The Simulated Emergency Test to measure the disaster readiness of Amateur Radio involved 38 countries and four others who recognised its importance but could not take part this time.
IARU Region 1 Emergency Communications Co-Ordinator Greg Mossop G0DUB, has reported on the event, which was different from other GlobalSETs held since 2006.
While earlier events had an emphasis on message handling and field stations, a better and simpler exercise was needed to demonstrate the strength of Amateur Radio Emergency Communications throughout the world.
Greg Mossop G0DUB said: “The IARU Emergency Communications Co-ordinators decided that the best way to achieve this would be to have an availability or 'call-out' exercise.
“It asked all countries with Emergency Communications Groups to contact their members and ask them how quickly they could get on air if required.”
This seemed to be more suitable to all, particularly some very involved in emergencies but unable to take part in earlier GlobalSETs because of timing or the distance from other countries.
The aims of the exercise were:
The exercise could start at any time as disasters do not just occur at weekends, with the start time to decided by the IARU regional coordinators, who chose December 18 as being clear of most social and cultural events.
A web-survey form was used to gather data and analyse the results, both globally, and with the IARU regions.
The web form was intended to be simple because of the different languages used, but its role and the GlobalSET itself was misunderstood by a few, who admitted later either not reading it, or sending it for individuals to complete.
Pre-publicity had sought to explain to new GlobalSET concept. Using a web form sought to overcome any language barriers through the freely available online translation tools, making it easier to fill in by coordinators and not each radio amateur.
The survey collected data from National Emergency Communications Groups about their organisation's response.
It asked them to identify their member’s availability. Those immediately available to respond to an emergency, others needed to obtain supplies before responding, and a third wave with commitments that needed to be cleared, resulting in a truly structured response.
The survey results covered an estimated 8466 members worldwide, of which, 2048 claimed to be available in less than 1 hour.
Greg G0DUB said: “This exercise occurred on a normal business day in many countries, an availability rate of 20-30% of stations is very good and does seem reasonable as a planning assumption for future exercises.
“To balance this however, it is also recognised that some countries did not get a response from all their membership.”
An interesting finding was the need to revise or improve alerting procedures. The survey asked the methods used to contact their members – options were the telephone, SMS, email, radio or by other means.
“A quarter of participating countries (10 of the 38) who took part relied on a single communications method with their members.
“Some 25 used email as part of their alerting method, but from previous exercises it has been shown that email is not a 100% reliable. One group’s email callout method in this exercise failed.
“Where possible a mixture of methods should be used for alerting members with automatic feedback of message delivery or the response,” said Greg G0DUB.
Listed under 'other' methods on the survey, Whatsapp emerged as a favourite - a mixture of the Internet and SMS, but groups should remember that any single system is a single point of failure.
Whatsapp itself was inaccessible on December 31 in some areas. The cause is unknown, but it showed again that any public service is vulnerable to overload and may not be available on demand, particularly during a disaster.
The exercise caused some healthy debate, and part of the aim of every exercise - learn and improve. The small number of frequent complaints, some based on misunderstandings, are explained in the report.
Greg G0DUB said that probably ten times more radio amateurs took part this time, with a few groups returning after a few years absence. He said: “Finally, success at International Telecommunications World Radiocommunications Conference WRC-15, and the International Amateur Radio Union advocacy work that includes references to the emergency communications, can be backed up with further proof.
“What GlobalSET 2015 did was to produce good data to support the IARU claims on spectrum and shows that we are ready to respond when needed.”
A full report will be sent to the IARU regional coordinators, who will distribute it further.
- Jim Linton VK3PC, Chairman IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee.