Joint Canada-USA Amateur Radio

Emergency Communications Preparedness Event


Amateur Radio -- a community resource that crosses all borders




















Demonstration of CAN-US Emcomm Capabilities Helps Pave Way for Amateur Radio Service


By Bob Cooke, VE3BDB


From the January/February 2008 issue of The Canadian Amateur  

Copyright © Radio Amateurs of Canada Inc.


A wind-swept crag on Canada ’s east coast was the scene when Amateur Radio took another step forward in showing itself as a viable and vital community resource in time of disaster.


The brainchild of two Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) officials, the demonstration of co-operation in emergency communications preparedness between Radio Amateurs in Canada and the United States was conducted September 29 and 30, 2007, nearly 106 years after Marconi’s historic reception of a trans-Atlantic telegraph transmission on December 12, 1901.


Objectives were three-fold: a) to highlight the capabilities of Amateur Radio in providing emergency communications in times of crisis; b) to illustrate the co-operation between Canada and the USA on emergency preparedness within the context of the Security and Prosperity Partnership signed by the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada in 2005; and c) to create a database of Radio Amateur “first responders” whom the Canadian government could contact for emergency communications assistance in time of disaster.


The two DFAIT officials, both from the Consulate General of Canada offices in Atlanta Georgia, USA, approached RAC with the idea earlier in the year. 


Canadian Christine Pappas, who is Consul and Program Manager and a non-Amateur, was aided by Trade Commissioner Steve Flamm, WB4GCF, in making arrangements for sponsorship of the demonstration, in concert with RAC.  Event Chairman Daniel Lamoureux, VE2KA, who is RAC’s Vice President for International Affairs, coordinated the event.


VO1ARES Special Event Call Sign


Operating special event call sign VO1ARES from the VO1AA station in Cabot Tower on historic Signal Hill, St. John’s , Newfoundland , members of the ARES and of the Society of Newfoundland Radio Amateurs (SONRA) manned a state-of-the-art transceiver supplied by ICOM Canada.  Use of the Signal Hill facilities was courtesy of Parks Canada.


Besides supplying operators, SONRA was the “eyes and ears” of RAC as plans were made, invitations extended and facility arrangements were put into place, led by President Doug Mercer, VO1DTM.


Christine and Steve came up with the idea after Hurricane Katrina, in response to concern for the thousands of Canadian citizens who annually spend winters in the southern U.S. and who could find themselves caught in similar disastrous weather. 


Amateur Radio Can Help “Snowbirds”


With normal communications being down or overloaded to the point of being useless during such a crisis, vacationing Canadians or “snowbirds” could be without the means to at least provide family and friends back home with information concerning their health and welfare.


That’s where Amateur Radio comes in and that’s why the demonstration was conducted.  The value of having a database of Radio Amateurs who are equipped and ready to respond quickly was clearly realized and appreciated. 


Such a resource would be beneficial for mutual aid between the American Radio Relay League and RAC, providing a pool of first responder radio operators in the event of emergencies or disasters occurring within one country of the other.  It would also be of great importance when assistance was needed between regions and even Field Organization Sections within Canada .


In fact, the ARRL has already begun building such a database and plans are actively underway by RAC’s Field Services for the same resource to be set up in Canada.


Over the two days, during scheduled times and using various modes on arranged frequencies, operators at Signal Hill handled simulated emergency traffic (SET) from and to ARES stations in the United States and Canada.  Of course, contacts were also made with those who wished to work VO1ARES and get into the log.


Two Presidents Operate VO1ARES


Two high-profile operators were ARRL President Joel Harrison, W5ZN, and RAC President Earle Smith, VE6NM, both of whom took a turn at the key or microphone. 


In their respective addresses to invited guests prior to the demonstration, both presidents pointed to the long-standing cooperation between their respective organizations, as well as voicing a strong belief in the value of Amateur Radio in providing emergency communications in time of disaster.  As Joel put it, Amateurs know no borders when their abilities are needed.


Including SET contacts, a total of 356 QSOs were made, among them187 stations in the U.S. and 107 in Canada.  The remainder included contacts with stations in the United Kingdom , Europe, South America, the Caribbean and Malta .


