IARU President Touts Amateur Radio’s Relevance in Emergency Communication
International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) President Tim Ellam, VE6SH/G4HUA, says Amateur Radio is “probably more relevant today than it was 25 years ago.” Ellam made the comment during an interview with Maximilian Jacobson-Gonzalez at the 2nd Global Forum on Emergency Telecommunications (GET-2016), held in late January in Kuwait and sponsored by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The event’s slogan was “Saving lives.”
“We’re so dependent now on all kinds of systems of communications — everyone has a cell phone, everyone is used to using the Internet — but they’re not used to what happens when those systems go down,” Ellam said. “Amateur Radio is there. It relies on somewhat old fashioned technology, but there are also advancements in technology that we rely on.”
Ellam pointed out that hams can use computer-based digital techniques to pass message traffic at very low power levels and under poor propagation conditions. “Amateur Radio has kept pace by developing new ways to communicate,” he said.
Among the major challenges Amateur Radio is facing, Ellam cited the difficulty in some countries to obtain an Amateur Radio license. In addition, he said, some countries impose high duties on imported ham gear, and some make it difficult to erect appropriate antennas and support structures.
Ellam reiterated his focus on the value of the Amateur Service today when he spoke to two sessions at the GET-2016 gathering. “Amateur operators are on the ground. If they’re not close to the site of a disaster, they might even be in it,” he told a Leaders’ Dialogue forum. “They’re there. They’re ready to go. For the first 24 to 48 hours you have people on the ground, ready to assist. They own their own equipment. They don’t rely on commercial networks. If cellular service goes down, we can assist by using HF or VHF or UHF communications on a peer-to-peer basis.”
Ellam pointed out that, although he’s not an engineer and does not work in a technical field, he knows enough to get on the air using alternate power sources and a very simple wire antenna. “Don’t forget the Amateur Radio services,” he implored those attending the forum. “They’re a great asset to you in times of crisis.”
The ITU described GET-2016 as an international platform to discuss topics related to world-wide emergency telecommunication policy and disaster risk reduction.