- The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), through its Emergency Affiliated Radio Services (EARS) programme, is ensuring that communities, particularly remote areas, can adequately communicate before, during and after a disaster.
- As part of the process, 58 community emergency volunteers, from various parishes, were recently trained to become Advanced Emergency Telecommunications Operators better known as amateur radio operators.
- With the training, the community volunteers are now prepared to rapidly establish and provide emergency telecommunication service, which is critical in facilitating a coordinated response to emergencies. They can share on the ground reports, and orchestrate deployment of rescue and response services.
The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), through its Emergency Affiliated Radio Services (EARS) programme, is ensuring that communities, particularly remote areas, can adequately communicate before, during and after a disaster.
As part of the process, 58 community emergency volunteers, from various parishes, were recently trained to become Advanced Emergency Telecommunications Operators better known as amateur radio operators.
They have also received radios, which provide a channel of communication for residents in vulnerable communities, with both the parish and national disaster management offices.
With the training, the community volunteers are now prepared to rapidly establish and provide emergency telecommunication service, which is critical in facilitating a coordinated response to emergencies. They can share on the ground reports, and orchestrate deployment of rescue and response services.
Senior Telecommunications Engineer at ODPEM in charge of EARS, Ruel Corniff, says the three-week training course exposed the participants to amateur radio technology, which is specially geared towards emergency communication, and the use of alternative power systems, such as solar and wind technology, to generate energy.
“They were trained in basic emergency telecommunications, how to operate under less than normal conditions and how to build their own antennas, and to find alternative ways to communicate during an emergency or disaster situation,” Mr. Corniff notes.
Overall the graduates will now be able to set up emergency radio stations to pass on information to parish emergency operation centres in hospitals, parish councils, police stations and fire departments.
Mr. Corniff says the experience of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, highlighted the critical need to improve the means of communication for emergency operators at the community level.
“Most of our communities were marooned and there was no communication coming out of these communities. Most of the communication coming out of Jamaica was from like our international airports through the JDF (Jamaica Defence Force), and as such, it caused a delay in the delivery of response to those communities,” he says.
Graduates of the programme are hailing the initiative, for enabling them to provide quick response during a disaster or other emergency.
Eighteen-year old Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) at Gentle Care Ambulance Service in Spanish Town, Teshina Thompson, tells JIS News that the training will help her to be more active in her community and become a resource person in the event of a disaster.
“This would help because I could call the fire department on the radio to tell them something is wrong and they would respond faster than by calling with the phone,” she says.
Another graduate, Diane Lewis from Castleton in St. Mary, tells JIS News that the radios were invaluable during recent bushfires in her community.
“The other day, when we had bushfires and other little disasters, we were able to use our radios and it was very effective,” she says with pride.
Ms. Lewis, who works as a community officer for HelpAge International, a non-government organization set up to help the elderly and vulnerable in communities, says the training was exciting and provided her both theory and practical knowledge.
“First, I could not use this radio or any other radio at all, and I was able to use the handheld radio and the others,” she notes.
She tells JIS News that she is now equipped to train other community members. “So, when we have any emergency…this will enhance us a lot,” she points out.
Vincent Davis, a farmer from Linstead in St. Catherine, says he also learnt a lot from participating in the programme, including how to communicate with the wider public and to pass on information.
He says that one of his most memorable moments was taking part in a simulation exercise in Portmore. “It was a good exercise, it went on well and I was able to broaden my scope,” he says.
Mr. Davis informs that he is now equipped to train other members of his community to use the radios to contact the essential services in time of emergency and this, he adds, will be very useful.
“In my area (Linstead) going up to Mount Rosser, this same radio communication has become so helpful, because there were many accidents on the road and one of my colleagues ….was able to pass on the information each time there is an accident to get the police and the ambulance. So, this course is really worth your while,” he tells JIS News.
For David Bruff, who recently retired from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) after serving for 25 years, the opportunity to continue to provide service in the areas of communication and emergency operation, is welcomed.
Mr. Bruff tells JIS News that he has been helping with providing critical disaster information since Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, and most recently, after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where he was one of the first responders from Jamaica to land in the country.
He argues that the reliance on cell phones during times of disaster is not ideal, as often, they become useless when power or transmission towers are impacted.
It is for this reason, he says, that participating in the EARS programme organised by ODPEM is important, a radio use analog technology.
When other means of communication gets interrupted due to loss of power or otherwise, analog radios though considered amateur, remain the equipment of choice to link isolated communities to other radio users in the essential services such as the police and fire brigade.
“One of the things learnt from the course is that your first task is to ensure that you can communicate,” Mr. Bruff says, noting that learning to make antennas and to continue with communication during a disaster is critical for emergency responders.
“Most of what we’re doing now is analog, and when the true disaster comes and all the tablets and things are down, that is what will stand,’ he adds.
The ODPEM will continue training community volunteers through the EARS programme in Montego Bay later this year. ODPEM is targeting the training of 360 operators island-wide by 2015.