S1E107 - Ben on Communication After a Disaster
This week on Live Like the World is Dying, Ben and Brooke talk about communication systems during a disaster. They cover basic communication infrastructure and equipment as well as what kind of information is vital to be able to communicate when cell phone towers go down. They also cover just how awesome amateur radio is.
Ben Kuo (he/him) is an amateur radio operator. Ben can be found on Mastodon @[email protected]
Brooke can be found on Twitter or Mastodon @ogemakweBrooke.
This show is published by Strangers in A Tangled Wilderness. We can be found at www.tangledwilderness.org, or on Twitter @TangledWild and Instagram @Tangled_Wilderness. You can support the show on Patreon at www.patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness.
Live Like the World is Dying: Ben on Communicating After a Disaster
**Brooke ** 00:15 Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I'm Brooke Jackson, your host for this episode. Today I'll be talking with Ben about communication and sharing information after disasters. But first, we'd like to celebrate being a member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts by playing a little jingle from one of the other podcasts on the network. Jingle, Jingle jingle goes here.
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**Brooke ** 01:29 And we're back. Ben, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about communication and information sharing after a disaster. We'd love to know a little bit more about you if you're willing to share your pronouns and where you hail from and anything else that you want to say to introduce yourself?
**Ben ** 01:49 Sure. My name is Ben Kuo, and I am in Ventura County, California. My pronouns are he and him. And my background in disasters is I have been very involved in responding to disasters, providing information on social media, and making sure that people, you know, get the information they need to stay safe and stay healthy and help other people.
**Brooke ** 02:17 Nice. Was this something that you got into because of a disaster that happened? Or was it something you were interested in before...before it became useful in this context? If that makes sense?
**Ben ** 02:28 It's interesting. I really got involved in this in 20--I believe it's 2018--when Hurricane Maria hit, and hurricane Maria was a category five hurricane, and I am...one of my hobbies--and I have many hobbies-- but one of them is amateur radio. And for folks who have never heard of amateur radio, what it is, is a hobby where you learn how to use the radio and to communicate with people. And that is locally, you know, with people in your area, that is internationally. And you can talk to people all across the globe using just a radio, a power supply, a battery, and an antenna without any of the world being up. So that's no internet, no telephone, no power supply, no power grid. And you can communicate with people all over the world. And it's fun. And I started because it was a lot of fun. But it ends up being very, very, very useful nowadays with the increasing pace of disasters. And so I became an amateur radio operator partially because of the emergency aspect of it. There's a big community around it. But also just because it's a lot of fun for the technology and playing with the technology. So the big story of how I got into the disaster is Hurricane Maria was bearing down on the Caribbean. And it is...I don't know if you've seen the trend in recent years but hurricanes have been spinning up much faster and much more intensely. And it's called rapid intensification. And because of that you don't have quite the warning that you used to with hurricanes. And so people go, "Oh, we can watch this. And we can react." or "Oh, it's gonna be coming in a week." And that's not happening as much anymore. So what happens is someone says, "Hey, it's a tropical storm. We don't have to worry too much." And all of a sudden, it goes from a tropical storm to category five hurricane. This actually happened only a few months ago in Mexico. A tropical storm, everyone says, "Oh, it's just going to be a tropical storm." Even the expert of the National Weather Service said, "Oh, it's just gonna be a tropical storm." And it went from a tropical storm to category five hurricane. And it totally decimated a resort area in Mexico.
**Brooke ** 05:16 I had no idea. And it's interesting because I feel like I seem to hear about them going the other direction so often. Like, oh, there's a hurricane off the coast and it, you know--especially on our coast here on the West Coast--and then it dissipates into, you know, just a tropical storm or what have you. So I wasn't aware that we're seeing an increase of them going from tropical storm to hurricane. That's really interesting.
