How Ham Radio Communication Can Be Used During Disaster

Radio communication has been in use for more than a century now. They are used in different forms such as radio station broadcasting, TV broadcasting, radar, space communication, and more. Today, radio communication is becoming more and more ubiquitous in our life. Radio communication may be common, but there is a scenario in which the use of radio communication shines – it is during the disaster. During a calamity or disaster such as earthquakes or floods, smartphone signals won’t work for many different reasons. Cellphone tower not working may seem far-fetched as we can easily talk to a person anywhere in the world with the use of the internet, but the internet and smartphone signal has broken many times during a disaster. During these times, an amateur, or a ham radio is much useful.

First, let us talk a bit about ham radio.

Ham or Amateur radio

Ham radio is a service used by normal people to engage in two-way personal communication using different electric equipment in a radio station via some non-commercial radio frequency spectrum. It is used to facilitate two-way communication between broadcasters around the world. For many people, using a ham radio is like a hobby to get to know other people. They can be used in different areas such as radio contesting, radio propagation, public service communication, technical experimentation, and computer networking. Though the awareness of using ham radio during a disaster is low, it has great potential to be immensely useful during disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and cyclones.

HAM Radio Operators, First Communications Out During Disasters ...

Ham Radio communication during disaster

The reason why ham radio is useful during a disaster is that it is completely independent of all the facilities that can fail in a normal mode of communication during a disaster. Ham radio communication doesn’t have a choke or central point present in cellular communication that is overloaded during a disaster. They also don’t require many resources to operate as they can be easily powered by an automobile battery.

During a disaster, people need to contact their loved ones and the emergency team must find a resilient way of making communication with their crews. A reliable way of communication is required during these difficult times, and radio communication comes out as the best way of communication during these times.

Let us see some reasons why radio communication is superior to the current ones.

Why Radio communication is suitable during a disaster?

1. Robust Design

A robust and un-breakable communication device is needed when you are using it during a disaster. The environment may not favor you. The emergency response team must communicate with their crews and people amid challenging conditions such as heat, rain, mud, dust, and more. Not only the communication device, but the whole network must be resilient to these conditions. Such a robust and resilient design is offered by the ham radio communication network and its devices. Normal cell communication base station and its network is not as resilient to these conditions, so you may not be able to communicate using traditional network during these times. So it is better to have knowledge about ham radios as it is proven to work during these times.

2. Long Battery life

Battery life is another important feature a communication device should have during a natural disaster as there may be power outages for days. Radio networks and ham radios are designed to withstand power outages as they have long power backup. These radio devices also don’t need much battery resources to operate, so you will get longer battery life with a ham radio than a smartphone. They can also be easily recharged using your automobile battery, so it can be used for days during power outages. Not only the portable radios have a long battery life, but the network in which the radios operate also have backup generators and other resources to keep it working for days during power outages. Emergency personnel and normal people can rely on these radios and networks to work for several days even when there is no power.

3. No room for congestion

Traditional networks are often overloaded after a disaster as a huge volume of calls is made by people to communicate with their loved ones. This happens due to the congestion that happens at the base station. These stations are not properly equipped to handle a huge volume of calls. There are certain choke points in the traditional networks that cannot handle a huge volume of communication. In these times, dedicated channels can be issued for organizations using radio networks as they can reduce the amount of congestion. With the use of dedicated channels, radio communication can easily mitigate congestion that happens in traditional networks. Also, good management of these networks during disaster time can reduce the congestion and ensure that calls get through the network.

4. No dependency on repeaters

This is probably an important feature that makes radio communication great during a disaster. They are not entirely dependent on repeaters or central infrastructure. So even when the network central infrastructure fails, you can communicate using ham radios in a simple and direct mode. Here, the transmitter and receiver operate on the same frequency and do not depend on the repeaters for communication. Communication is also possible with a line of sight even if they are miles apart. This property of the radio communicates makes it indispensable during a disaster.

After Nepal earthquake, people turn to ham radio | Ars Technica


Real Life Usecases of Radio communication

There are many scenarios in the past where ham radio communication has proven to be useful during a disaster. Amateur radio operators provided much-needed emergency communication services in China during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Ham Radio was also extensively used in the United States during a disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In India, the Ham radio operators used the radio network to coordinate and organize relief measures during the earthquakes of Uttarkashi in 1991. When the tsunami and earthquake devasted the Andaman Islands in December 2004, all forms of communications were wiped out except for the DX-pedition ham radios. Indian hams contacted their Nepal counterparts on 14.210 MHz when a massive earthquake struck that country in 2015. It proved useful in organizing relief operations and thereby saving thousands of lives. These are some of the real-life scenarios in which ham radios have proven to be useful.


Time and again ham radios have proven superior to the traditional form of communication during disaster times. Having knowledge of ham radio may be a hobby, but it becomes a utility during disaster times. Hope you got good information about why radio communication is used during a disaster.

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