Communications or Emergency Managers we may be called on to provide communication solutions for staff using PPE during an emergency incident.  In August 2019, DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) National Urban Science and Technology Laboratory (NUSTL) conducted a System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER) field assessment, supported by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), at the City of Seattle Joint Training Facility in Seattle, Washington. This event evaluated communications equipment for use in PPE.

When responders to communicate with each other during an emergency scenario where PPE must be worn, is through the use of in-suit communications (ISC) equipment – radio accessories that enable them to communicate effectively without relying on just using a radio (which can be difficult or impossible to use in some PPE). ISC equipment are extensions of responders’ portable two-way radios and typically consist of microphones, headsets, earpieces, and activation accessories such as push-to-talk devices or hands-free voice-operated exchange. However, each of these tools has different strengths and weaknesses which must be carefully considered by responders before they use this equipment in the field.


See the complete article at the Department of Homeland Security’s website

If your organization is getting serious about figuring out how to continue providing cellular or data service during a disaster this solution from General Dynamics Mission Systems and PodRunner are solutions you may want to consider.  The FirstRunner system is a versatile, deployable LTE tower that is designed to be set up quickly–even in locations that other deployable solutions might not be able to access.

This system could fill the gap while you wait for FEMA and the network carriers to deploy their COLT’s and COW’s to provide emergency cell service.  This may also be a solution for use in areas where these larger systems may not be deployed or for rural hospitals that may be not considered a candidate for deployment of these scarce resources.

Check out the video on the UrgentComm website showing how easy the cellular system is to deploy and a quick overview of the equipment.

 If you are interested in this type of solution see the PUSHECS page “Compact Rapid Deployables” page.

If you only need to provide service for a small area such as your command center or ED you may also consider suit case deployables.  FirstNet and Sonim have developed a solution, see the PUSHECS “FirstNet Suitcase Deployables” page for more information.

How many of your emergency plans rely on the POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) line for emergency communications when primary phone circuits fail. Read this interesting article on the current and future health of this system which has been a key part of our communication systems for years, “American Phone Companies Are Literally Letting Their Networks Fall Apart

Three years after an alarming report made national headlines, locals are quietly preparing for disaster.  Due to the area’s isolation, Vashon Island residents have adopted a self-reliant mindset that has positioned the small community as a national model for disaster preparedness.

In June 2017 CMS published an interpretative guide for the Final Rule (81 FR 63860, Sept. 16, 2016) (Federal Register Vol. 81, No. 180).  which establishes national emergency preparedness requirements for participating providers and certified suppliers to plan adequately for both natural and man-made disasters.

The interpretative guide is available at

Part of this rule specifically requires planning for “Interruptions in communication”  and how healthcare organizations will “coordinate with other healthcare facilities, as well as the whole community during an emergency or disaster”.

Many healthcare organizations also required to create “policies and procedures to outline primary and alternate means for communication with external sources for assistance. For instance, primary methods may be considered via regular telephone services to contact transportation companies for evacuation or reporting evacuation needs to emergency officials; whereas alternate means account for the loss of power or telephone services in the local area. In this event, alternate means may include satellite phones for contacting evacuation assistance”.

News coming out of the Florida panhandle highlights how important communications are in responding to disasters and how fragile some of the communication systems we take for granted can be in the face of widespread destruction.

Florida’s Governor Rick Scott said “One of the most frustrating problems is telecommunications,… the region’s communication systems, which at times have been in a near-total blackout since the storm hit, have “got to get up because many people don’t know where food and water” distribution sites are”….“Now, after clearing the roads, communications are the first priority and power. We have an unbelievable problem in Bay County — Verizon is down and AT&T is up, but the county services are on Verizon. In other places, Verizon is up and AT&T is down.” wp

The widespread outages affected a large area and have been service restoration has been slow.

“A week after the storm made landfall, nearly half—47% as of 11 a.m. on Thursday—of cell sites in Bay County, Fla., remained out of service, according to the FCC. That is a slower recovery than many recent major storms other than Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico last year and left many residents without cellphone service for months.” Wjs

Verizon has blamed the slow response to a large amount of fiber and equipment damage and the ongoing issues of additional damage as emergency responders’ clear debris with heavy equipment doing additional damage to temporary fiber laid to restore services.

The problems highlight issues that the Puget Sound area would probably suffer in the event of an earthquake or other disaster that causes region-wide damage.  As we come to rely on cellular and data services for more and more communications, we also need to plan for disruption of those services and the possibility of the disruption lasting for days or weeks.  Alternate means of communications such as satellite phones and radio systems that do not rely on a local infrastructure may play a critical function in the initial days of a disaster until vendors and government can work to restore critical communication systems.



“As Hurricane Michael recovery begins, telecommunications, electrical power still an issue in Florida Panhandle”

By Patricia Sullivan October 14, 2018  The Washington Post


“Signal Search: Cellphone Service After Major Hurricanes”

By  Sarah Krouse  Oct. 18, 2018  Wall Street Journal


“Verizon Fiber Suffered “Unprecedented” Damage From Hurricane Michael”

By JON BRODKIN  10/15/2018    ARS Technica


Check out this 2016 radio program from Seattle’s KUOW radio station about our Puget Sound HAM Radio Operators and their contribution to emergency communications in the area.  The article includes a link to a Podcast if you would like to listen to the program.