**Ben ** 05:40 Yeah, I think the scientists say, you know, it's an outgrowth of warmer oceans and with the climate crisis and all that, you have more energy. So it hits a warm spot in the ocean and all sudden, you know, it becomes quite crazy. So how I got involved is--I was not involved very much with emergencies and disasters, until hurricane Maria--and I was, you know, monitoring things here and there. And I learned that amateur radio was the only way to get to the...there's a little island nation called Dominica, it's not affiliated with any large country. It's kind of its own country. And they were cut off from the world by hurricane Maria. So they had, I guess they lost 90% of the roofs. They lost...they had no power system. They lost their telephones. And interestingly enough, everyone thought they were okay, because they didn't hear any messages from Dominica. They were like, "Oh, category five, it should be fine." And no one called for help. [Brooke exclaims incredulity] I got on--the amateur radio operators had already been active. There's an active Amateur Radio Group on the island. And I stumbled upon them and discovered they were in big trouble. And they were just begging for help. And so I stumbled in here--I'm all the way in California--and using the magic of amateur radio was actually talking to these folks in the Caribbean. And actually also using the internet kind of to bridge some of the parts of it. It's interesting, all the technology aspects. But the important thing ended up being that they were in a lot of trouble. There's no one to help, and they just needed to get information about what was going on. And I started relaying information to the amateur radio operators there in the region on what was going on, what help was on the way or not on the way. In the meantime, they actually had...the amatory operators actually arranged a rescue of the Prime Minister of the country. And that's like, you know, rescuing the President of the United States. Yeah, they rescued the president of Dominica, the Prime Minister. And they had...they were laying information back and forth like, "Oh, we need this. There's a problem here. People here need dialysis. How can we get help from these people? These people are trapped." At one point, I relayed information from them about someone who had been...who was able to--I guess there's limited cell phone coverage within the country--where they were able to tell somebody else that they were stuck underneath the house. And that got relayed by amateur radio operators out of the country, and I got it and it went back into the country elsewhere. And I rescued somebody. And in fact, I ended up relaying information from the US Embassy. And they actually were sending in...they actually sent in an entire warship, the USS Wasp. It's an amphibious carrier. And they were airlifting US citizens out of the country. And they would actually go in and, you know, drop people off and pull them out of the, you know, whatever vacation villa they're staying at and have them evacuate. It was a big operation. No one...no one really heard about it here. But that was kind of my introduction to the fact that amateur radio was very, very useful in really, you know, like a worst case scenario. And I learned a lot of lessons there, for sure, about how to deal with it. And eventually after Hurricane Maria hit Dominica, it actually hit Puerto Rico.
**Brooke ** 09:37 What year was this by the way?
**Ben ** 09:39 It was September of 2017. And it first hit Dominica, but then the hurricane curved up and it hit Puerto Rico. And I was involved in that. There's a huge...Puerto Rico also had no communications. And the only communications was amateur radio for a good two days I believe. And I was really relaying information back and forth there. And how this ties into social media is I was collecting all this information, relaying it back and forth. And I said, "Hey, I'm listening to all this, I can see what's going on and I might as well post it up on Twitter." And I did that. And I also put up a YouTube stream of all the radio communications that were happening....
**Brooke ** 10:25 Back when Twitter was good and useful and we loved it.
**Ben ** 10:29 Yeah, back when it was a cause for good as opposed to what it is now.
**Brooke ** 10:33 Sorry, go on. Mourning the loss of Twitter.
**Ben ** 10:38 Yeah, exactly. It's actually quite a thing. So interesting...that would have been it for me. I was going to delete my account. But shortly after that, there was a fire in my own county. And it's actually between Ventura and Santa Barbara County, the Thomas fire. And I said, "Oh, I've got a social media account." And one of the things about amateur radio is you learn how to listen to what's on the radio. And not...this is not broadcast radio. But this is police and fire channels, official agencies, people talking back and forth about what's going on the ground on the scanners. And I was relaying what I heard there. And my followers went from, I think, you know, a few thousand to, you know, 50,000 people because information was so useful to know. So, you know, if you think about what you see on network TV, you'll see the same, you know, Hillside burning the whole newscast, no context. Where is it? What's going on? And when you listen to the Police and Fire Radio, you can say, "Hey, I know that that is in this neighborhood. The fire is moving in this direction. We need to get people out and to safety." And, "Oh, hey, we heard that there's an evacuation here." And it takes...it takes, you know, a couple hours sometimes for the firefighters on the ground to say, "We need to evacuate this neighborhood," to actually, you know, you getting that on your phone or the press picking up on it. So that's kind of how I got into the disasters. And, you know, it kind of has kept on going because, as I mentioned, you know, I think the pace of disasters has increased. I think they just saw...there's just a report this week that said we had the largest amount of billion dollar disasters in the US in 2023 on record.
