest between shifts and give Amateur officials time to review operations and better plan for the next day"s management. In most situations, shelters quiet down at night as people sleep and it becomes increasingly more difficult to conduct disaster operations at night.
Assignment of amateurs to the next shift can be made on a stand-by basis as the incident begins to wind down. Conduct periodic briefings and ask amateurs to sign up for shifts on an "on-call" basis, making themselves available from home and subject to call out if needed. Amateurs should check-in to the RESOURCE NET at least 30 minutes prior to their assigned shift time to determine if their assistance is still needed.
Secure RESOURCE Nets that are no longer practical and ask amateurs who are willing to volunteer to check-in on the TACTICAL Net frequency. As the incident is secured, radio traffic will continue to diminish and listening amateurs will hear less and less incident-related traffic. Encourage nets to go to a non- directed status; this will free up repeaters from directed net use and will allow them to be used for normal traffic. Relations between member-supported repeaters and ARES officials may become strained if repeaters are in use by ARES or RACES and no traffic is being passed. Turn the repeaters back to the supporting clubs as soon as practical and thank club officials for their use during the incident.
Gather any notes and observations you may have concerning the incident and make them available for the upcoming critique. A critique is beneficial to determine what went right, as well as wrong, during the incident. If conducting the critique yourself, allow ample time for amateurs to vent feelings but attempt to keep the meeting positive with a "what can we do to make the next incident better" outlook. Consider publishing minutes of the critique to allow other auxiliary communications groups to learn from your experience.
Finally, maintain a positive outlook. From the very definition of the word "disaster", not everything you do will work in the proper way. You will make mistakes, and you may suffer the wrath of Amateurs who "knew of a better way to do something" all along. It is important to do the very best you can in a situation that calls for quick decision making and leadership during an incident for which no one can ever be completely prepared. Use the lessons learned from this incident to better prepare both you and your staff to anticipate the response needed for the next incident. -O-
The subject of demobilization was suggested by Dave Larton, N6JQJ, a public safety dispatch center employee in northern California and founder of the Emergency Response Institute. The ERI seminars include this type of topic in their excellent annual sessions attended by both paid and volunteer public safety communications personnel. Public agencies regularly pay for attendance and many attend with out-of-pocket funds. If you have never attended and you are within travel distance the next time around, you will get a lot out of it. Watch the packet systems for announcements.
--- Stan Harter, KH6GBX