I am a volunteer CERT instructor for City & County of Honolulu Department of Emergency Management (DEM) and a retired State Civil Defense (now called Hawaii Emergency Management Agency) as the acting branch chief for plans and operations during the last three months before I retired December 2011, after twelve years. I took CERT in 1997 and have been a volunteer CERT instructor since 2012. With this background, I teach the CERT students about the difference between the county emergency management agency or Civil Defense Agency and the State in the CERT Unit 1 - Disaster Preparedness. All disasters are local and in Hawaii, the county takes ownership of the disaster. If their county resources are overwhelmed and need additional help, the county would ask the State via HI-EMA for help. And if the state is overwhelmed, the request goes to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The State and FEMA are there to support the county in a disaster.
The State Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES), a volunteer group under HI-EMA (which I am the assistant coordinator) provides amateur radio communications between the State EOC and the four county EOCs when normal communications fail, i.e., landline and cell phones, satellite and internet communications. State RACES also is there to assist state agencies with communications to the state EOC. State RACES members have to have back ground checks, are issued ID badges and are activated by HI-EMA.
DEM has two volunteer groups that members also need to have back ground checks, are issued DEM ID badges and are activated by DEM. They are the Emergency Management Reserve Corps. They work together with Honolulu Police Department (HPD) and assist with road blocks and evacuations. They are issued city radios and can communicate with HPD as well as with Honolulu Fire Department, EMS and the DEM EOC.
The second volunteer group is the DEM RACES (which I am a member and I help coordinate training and exercises) provides amateur radio communications between the Oahu EOC (DEM) and shelters, with American Red Cross HQ at Diamond Head, The Salvation Army, any other county agencies needing amateur radio communications when normal communications have failed in a disaster or DEM RACES members may be deployed to an area or a community to provide communications back to the EOC, etc.
Oahu CERT teams are self activated when there is a major disaster, i.e., a destructive tsunami or hurricane. We are not directed nor badged by DEM. However, neighbor island CERT are activated and directed by their county EMA/CDA. As an example, the Kailua CERT (which I am a founding member) will activate per our operations plan (which has been reviewed and approved by DEM) will use our Ham radio team to notify DEM or Oahu EOC (the tactical call sign) that we have been activated, etc. we use VHF and HF for voice and ICS-213 FLDigi to send SITREP, damage reports (DR), RFA, etc. messages to the Oahu EOC. We can also use Winlink. We keep Oahu EOC informed on what is happening in Kailua. We also used the Hams in the team to provide communications between the search teams and the Kailua CERT operations center. We use FRS radio for intra team communications.
Both the State and DEM encourage all Hams, whether RACES, ARES, Red Cross, The Salvation Army, HealthComm, SKYWARN members, CERT and unaffiliated Hams to participate in their emergency practice nets as well as in a real emergency net. As FEMA has mentioned, and we talk about it in the CERT Unit 1 - Disaster Preparedness, the ”whole” community needs to get involved in preparing and also to respond to a disaster. There may be an unaffiliated Ham in a community requesting help and he/she may be the only means of communications from that isolated community. Both State and DEM RACES will accept the call, whether it is a SITREP (situation report) a RFA (request for assistance) or a RFI (request for information) and State RACES will forward the message to the county EMA/CDA. The message received may be an ICS-213 form using digital (FLDigi or via WinLink) or just plan voice in a proper format or not and the Ham may not be properly trained as an EMCOMM radio operator, both State and DEM RACES will accept the call. My understanding is Kauai and Maui counties will also accept these calls.
ARES members are also allowed to be shelter radio operators by the American Red Cross (ARC) and DEM. ARRL and ARC have signed a MOU at the national level. The ARC Oahu shelter lead has agreed to use ARES members as shelter radio operators. We used ARES members for Hurricane Lang last year.
We do not have enough RACES members at both the State and DEM as well as ARES members if the State is hit with a major disaster. Many on Hams on Oahu wear many hats. In the 2017 Hurricane Marie that caused major damages to Puerto Rico, only 3% of their 6,000 Hams in Puerto Rico we’re able to respond to the disaster (they were also victims). When all communications, even the Puerto Rico Emergency Management and first responder communications failed, amateur radio was the only means of communications for seven weeks. Hawaii is an island state and we are learning from the lessons from Puerto Rico and preparing for all disasters.
ARES members on Oahu may be activated and use the State and/ or DEM RACES linked repeaters before the State or DEM RACES members are activated. If this becomes so, the ARES members who are RACES members will “switch” hats and will operate as RACES members. If RACES members are demobilized and amateur radio operators are still needed in certain situations, they can operate as ARES members. We can also separate the State RACES linked repeaters from DEM RACES linked repeaters so each organization can run their own net.
We encourage all Hams in Hawaii to take the free FEMA independent study IC-100, 200, 700 and 800 via the internet. Take the free AUXCOMM class when offered, take the now free ARRL EMCOMM 001 and 016 classes, take the CERT class (so they can be better prepared for themselves and their families), then they can do their function as EMCOMM radio operators. Also learn how to use the ICS-213 general message form (which is now being used as the standard message handling form in EMCOMM and in the Incident Command System) and how to send it by voice and by digital format via FLDigi and Winlink (digital comms are faster, more accurate and the message can be stored and printed out).
So in summary, the county Civil Defense/emergency management agency determines who or what resources to use for their disaster response. However, due to limited Ham resources, especially, in a major disaster, all amateur radio operators should be considered and encouraged when a major disaster occurred.
The Hams in each county in the state need to work together, as we do on Oahu. We need to overcome our politics and set aside differences to assist our served agencies to do what is best FOR THE PEOPLE who will need our help in a major disaster. We need to pass the message forward using whatever means and relays to whomever it needs to go to. Make agreements to use/share linked repeaters, stand alone repeaters and be prepared and practice pre-arranged VHF and UHF simplex frequencies to pass messages in case the repeaters fail. Incorporate HF as well. Practice passing messages. The more tools we have and train with the better we will be able to pass the message forward. Meet and work with each other now so when a disaster occurs we already know each other and each other’s equipment and capabilities.
I have instructed the the ARES DECs to help their communities with EMCOMM and if asked by their county EMA/CD for help, to do so. Being an island State we cannot refuse any help that is available in a disaster. We ALL HAVE TO WORK TOGETHER to help our neighbors and our communities in a major disaster.
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Clem Jung (KH7HO)
Pacific ARES Section Emergency Coordinator
State RACES Assistant Coordinator
DEM RACES Member, Training & Exercises
SKYWARN Ham NCS
Kailua CERT Member
DEM Lead CERT Instructor & Windward Oahu CERT Advisor