June 2021


Internet or No Internet During Disasters

Bridging the last mile is an important concept in emergency communications. The “last mile” is the path across an area where conventional communications have been disrupted or overloaded by an incident. Our job as emergency communicators is to bridge the last mile as quickly and as efficiently as possible. This last mile could be a mile or two or hundreds of miles.

Metropolitan cities depend heavily on telecom/Internet Service Providers in today’s business world and everyday life. Therefore, the backbone and infrastructure in these areas are much more robust and accessible. During a disaster Internet service may be sporadic at times but will return in time. So, somewhere in the country we will find service and can redirect our emergency communications to that location.

Rural America on the other hand is a different situation. Farms and Ranches depend just as heavily on Internet services as do the small towns. The loss of telecom/Internet services is not as easy to reconnect as in the larger cities. Services are harder to bring into the area, so cost is going to be higher. Satellite Internet is a choice in these areas. Emergency communications still has the task of bridging the last mile. A solution for rural America might be to search out a Satellite Internet service in the area and decide to use that service in emergency situations. Hughes Net, Wild Blue, Earthlink and dishNET are just a few of the Satellite Internet Service Provides out there.

Disasters may require resources beyond what local and state authorities can manage. FEMA provides disaster emergency communications through six geographically dispersed Mobile Emergency Response Support detachments, and a pre-positioned fleet of Mobile Communications Office Vehicles. These will be deployed as rapidly as possible to restore communications in the incident areas.

All the major telecom companies (Sprint, Comcast, Verison, AT&T, etc.) include an extensive deployment of network recovery equipment. This allows the deployment of equipment and teams to speed up and efficiently restore wireline and wireless network operations in the event of disasters.

Voice cell services may be shut down during disasters intentionally to protect the equipment. But the data services are usually left operational. They use much less bandwidth and can withstand a higher volume of traffic. Remember “Text First, Talk Later” during disasters. If you are in a disaster area you should send a short text to family and friends advising them that you are okay and will call them later when the phone services are back up.

So regardless of whether we have Internet services or not our job as emergency communicators remains the same. Bridge that last mile and deliver the messages as quickly and as efficiently as possible. With our digital equipment (Winlink 2000, Fldigi, or D-RATS) we can use Internet services as primary service or use RF as a backup service. All we must do is find the nearest Internet portal and deliver the messages. In today’s situations our services may be short lived. We still must be ready to jump into action when the time comes.

Send any questions and/or comments regarding the content of this article to the address shown below.

Lew Maxewll, KB5HPT

Amateur Radio Emergency Service

DEC, District 6, WTX Section

Email: kb5hpt@arrl.net

Winlink Tactical Address: TXEPCARESDEC