The increasing irrelevance of Ham Radio Emcomm.
Remember Hurricane Harvey??— In Houston, a reported 95% of the telco cell network stayed up. Houston area cell providers promised to harden the network after Katrina- and they did just that! —- As a result, nearly all communications with public safety agencies during Harvey were conducted on the working commercial cell and POTS infrastructure.
Zello ( is a push-to-talk app for mobile devices and PCs.) with 120 million users around the world. Available wherever there’s WiFi or data service. And unlike “walkie-talkies”, there are no limits to users, channels or category of use. Over 1 million Houston area citizens downloaded the Zello app in a single day during Harvey.
In the Houston area, people got on Zello the “radio” and self-formed local networks—-Complete with map-based location identifiers—-Hurricane Harvey was what one media outlet called the first Social media Hurricane. Citizens created “family” groups, “neighborhood” groups, “work” groups, “School” groups to name a few. And they had easy transparent communications between them all.
Press Coverage from Harvey:
‘Please Send Help.’ Hurricane Harvey Victims Turn to Twitter and Facebook
Coast Guard asks people stranded by Harvey to call them instead of posting on social media for help. 24 Hours later– the Coast Guard backed down and began using Social Media as well.
ARRL South Texas Public Information Officer Mike Urich, KA5CVH, told ARRL on August 30 that “hardening” of the telecommunications infrastructure to make it more immune to storm damage has diminished the need for Amateur Radio communication support and altered hams’ traditional role there. Urich pointed out, however, that the Amateur Radio telecommunications infrastructure in South Texas has remained analog, as “the lowest common denominator” of technology — VHF/UHF FM, and HF — and has the highest degree of interoperability. “That’s what we train to, that’s what we teach, that’s what we practice,” he said.— SOURCE: ARRL Web site.
The Senhaix 60 (at top)– is a radio entry to the network. Loaded with Zello it becomes an invaluable tool in communications that people used via smart phone (by the 10’s of thousands) with zero training during Hurricane Harvey and other events.
This emerging class of software and devices has enabled people to bypass the need for a “license” to communicate via “radio”. —- Harvey demonstrated that Ham Radio and even Local Government traditional EmComm models are obsolete.—- One Houston area Gov’t organization said early on in a bulletin to the public— Do not use Social Media— we won’t get to you Call us on the phone!—- Guess what? The public ignored them. Within 24 hours the local agency changed their tune. Even the US Coast Guard found it hard to break from the tired/linear model —They implored citizens to “Call us on the Phone” They too, backed off when literally hundreds of thousands of people in Houston were using various Self-formed networks made easy by apps like Zello and WAZE. One smart coder- soon after Harvey’s land-fall, created a “crowd-source” rescue web site to aggregate rescues in the region. The data was credible in showing the status of rescues for all to see. Complete or Pending. (Or who is left out there needing help??!!)— The Web site was quickly seized upon as a real-time “live” Database for localities to determine who needed rescuing. Further, in the shallow yet flooded streets of Houston, Rescue teams in boats could not see where the streets were— so they used WAZE for accurate navigation to reach those needing help. Add the powerful GPS tracking app GLYMPSE that many used — the decentralization of communications is a far more efficient model than that of Ham radio.
KA5CVH, Mike Urich said the emcomm Hams assisted in the “EOC” as being “another set of eyes and ears”. He noted how a senior EOC official needed a specific trailer hitch and Mike got online and researched it for him.– This was an example of the Ham Radio team’s contribution. “When all else fails” Urich noted that they go for the “lowest common denominator” analog systems that work and have the widest interoperability.
This model uses the most rudimentary ham radio gear and skills. “That’s what we train to, that’s what we teach, that’s what we practice,” The many “digital modes” available to Hams are not used.
Ham Radio emcomm’s “rai·son d’ê·tre” is evaporating. The Newington propagandists will continue to promote the “When all else fails” myth But it won’t matter. They live in an echo chamber. Technology and the public have left Ham radio behind.
QUICK!! You live in California– Huge wildfires are licking at your door. The next few hours will be critical to your family’s safety. You can pick up your smart phone or a 2 meter rig. Which device do you take?
Yes, there will be events where the inefficient /traditional/analog workflow model of Ham Radio will still be useful. But as Networks become hardened, and as more devices like the Senhaix emerge, the relevance of Ham Radio emcomm will be exposed for what it is. An anachronism from the analog past.
Oh the gadget above: The Senhaix 60 is the natural evolution of the Wireless Device environment. More will surely follow.
The 3 apps below are in widespread use around the world. They are not “new”.