Ham radio operators could be superheroes when the earthquake hits

JAMALA HENDERSON    June 6, 2016

  JUN 6, 2016

KIRO7 News recently ran a story about the Renton Fire Department moving to FirstNet to provide cell service for their front-line rigs.  The article mentioned Verizon’s recent issues with throttling data services for Fire Fighters in California but also pointed out later in the article that the Fire Department made this move before that issue hit the news.

It is interesting to see how important cellular service has become for Emergency Responders even as the standard public cell network has not been designed around the high availability needs of the emergency response community.

See the article and video here:

KIRO 7 Article – Local Fire Depts moving to FirstNet

PUSH ECS recently had a representative from FirstNet speak at our quarterly meeting check here for a copy of the slide presentation for more information:!AkE9_WfNCqUlgi8mQIg3i_kgjUTh

Reposted from CBC Radio

This is a great article about how a group of students in Queens New York learning about HAM radios also learned about the power of communications to help during a natural disaster.  The article is reprinted in full.  Please use the URL below for a direct link to the site. 


When smartphones fail: How students in a ham radio club are helping Puerto Rico 

In the age of smartphones, Snapchat and WhatsApp, a group of students in Queens, New York, are using a more traditional form of communication to help out the people of Puerto Rico. 

It’s been two weeks sinceHurricane Mariadevastated the U.S. territory, and more than 90 percent of the island is still without electricity. 

The lack of power and Wi-Fi is making it difficult for communications across Puerto Rico, whether it’s family members trying to contact loved ones, or aid agencies trying to share messages related to health and welfare. 

“You can easily relate to these people if you just think about how it must feel if you’re not able to talk to the people who you love and care about.”– Lea Medina, Garden School Amateur Radio Club 

With phone lines down and cellphone reception spotty, theAmerican Red Crossand other aid groups have reached out toamateur (or ham) radio operatorsfor help. 

Ham radio can be set up anywhere and can communicate around the world. While some ham radio operators have been recruited to work within Puerto Rico, back in Queens, the students at theGarden Schoolare helping out from the tiny room that houses the Amateur Radio Club. 

Anyone canemail the schooland the club members will then share that message via radiogram, and that message is then relayed to ham radio operators in Puerto Rico.  

How the Garden School got involved 

The Amateur Radio Club started about a year ago, says teacher John Hale. It was part of the process of trying to teach the students how to work with radios. 

“The next thing, if you’re part of the radio community with amateur radio, is to help people in need,” says Hale. 

“They’re helping an individual attempt to make contact with one of their family members.”– John Hale, teacher, Garden School 

WhenHurricane Irmahit the Caribbean and the Florida Keys in September, Hale realized that there was a need for ham radio and set to training the students on how to help. 

“We slowly started teaching the kids about how to do a radiogram and start a relay message that’ll get down to wherever they need to go,” explains Hale. 

“When we have a disaster they do food drives, they do clothing drives, they do money drives to raise money. This lets them try to work with a person one-on-one now they know they’re helping an individual attempt to make contact with one of their family members,” says Hale. 

 Student Jasmine Petrov agrees that individual contact is rewarding. 

“What this gives is an actual personal touch which I think makes it so much more special,” says Petrov. 

Club member Lea Medina says that reaching out to people in Puerto Rico is just “the right thing to do.” 

“If I were one of these people I, of course, would be as devastated as they are. And I decided to go and join this simply because it has to be done,” Medina explains. “You can easily relate to these people if you just think about how it must feel if you’re not able to talk to the people who you love and care about.” 

Medina says she does not know anyone in Puerto Rico. 

“But I know what it’s like to be separated from someone you love,” she says. 


What it means to the students 

“The most profound message that I’ve received so far is about this daughter who’s really desperately wanting to check on her father and her mother,” says Medina. “She asked us to make sure that they know that she loves them, she cares about them, and she wants to know for sure that they’re alright.” 

“It’s very overwhelming to be part of this emotional connection.”– Jasmine Petrov, Garden School Amateur Radio Club 

Petrov is struck by the sameness of the messages they’re being requested to send. 

“Seeing how all of these people trying to send pretty much the same care messages, of: ‘Are you OK?’ And just asking their relatives, their friends of their well-being,” explains Medina. “All of that together, it’s very overwhelming to be part of this emotional connection.” 

Petrov says she joined the Amateur Radio Club because she was interested in learning how ham radio worked. She thought it would simply involve school radio competitions. 

“I never thought that it would become so personal it became so much more,” she says. 

Medina says her interest in ham radio goes back to the way it was used in the 1930s and 40s. 

“I particularly loved the field radio operators in World War II and I found their job to be one of the most important. Because of those people, there were countless lives that were saved by dropping supplies in the right places,” says Medina. 


Medina reiterates that sending messages to Puerto Rico is just the right thing to do. 

“It gives me a sense that there actually is good in this world,” she says. “You see that somebody’s going through something terrible. You want to do something good in order to alleviate their sufferings, and when you transmit this message you have to think about the people on the other side of the screen and on the other side of this paper.” 

“These are people’s lives at stake,” says Medina. “And they’re people who are just trying to desperately talk to other people because there’s no way else.” 

Hale thinks the radiograms are a great experience for the students, in addition to being an important lesson to the general public. 

“Amateur radio can help in the time of need.” 


To hear the full audio of the members of the Garden School Amateur Radio Club,download our podcastor click the ‘Listen’ button at the top of this page.