Last night, it was reported that over 800,000 customers in the Gulf Coast area impacted by Hurricane Isaac were without power. No details were given, however, as to how this loss has affected the ability of residents to communicate via telephones, radio or TV. Government officials have indicated that the federal funded interoperability programs, following Katrina, that were designed to improved communications among first responders functioned as planned.

The unanswered question is still on the table – how do residents in local neighborhoods and rural areas communicate with one another and nearby Emergency Operation Centers (EOCs) when there isn’t any electric power? This blogger hasn’t seen any answers to this question in the mainstream media news coverage. The only EmComm comments, found to date, came via the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) newsletter dated 8-30-2012, and titled “Hams Heed the Call to Help as Isaac Makes Landfall, Downgraded to Tropical Storm.”

“Seven years to the day that Hurricane Katrina smashed into New Orleans, Hurricane Isaac came calling. But instead of making landfall right at New Orleans like Katrina (a Category 3 storm) did on August 28, 2005, Isaac veered slightly to the west of the city. Through it all, hams at WX4NHC — the Amateur Radio station at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami, Florida — and those supporting the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) and the VoIP Hurricane Net, along with various nets within the ARRL’s Delta Division, relayed reports to their served agencies on Isaac’s progress and the damage the storm created in its wake.”

“Even though Isaac has made landfall and is currently tracking slowly up Central Louisiana to Arkansas, hams in the Delta Division are not done,” explained ARRL Delta Division Director David Norris, K5UZ. “We had quite a few nets running as Isaac came ashore, and some are still going on, relaying damage reports and assisting with health-and-welfare traffic. As the American Red Cross and other served agencies venture out in the field within the next few days to assess the damage created by Isaac, hams in the Delta Division are ready to assist these teams with whatever communications support is necessary. Just because Isaac itself is over, we know that storms like this can bring tornadoes, power outages and other weather events in their wake, and we are prepared to continue to provide any support that is needed.”

Buried in yet another ARRL report was the following comment from a Ham:
“The majority of our reports were from ham operators who were weathering the storm, yet who took the time to keep us informed. In the ham radio spirit of readiness, many of the stations we contacted were on stand-by generator power, some with temporary or storm-related antennas and most with quality weather measuring instruments. Many more stations stood by silently, waiting to relay if needed, and listening for the reports.”

This sounds like what some amateur radio operators are trying to do in Petaluma, now, using a Neighborhood HamWatch approach. Stay tuned for Part II for this theme.