Maintaining a communications equipment cache

By Shannon Eliot
EMS1 Editor

It's difficult enough to effectively coordinate your communications in a disaster or emergency when all your equipment is working effectively. However, what happens to the plan when your tools fail as you need them most? While such a scenario may sound like a one-in-a-million shot, it occurred more than once in areas afflicted by Hurricane Katrina.

Of course, we will continue to hope that such a case would never happen to our agency or hometown. To ensure it doesn't, however, consider following these guidelines:

1. Construct a cache of equipment components

This is the communications equipment needed to immediately restore existing public safety communications within hours of a disaster, including communications on all relevant mutual aid channels. Such a cache might consist of:

  • RF gear, such as 800 MHz, UHF, VHF, Mutual Aid, IP Gateway, and dispatch consoles
  • Trailer and equipment housing
  • Tower system components (antenna system, hydraulic mast)
  • Power system components (generator, UPS, batteries, distribution panel)
  • Fuel

2. Maintain the cache as a regional or statewide resource, and make sure it is secured in areas that are immune to disaster impacts

It would be a shame (and losing the point) to have your backup system destroyed in another disaster.

3. Utilize the cache through training exercises on a regular basis.

While it would be nice to have doubles or triples of your everyday radios, it's probably rather unlikely to happen. Once the cache has been secured, make sure your team practices with the equipment on a routine basis, both teaching new hires and refreshing the memories of veterans. Spare equipment is no good if you can't figure out how to use it.

4. Familiarize yourself with alternative technologies to provide communications when normal public safety networks are down.

It's crucial to have as many options as possible in a disaster. While your equipment may be working just fine, the network might not be. Learn about satellite telephones, two-way paging devices, and other technologies less reliant on the PSTN. Again, as with all equipment, make sure to train and use the relevant devices prior to an emergency.

Data drawn from the Report and Recommendations to the Federal Communications Commission.

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