EmComm – Lessons from hurricane Michael

Posted on October 15, 2018
Filed Under Amateur Radio, EmComm | 2 Comments

On October 10th, 2018 Category 4 hurricane Michael impacted the Florida panhandle. It’s 155 mph winds completely destroyed homes along the beach and obliterated the infrastructure all around Panama City.


A total loss of communications occurred. No electricity, no internet, no cell phones and a failure of the statewide 08 trunked system in the local area. No communications between shelters. Police,Fire and government..  Total disarray. The local government may have depended on that trunked system to highly.

All amateur systems i.e 2 meter/440 repeaters in the area failed. (To my knowledge).  Loss of power?

I will try to update this post when I get reliable details on what and why systems failed.

I do know that requests for amateurs did not happen prior to the storm. I know this because one shelter contacted me and I passed on the request for staffing.

What we need:

There are IMPORTANT lessons to be learned here for coastal Mississippi. Our Local / State government agencies also depend on a trunked system. They  do NOT have fixed plans to staff shelters and other important areas with amateurs prior to storms.  Brand new local shelters in Jackson County don’t even have provisions for communications equipment or personnel.

We KNOW from experience with other hurricanes such communications systems fail.  There is a time to avoid these failures, and it is before a storm hits. It requires planning and implementation.

We must be prepared for the next storm(s).  Organize and work with Local / State officials. Setup systems (multiple) of communications, with emergency / solar power.  Systems that DO NOT RELY on the Internet. Systems such as D-Star/Fusion/Echolink that utilize the internet are useless when it fails.  Radio based mesh networks, packet systems work. Of course stand alone voice repeaters work well when alternate power sources are available.  Portable digipeaters, portable voice repeaters should be on hand.


We also need to be trained. First some agencies don’t want our help unless we are trained. In fact some are turned away. So to be most effective we need training in local procedures and FEMA / DHS standards. Take the time to go online and do some training.

Let us look to our neighbors to the East and gain some important knowledge about what works and most importantly what failed.

Don’t assume that cell phones and power will be restored quickly. It takes time for Cell phone companies to bring in their Cellular on Wheels. They have them staged to bring in, but until roads are cleared and can be driven upon, they wait.

Putting out a call for amateurs to travel to the area after the storm is important, but realize that they may not be able to get in due to either obstructed roads…OR Governmental obstruction. i.e Police or National Guard checkpoints not allowing them entry.
This happens…EVERY TIME.

People need help after the storm. Supplies need to be coordinated for delivery. Medical issues need communicated. From the very minor and mundane to life saving requirements.   This ability failed for DAYS. Amateurs have the ability to provide these communications locally and nationwide. But we need to be prepared in advance.



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2 Responses to “EmComm – Lessons from hurricane Michael”

  1. Dave Jobes on March 21st, 2019 7:39 pm

    Please cite your info on the State trunked system.
    It was fully operational.

    Hams were requested prior to the storm. Again check your sources.

  2. BacardE on March 26th, 2019 6:30 am

    Dave, you are correct. The Harris SLERS system did indeed stay up in the region. And of course Amateurs were requested prior. I know, personally of *requests* for amateurs that we not fulfilled by shelter folks. Just not enough hams to fill all the slots.
    My post was based on *incorrect or premature data from some ARES folks on the SLERS from Alabama. However the comms problems did occur in the region between agencies as all dont subscribe to the SLERS system. My current understanding is the Harris system performed its job. My post is not meant to be critical of the Hams or SLERs in the Florida panhandle. But to criticize the lack of preparation and coordination in my local community here in South Mississippi. We as an amateur community can provide, with proper infrastructure and planning, far more effective service. I am currently the President of the Jackson County Amateur Radio assoc, and am familiar with the level of preparedness here. Thanks for your comment.

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