While cellular telephones added a new dimension to disaster communications, they too may be overloaded or fail.
In light of this experience the flexibility of portable communications gear, carrying its own power supply, proved to be invaluable. Amateur Radio, with its highly portable capability, has the experience, equipment, and flexibility to fill many roles.
Fixed, home based Amateur Radio stations, however, have a very limited usefulness in government-to-government communications, such as from a forward area fire camp to a rear area logistics or command center. Yet they can be invaluable in handling "health & welfare" traffic, which is likely to be generated from throughout the country and require numerous relays.
There is an ever increasing role for digital systems, which provide hard-copy communications. They greatly reduce the chance of transmission errors, and give the support elements of the response team the sort of material they are used to receiving. In both earthquake and fire responses, portable Amateur packet radio has worked well from forward area positions to control centers.
As important as the equipment itself is a trained cadre of communicators, FAMILIAR IN ADVANCE with the equipment they will be using and the command and control system in which they must function. Without advance training, well meaning volunteers, however well intentioned, will be more of a problem than a help.
For a large body of information on these matters I suggest the weekly bulletins published since 1985 by the State of California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. They are available in printed form (For $12.00), or on three 5-1/4" or two 3-1/2" DD discs with an SASE. The address is RACES, c/o Governor's Office of Emergency Services, 2800 Meadowview Road, Sacramento, CA 95832-1441.
---Bill Musladin, Former Chief State Radio Officer, Now Retired