**Brooke ** 12:40 Wow. Like the largest total dollar value amount or like the largest number of disasters?
**Ben ** 12:48 Yes. Total dollar amount.Yeah, and so, you know, it's just an ongoing, increasing need in the world.
**Brooke ** 12:55 Alright, interesting. So I want to talk about what we can do to prepare before a disaster but I think it would help if we talk about, really quickly, what you lose communication wise in the beginning of a disaster because I think that's going to help make it clear why you need to prepare, if that makes sense.
**Ben ** 13:16 Yeah, you know, I mentioned, you know, we are so used to having a smartphone with us. We have a phone with us all the time. It is our way of getting information. It's our way of communicating with people. We text people back and forth. We may use Snapchat or Instagram or whatever your social media is. And people don't realize how much we rely on that today. And what happens during a disaster is the first thing that goes down is the cell phone network, right? Your cell phone network goes down. The cell towers only have so much battery before they fail. And then all of a sudden you don't have a way to say "Hey, is my you know Aunt Marge, okay or not?" right? It's, "What's going on? Where should I go? What should I do? Where can I go?" This was brought home really.... A really terrible example of how we are depending on this and what goes wrong when it fails is Lahaina Hawaii.
**Brooke ** 14:22 And I don't know if you listened to it, we released, just a couple weeks ago as we're recording this, I did an episode about Lahaina and kind of reviewing what happened and where they are right now.
**Ben ** 14:39 Yeah, and so you're familiar with the fact that, you know, the warnings went out too late. And then the cell towers went down. So no one knew what was going on. And so you were down to, I believe there's a video of some guy without a shirt, you know, bicycling down the street yelling at people to get out. You know, that is your early warning system because your phones don't work. And, you know, if the cell phone network goes down, you know, that cell phone that you're holding is, you know, as good as a rock. You could throw it at something I guess, but it's not going to do much good.
**Brooke ** 15:20 Yep. Yep. That's right.
**Ben ** 15:22 Yeah. And, you know, I don't think most people think about how much we depend on communications for all the things we do, especially in a safety situation, you know. Should I be evacuating? Where's the disaster? Where's help? Where should I not be going? That is all information that when you lose communications, you've lost, and it can be fatal. So that's why, you know, as much as people often say, "Hey, well, you know why are you doing this amateur radio stuff? You know, we have cell phones now. We have the internet. Why do we need this, you know, old fashioned stuff?" It's not really old fashioned. But, you know, that is the struggle that I often have with people thinking about disasters. And the other problem that we have is--and not obviously listeners of your podcast--but we live in a world where everyone thinks that it will never happen to them. And people don't want to prepare. They say, "Hey, I, you know, this is never going to happen to me. I don't want to think about bad things." And if you don't do that, then you're in a much worse spot when it does happen.
**Brooke ** 16:33 For sure, for sure. Okay, so when it happens, you know, we lose...we lose our phones. That's one of the biggest things and basically all of the ways that we're used to communicating. So what do we do before a disaster to get ready for that scenario? What kind of things do we need to have on hand or need to know how to do? Please teach me?
**Ben ** 16:57 Yeah, so. So some basic things you should do is have an alternate communication plan, or at very least someplace you can meet people. So say you don't have, you know, a radio or anything like that, you say "Hey, if we have a disaster, here's the plan," right? "This is where we go if there's a fire or a flood or whatever it is. What are we going to do?" Okay, and that doesn't require you to have communications. It just means you have to pre-plan what you're doing. But, you know, the first level up--and this, you know, there's kind of levels of how much you want to invest in communications--but, you know, you can buy off the shelf radios at sporting goods stores, which, you know, they're called FRS radios or GMRS radios.
