Hurricane Harvey Amateur (HAM) Radio Response in Texas
Amateur radio (also called HAM radio) is a service recognized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that allows licensed amateur radio operators to communicate across open and free airwaves. Amateur radio systems supporting the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) State Operations Center (SOC) have evolved over time from vacuum tube-based radios to solid state units that can integrate traditional Morse code, as well as digital programs and systems directly to computers. The state communication system is supported by amateur radio operators commonly called "Hams." In 2009, the SOC began upgrading amateur radio systems in order to better support state disaster districts (DDCs). That investment has paid significant dividends in disaster response and recovery efforts over recent years.
During Hurricane Harvey, amateur radio operators provided critical communications support across the state of Texas. Amateur radio operators were active in a variety of situations and locations. They not only operated across the wide spectrum of traditional amateur band radio frequencies covering the High Frequency (HF), Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) bands, but also supported operations across mobile satellite (MSAT) platforms, as well as incorporating Citizens Band (CB) radio during points of distribution (POD) operations. The wide variety of locations and agencies who participated, serve as a great example of the flexibility and depth of knowledge available within the HAM radio community.
Many counties were directly supported by HAMs. Some conducted equipment checks on radios located in local hospitals while others worked at local EOCs or DDCs. Many HAM operators supported agencies such as Houston TRANSTAR or the Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Operators deployed to shelters, PODs and into impacted areas. There were many operators that monitored and participated in radio networks across the state by relaying information to and from distant locations. At one point, the operators of 7290 Net allowed its frequency to be used to relay critical information to and from the State Operations Center (SOC). The 7290 Net provided situational awareness, message traffic relays and general support during SOC operations. Providing 24-hour coverage for several days on end, volunteer HAM operators worked over 1,000 man-hours responding to Hurricane Harvey. Overall, participating HAM groups included operators from Austin, Brazos CTY, Burnet CTY, Corpus Christi, Harris CTY, Houston, Hurst, Taylor, Victoria, Walker CTY and Wichita Falls.
In addition to helping Texans, several HAM operators supported other states and territories impacted during the 2017 hurricane season. Texas HAMs even deployed to Puerto Rico to provide emergency communications support during the Hurricane Maria response effort.
Following the high operational tempo of 2017, HAM operators across the state, region and nation, are taking the experiences and lessons learned during this period and applying them in preparation for the next disaster. HAMs continue to support the Department of Public Safety (DPS) with ongoing projects to repair and improve the amateur radio infrastructure at multiple DDCs, as well as DPS Headquarters in Austin. Additionally, HAMS participate in state and local communications exercises and have volunteered hundreds of hours renovating communications trailers for agencies such as the American Red Cross.
During the June 2018 Amateur Radio National Field Day event, Texas HAMs deployed to locations across the state and conducted communications exercises, provided demonstrations for state and local officials and provided on-air training for spectators and children through GOTA (Get On The Air) stations.
Our Amateur Radio Operators continue to be a valuable asset to Texas and the nation. They look to the past for what worked and to the future for what will be needed, all the while sharpening their skills to better serve their communities when called upon.