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Innovative emergency communication systems can maximize disaster recovery

Don Roth


Whenever a crisis requires a large evacuation, effective communication becomes vital to the success of any response operation. All too often, emergency situations create obstacles to communication -- power may be cut off, access routes may be blocked, isolated response teams may be operating with inaccurate information, or teams may have difficulty getting instructions to large groups of frightened civilians.

The potential negative consequences for local governments, schools, businesses, sports arenas and other public areas are obvious and overwhelming. Government agencies charged with public safety at every level must consider communication contingency plans as a top priority if they hope to respond to disasters successfully.

In establishing disaster preparedness plans, emergency personnel in all settings should have equipment on hand to guarantee that communication lines will remain available whatever obstacles arise. Such equipment needs to meet a number of criteria, including:

  • Portability -- the communication unit must go wherever the response teams go, with a minimum of weight and space;
  • Power -- the unit must operate for long time periods without the need for outside power;
  • Versatility -- one-to-one communication between team leaders must be available, as well as the capacity to address larger groups of responders and civilians;
  • Cost effectiveness -- the unit must be affordable enough to be available to all sizes and types of response organizations, including in-house safety teams and public safety officials.

One innovative approach combines handheld radio networking with powerful long-range hailer sound amplification. Our company has developed a portable system that links response leadership through MURS radios. During an emergency, the Radio Hailer provides a grab-and-go, battery-operated system that brings voice coverage to an area where disaster has knocked out communication channels and allows organizations to establish their own zone sites during a disaster scenario. These zone sites enable public sector first responders, community emergency response teams (CERTs), and corporate preparedness teams to broadcast messages to the Radio Hailer from up to one mile away, literally expanding crowd control coverage.

In recent drills, the Radio Hailer system enabled a corporate emergency response team to effectively communicate with each other and with employee groups in large, noisy areas, including street-level meet-up spots and building atriums. The clients chose to use their own two-way radios, set to a restricted digital talk group that only specified radio holders (management, fire/life safety and others) could access. Set-up included one master two-way radio used as the transmitter, and additional two-way radios used as receivers at each position. This was connected via the headphone jack to the auxiliary input of the Radio Hailer amp, which received the signal and then broadcast the information from the speaker.

The customer established two separate talk groups at two sites: New York City and Jersey City, NJ. The Radio Hailer, with attached radios, was configured for both sites. In an extreme emergency, this would allow the company to link all the Radio Hailers together at both locations for an all-hands announcement.

The success of the Radio Hailer model in this corporate setting suggests a wide range of other possible applications for this important new communication tool. In addition to private customers, it is currently in use at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico and at the 21st Combat Support Hospital at Fort Hood. The straight-forward design could easily be used by local law enforcement and public safety officials at all levels.

The bottom line: When disaster strikes, effective communication can make all the difference. Any organization charged with emergency response duties must review its disaster plans with a focus on communication, and make sure it has the equipment on hand to stay connected. Technological innovations like the Radio Hailer make it possible for any community, military installation, school or business to have a cost-effective, reliable and portable long-range emergency communication system, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

Don Roth is CEO of AmpliVox Sound Systems, a designer and manufacturer of portable emergency sound systems. He can be reached at:

[email protected]


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