Tough calls — dedication in the face of disaster

Tait Electronics (Aust) Pty Ltd

Monday, 12 September, 2022

Tough calls — dedication in the face of disaster

When disaster strikes, you will find first responders willing and ready to serve. Firefighters, utility workers, police officers, rescue crews, EMS and many others put their lives on the line to protect and provide for their own communities. In this article we cover the need for resilient people and mission-critical communications systems in times of disaster.

Every day, disasters threaten lives, homes and property around the world. 59,000 wildfires swept across the US in 2021, burning over 7.1 million acres (28,732 km2), and in 2018 Hurricane Michael caused $25.1 billion worth of infrastructural damage. In the background, there are teams of workers supporting, directing, feeding, managing and communicating during disastrous times like these.

Dedicated workers, dedicated employers

In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, over 40,000 utility workers were mobilised. Many of these people’s own homes were flooded, their loved ones evacuated or in shelters. Yet they were tasked with eliminating live wire danger, ensuring power to critical infrastructure was restored as quickly as possible.

This kind of response demands extreme dedication. Many went to work regardless of unpleasant and treacherous conditions, knowing that their communities needed power restored. As noted by Gay Johnson, Four County Electric Membership Corp, “Crews in the field worked 16 hours a day.”

Giving — and receiving — mutual aid

Some events are so large that local first responders are overwhelmed and need reinforcements to effectively respond to a disaster. Often this is between neighbouring counties, but it can also occur on a global level.

When the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, was struck by an earthquake, almost 700 rescue workers came from all over the world to search for, and rescue, survivors. Urban search teams from the UK, US, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan arrived within hours to assist.

While some arrived with their own communications, other equipment critical to the rescue effort was made available on the ground. With the beleaguered city the headquarters for Tait International, local Tait technicians worked round the clock setting up, training and supporting crews as they arrived. For many, it provided valuable firsthand experience of what Tait customers face.

In response to Hurricane Michael, neighbouring states in the US offered assistance, even ones also affected by the storm.

Disaster-ready communications

Storms and other disasters have a nasty habit of knocking out power, and very often, public communications networks go with it. In a major disaster, telephone systems (especially cell phone systems) frequently fail. As wildfires raged across California, mobile phones went silent as towers and lines succumbed to the flames, leaving citizens unable to receive automated warnings or call 911 for help.

“We had to drive through neighbourhoods with sirens and public address systems to alert residents and visitors,” said David Katz, Malibu Search and Rescue Team.

A consistent theme that echoes throughout most, if not all disaster scenarios is: without communication, we’re alone and isolated; effective communication ensures we’re able to help and support others when they need it most. Check these 10 tips to make sure your communications are disaster-hardened.

  1. In a major disaster, you cannot rely on public cellular systems which are frequently overloaded, or fail entirely.
  2. Disaster planning must limit access to critical users only. You will not have enough channels in extreme situations.
  3. Identify, protect and prioritise critical user groups in advance, and build them into your talk-group structure.
  4. Define you interoperability needs — who needs to talk to whom?
  5. When will you use encryption? Can you communicate effectively with all the necessary agencies and groups?
  6. Consider investing in transportable repeater systems that can be rapidly deployed.
  7. Train and practise your communications in simulated emergencies at least annually.
  8. Plan for a scenario in which your computer systems are not available. Ensure all your procedures are thoroughly documented in electronic and hard copy formats, are easy to follow and are easy to find by everyone who might need them.
  9. You will lose power to your system — plan for it with dual redundancy (AC then battery then generator).
  10. Eliminate single points of failure at the system design stage. Invest enough to stay on air through critical events, ensuring power to sites throughout.

This article has been republished with permission from the Tait Communications blog and is an extract from the white paper ‘Tough Calls’, targeting the roles and responsibilities of first responders and comms operators in the face of disaster. Download the full white paper at

Top image credit:

Originally published here.

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