Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Poo-poo'ing the poo-poo'ers

As most of you know by now, there was a 5.9 magnitude earthquake today, the epicenter of which was located in Virginia.  It was felt all up and down the East coast and out into the MidWest.  I felt nothing at work; but then I work in a computer data center, which is a glorified euphemism for "fortified bunker".  My wife called me and told me that she felt it, our kids felt it as the house was "shaking like crazy" according to her.  Closet doors were rattling in the door jambs and she thought our dog was under the bed, pulling a hairy fit - but he was downstairs at the time.  All the neighbors met out in the street to talk and comment about what they had felt.

Importantly, there have been no reports of any injuries or any real, widespread property damage, which is a good thing.  So as far as earthquakes go, while it was felt by a good many people and got a lot of folks excited, it was rather insignificant in terms of damage.

Then, I saw this in an e-mailed news bulletin that I get on a regular basis from WABC NewsRadio:

The 5.9 earthquake that shook Virginia was felt in New York City this afternoon. Tremors were felt all across the East coast. In wake of the earthquake, cell phone service has been significantly disrupted. The JFK and Newark airport control towers have been temporarily evacuated, as has City Hall. MTA and the tunnels are unaffected.

Cell phone service significantly disrupted?  The vaunted Cell phone service that was supposed to negate the need for Amateur Radio in times of real emergency, becomes "significantly disrupted" over a (for all intent and purpose) rather NOT major earthquake event?  This is the SAME Cell phone service that will carry the day when a BIG earthquake or MAJOR hurricane turns everything all upside down?

I think not.  And I for one, sleep just a little better at night knowing that there are a ton of you out there, who like me, are ready to go into action and volunteer your time and talent unselfishly in your communities when the big disasters do occur, whether it be with CERT, RACES, ARES, SKYWARN, SATERN or whatever.

Amateur Radio - you just gotta love it!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!


  1. Yeah, the problem with the cell phones is when something like that happens everyone gets on, thus jamming the lines. It's like a run on the bank. The "reserves" of the cellular service are not nearly enough to handle everyone calling.

    Glad everyone's OK up there. Living in the 3rd most seismic country in the world I get nervous now if there *hasn't* been a quake in a while, hi!

  2. Good evening Larry, we too had it up this way as well. But like you I did not feel a thing, there was parts of the city that said things were shaking and moving. The new technology can be a great thing but when it stop working ham radio can still get the messages through. I guess in Canada it will take an event to prove to the techno world that radio is not out dated.

  3. Anonymous8:31 AM

    I'll refer to your previous post, "Bad behavior on the bands" and say that I have little faith that these same ham radio operators will suddenly become smarter during a crisis and courageously spring into action, filling in for something as vast and well-designed as the cell phone network. Or are we talking about a totally different group of ham radio operators? Not the same?

    It's a nice thought, but you're kidding yourself. Do you REALLY want these people doing more than directing traffic in a real emergency? If you're tempted to say "yes", then think back to how well they oversaw the parking at the last hamfest you attended.

  4. This is disappointing, but not surprising. The cellular carriers simply are unable to provide a reasonable service when this type of event happens. I know that there are systems in place so that certain pre-defined users will get priority (government, etc.) in an emergency, but that system is very limited in who can get access. I would guess that, for instance, the thousands of volunteer fire department and ambulance corps members have no such access.

    Several years ago, after some incident in NYC that caused the main Nextel switch in NYC to stop working, which had the effect of crippling communications for many emergency responders at least as far as western NJ, Nextel swore that they'd "taken steps" and "made a significant investment" to beef up the systems. Nextel as an entity doesn't exist, but the fact is that the voice systems just plain won't hold up under this kind of load.

    To be fair, I will say that while I was unable to make cell calls at the time, text and data did actually seem to be working reasonably well.

    But to your point, no, I do not believe that cellular telephone systems eliminate the need for ham radio during an emergency.

  5. Wow! Another (or perhaps the same) "Anonymous" with a prolific and vociferous response. Very good - like to see that! But perhaps you'd care to ingratiate us with a name and a call sign ..... perhaps .... maybe?

    No, I doubt the person who is too lazy to observe good operating practices on HF would suddenly jump into action in times of an emergency, and begin acting like an A-1 Operator. Fortunately, I think those types of Hams remain in the minority.

    I have been fortunate to be involved, since the 1980s, with some mighty fine, dedicated and I daresay, "professional" Amateurs in various phases of emergency communications. From sheltering situations, to search and rescue operations, to mundane things like handling parking at civic events. These folks who come out and volunteer their time and talent on a continual basis do seem to have innate qualities that do set them apart from the rest of the herd as it were. I'm not saying that they're better or superior to anyone else - just different.

    So yes, I am saying that a Ham who is "called" to join in and participate in programs such as RACES, ARES, CERT or SATERN or whatever does have something inside that is just a little bit different from a person who is just in the hobby for the "sheer enjoyment" of it, with no desire to help out when circumstances arise.

    That's not to cast aspersions on the people who are into Ham Radio entirely just for the fun of it. It's a big hobby with room for everybody.