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What if communication lines break down during disasters?

Raisa Serafica
What if communication lines break down during disasters?
With power as low as 3 watts, a HAM radio operator in the Visayas can contact another operator located in any other given point of the country

MANILA, Philippines –  When cell sites and telephones lines go down after a typhoon, can we still communicate with each other? The answer is yes and it can be powered by a simple flashlight battery. 

Communication without cellphones is possible, according to amateur radio (also known as HAM radio) enthusiasts. 

With power as low as 3 watts, a HAM radio operator in the Visayas can contact another operator located in any other given point of the country.  There are 1,587 members of the Philippine Amateur Radio Association nationwide. 

In a disaster situation, the presence or absence of communication could mean life or death as it affects the fast exchange of information crucial in disaster response and recovery. This happened in the immediate aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda when electricity and cellular signals were cut. 

When Yolanda hit the country in November 2013 and cellular lines were disrupted, HAM radio operators continued to talk to each other, passing on messages for individuals, private firms, and government offices.

“One of the first messages received by the group tracking the typhoon from Tacloban was ‘we need cadaver bags’,” Roberto Vicencio, an amateur radio operator in Metro Manila, recalled. They received the message on November 9, 2013, a day after Typhoon Yolanda first made landfall in Guiuan. 

According to Vicencio, the station in Tacloban relied on a car battery to power their radio. 

The request for body bags for Tacloban was coursed through Naga. Eventually, the message was picked up in Antipolo and passed on to DOH, Red Cross, and DSWD.

From Roxas City, the first message from operator DV6ILA, Iver, was “Roxas City is gone, Jo.”

After the storm, along with other radio operators, Vicencio helped relay messages of Yolanda survivors – about their health and welfare – to relatives in Metro Manila.

“Basically we are hobbyists. That we can provide public service is an added bonus that is realized by the flexibility of our equipment. Some hams even build their own equipment,” Vicencio said.

In preparation for Typhoon Ruby, the Philippine Amateur Radio Association Inc completed communication checks with HAM radios from Nueva Vizcaya to Mindanao and all points in between. 

Radio operators have embedded themselves in the following offices and evacuation centers to facilitate communication among government offices:  DSWD and MDRRMC in Vallehermoso Negros Oriental, MDRRMC at San Agustin Surigal del Sur, PDRRMC in DIpolog, CDRRMC in Tacloban, Don Bosco School for boys in Borongan Eastern Samar, and Pinamalayan MDRRMC Oriental Mindoro. – Rappler.com

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Raisa Serafica

Raisa Serafica is the Unit Head of Civic Engagement of Rappler. As the head of MovePH, Raisa leads the on ground engagements of Rappler aimed at building a strong community of action in the Philippines. Through her current and previous roles at Rappler, she has worked with different government agencies, collaborated with non-governmental organizations, and trained individuals mostly on using digital technologies for social good.