**Brooke ** 17:47 Is that a special radio then? Or is it like the old school radios we grew up with?
**Ben ** 17:50 Yeah, so it's different. So, a lot of people are familiar with CB radio. And that's an old technology. And people still use it. But it's not really used a lot for this kind of thing, mainly because it doesn't have very long range. You can't go very far. But FRS and GMRS radios do have a little bit of range. And in radio, the key is something called line of sight, which is how far you can see. So if you are standing on top of a mountain, you can talk a very long distance. If you are in the bottom of the valley then you're not going to get very far. And so most of those handheld radios that you can buy don't require a license, you just have to pay your money and get them. You know, their range is probably--they say 20 miles--but really, practically, it's about two--five miles. And those are great for your family group. Or if you've got a group of folks that are in your neighborhood and you want to communicate then that is kind of the first step and you have now.... Now, you can say instead of all of sudden everyone's lost their phones, no one knows what's going on, everyone can turn their radio on--as long as it keeps it charged and knows how to use it--they can go "Hey, Jill, you're down the street. How are you? You know, are you okay?" "Oh, yeah, we're okay. You know, there's an earthquake. Oh, yeah. Everyone's okay. We're outside, right." So, you know, that's something that's very easy to do. It's off the shelf there. They're actually sold in blister packs at the sporting goods store. And it's a level one. It's like, oh, do you have a plan to at least communicate with your family and people in your neighborhood?
**Brooke ** 19:40 Okay, that sounds so much like walkie talkies that we had as a kid but like a higher end farther distance thing.
**Ben ** 19:48 Essentially, it is a walkie talkie. And that is what they are and, you know, they sell them as kids toys, but it's a first level of basic communications that you may want to consider, especially for your family. It's like, even if you look at some of the...if you see people fleeing from fires and from disasters, you know, see these videos of people, they can't talk to someone else in another car when your cell phone network goes down. And you can with a little walkie talkie. So that's, you know, you may have two people, one person in one car, another person in another car, and you can at least talk and say, "Hey, you know, this is what we're doing. This is where we're going."
**Brooke ** 20:26 Do those--I'm getting into the weeds here but I'm just so curious to those--like, if you buy a set from the store and somebody else buys a set from the store, I'm assuming those must like cross traffic with each other?
**Ben ** 20:41 Yeah, as long as you buy the ones that are licensed in the US. It's called FRS and GMRS. radios. GMRS actually requires a license, which is I think it's $25 for 10 years. But no one's checking on those. It's kind of the Wild West. I would advise getting a license, but they saw them everywhere. And a lot of people don't.
**Brooke ** 21:04 Okay, so if you get those planning to use them to communicate with loved ones and neighbors you may have other people using theirs that you'll have cross cross talk.
**Ben ** 21:16 Yeah, for sure. For sure. And those are the same frequencies that, you know, the kids down the street. So you'll turn it on and go, "Oh, there's little kids playing cops and robbers." They are shared frequencies. Yeah, so your next level up is--and I advocate for this because I am an amateur radio operator--is to actually get a license. And in all the countries around the world, you can get an entry level, amateur radio license and you can use a lot more frequencies and much better gear even at a very basic level. And in the US, there's, I think it's a 25-30 question test. And all the answers are pre published. So you can actually go and, you know, cram for this thing and get it in a week if you're...if you so desire. And so that actually can get you much, much farther. And so in the US it's called a technician license and you can actually.... With those, I've talked to someone 50 miles away direct. So that is, you know, nothing in between. And there's also things that are called repeaters that sit on top of hills, and you can talk to people hundreds and hundreds of miles away because they're all linked together. And there's actually...and there's an interesting tradition among the amateur radio community, which is they have groups that work on doing communications and they focus on, you know, those kind of bands on VHF, UHF, those things are all local. So you have a group of people.... In our area, they actually have people, you know, you're on a list, and they say, "Hey, who's on the list?" They're all licensed. And this is licensing in the US by the FCC. And they actually check to say, "Who's here? Who's not?" And it's a practice, right, to see whether or not. So it's a good thing to do, at least in our area. And I'm in California. It is, you know, men and women and kids and that sort of...anyone who can get a license, and, um, it's definitely something to think about.
**Brooke ** 23:46 Okay, so anything else kind of on that part of things you can do before the disaster to help get ready with communication and information sharing?