ARRL Alabama Section Manager Greg Sarratt, W4OZK, was one of the ARES operators in the U.S. who passed traffic during the Signal Hill demonstration.  Greg had been invited to attend as a guest at Signal Hill, as was Len Foster, VA3LGF, both of whom provided on the scene communications during the Katrina disaster.  Unfortunately, circumstances prevented them from coming to St. John’s.


In Fitzroy Provincial Park, about an hour’s drive north of Ottawa, Ken Halcrow, VE3SRS, and crew, along with the Canadian Forces (Reserve) 763 Communications Regiment, set up operations to participate in the event. 


Officials and Dignitaries Attend


Those in attendance included Councillor Sandy Hickman, who represented the City of St. John’s, while Len LeRiche,  Newfoundland and Labrador Regional Director for Public Safety Canada, spoke warmly about the value of Amateur Radio and his firm support for it in emergency situations.  NL Section Manager Joe Craig, VO1NA, brought words of welcome from the RAC NL Field Organization.


Regrettably, invitations extended to other officials, including the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Industry, were declined, as were several sent to local emergency service providers.


However, that did not deter those who did attend from witnessing a first-rate demonstration of emergency communications.  Those who were absent don’t appreciate what an opportunity they missed. 


Using SSB, CW and other digital modes, messages containing information, which in a disaster would be vital, were competently delivered despite less than perfect propagation.


Tourists Awed by Demonstration


As the demonstration progressed, visitors to the site entered the small staging area of the partially enclosed station to gape in wonderment as they witnessed communications being conducted from the same location as Marconi’s historic trans-Atlantic feat one hundred six years prior!


Questions were asked (and answered) and many photographs taken as the visitors, tourists to the Parks Canada facility, were treated to an extra and unexpected attraction. 


Several times the area was so crowded and full of chatter that one tourist wondered aloud at how the radio operators, who continued to pass and receive traffic, could possibly carry on with so many distractions; but carry on they did.


Timing and location of the event couldn’t have been better because of the Marconi connection and planned innovations and support for the RAC ARES in the areas of identification, training and administration.  Further details about those initiatives will be forthcoming.


Could it Happen Again?


Already there has been some talk about doing it again and credit is given to the following operators who helped make the first event a success:  VO1DTM, VO1PRB, VO1VZ, VO1EGS, VO1DK, VO1BQ, VO1CT, VO1HE, VO1IRA, VO1HLD, VO1RYL, VO1GXG, VO1HC, VO1MDS, VO1TTU, VO1NA, VO1PX, VO1BKR, and “mainlanders” VE3SRS, VE4YU, W3BNY, WB4JFS, VE3GNA, VA3KU, VE3JSO, VE3VY, VE9HC and W4OZK.  We apologize if anyone has been missed.


Note: QSLs to confirm contacts, or SWL logging of VO1ARES, are to be sent care of VE9GLF.  Replies will be via the Bureau unless sufficient return Canadian postage (or IRCs) and an envelope are included. 



(To view the photos that were included with this article, see the Jan/Feb 2008 TCA.)




A commemorative QSL card will be issued automatically via the bureau to every contact made.   QSLing may be done through the bureau to VO1ARES via VE9GLF.  


If desired, QSLs may be sent direct to VO1ARES via VE9GLF, G.L. Friars, 35 Upper Quaco Road, Baxters Corner, New Brunswick, Canada E2S 2S2.  


ALL replies from VO1ARES will be via the bureau.  Those wishing a direct reply, including Short Wave Listeners,  must include an envelope and sufficient postage.  Within Canada, please send a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE).  


If outside of Canada, please include sufficient International Reply Coupons (IRCs) to cover the cost of a letter from Canada to your country.  This is imperative in order to receive a card directly, otherwise it will go via the bureau.  Remember, only Canadian postal stamps may be used on mail posted from Canada.  Do not send U.S. or other non-Canadian stamps.





Sincere thanks are extended to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT), Parks Canada, ICOM Canada and the Society of Newfoundland Radio Amateurs (SONRA) for supporting and assisting this event in cooperation with RAC.













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