**Ben ** 23:58 Yeah, so the, you know, the other thing to do is I found that you need to know who is out there in the community that you are going to communicate with. And I think too many people do not think about it. You need to know who you're talking to and whether you trust them or not, and have your resources lined up. And I saw this in hurricane Maria where people were asking for help, but no one had ever met the folks, didn't know them, didn't trust them. And so, it was a very different thing, right? You're.... When you're talking to someone, communicating with someone, you need to have a pre-existing relationship with them. And, you know, I think in this world, you know, you're asking for some kind of mutual aid but you kind of want to have an idea of who it is or what group it is or do you trust them or not? And it's good to have that stuff kind of thought of, to, you know, think of think of that stuff beforehand, right? Who are the resources In our area if we had a disaster? Hey, you know, the folks in the next city, we've got to...you know, we're okay here. Do we need to bring some of them in? Do they have, you know, the resources? And would they help us if there's a problem? There's a lot of stuff that needs to be, you know, thought about, which is beyond the communication but more the organization.
**Brooke ** 25:20 Yeah. Is it devastating if you haven't built out those networks yet prior to?
**Ben ** 25:26 It's not. It's just hard. I think it's just harder.
**Brooke ** 25:29 Yeah. Makes sense. Alright. Other things to prepare before your disaster hits?
**Ben ** 25:38 Yeah, the other piece of it that I run across is because the communications folks tend to be very good at communications if they don't cover the basics, right? So you need to think about all the basic disaster stuff first, before the communications, which is, "Hey, do I have the basic food and water kind of things? Have I got, you know, all the safety stuff for myself, my family. And, you know, for yourself first, before you even think about, "Oh, do I even have a way to communicate?"
**Brooke ** 26:10 Yeah, okay. That makes sense.
**Ben ** 26:13 You're not useful in that role of communicating if you, yourself are no longer able to help. You know what I mean.
**Brooke ** 26:25 Alright, okay. Alright, shall we move into talking about, you know, you're in the aftermath of a disaster and you need to communicate and share information?
**Ben ** 26:36 Yeah, yeah. So, you know, the things that happen after a disaster is people are looking for ways to get information to family and friends. And the number one thing I find is people either have to ask for help, because there's a medical issue or they need to be rescued or something like that, or the other big thing is people...I don't think people understand how much people miss knowing what's going on. Right? So if there's a disaster, there are thousands and thousands and thousands of people who go all sudden, "Hey, is my grandmother okay? Is my grandfather okay? Is my friend okay? What's going on?" right? And it is.... A lot of times people say, "Hey, if I call somebody in such and such an area, maybe they can go find, you know, whoever is missing, or whatever, or something like that, right? So this...we saw this during the Lahaina, right? There's people, you know, thousands of relatives going, "Oh no, I know somebody in Lahaina. Are they okay?" And the lessons I've learned from so many disasters is there's no way to get information into a disaster zone. Not very efficiently.
**Brooke ** 27:55 That's a really good point.
**Ben ** 27:56 Yeah, so information can come out of a disaster zone, but it doesn't go into a disaster. And so, if you...so for example, if you're an amateur radio operator, generally, you could get a message out saying, you know, "Help me. I've got a problem." Or you can say, "Hey, I'm okay. Let someone know that I'm okay." If you are just someone with a smartphone, and no communications, you are just out of luck, unless you can find someone who can lay that information. And there's a lot of these systems, and I hate to...I hate to criticize some of the nonprofits that exist in the world for these things, but they have "Oh, hey, check in safety." It's like, they say, "Yo, check in on Facebook that you're okay." It's like, well, you have no way to get on Facebook. There's no internet, there's no power. How are you supposed to do that, right? Yeah, and even even the case, there's a system by a big aid organization that has a red symbol and it says, "Oh, it's a safe and well if you need to know someone's okay." And two things. One is, if you try to ask for someone's information, they say, 'What was their phone number and their last address?" And you go, "Well, how am I supposed to know that? You know, I just know that they're in this town," and whatever. There's a lot of stuff like that that's like, "Oh, do you have their social security numbers?" It's like "No, I don't have their social security." So there's a lot of stuff in the way of that. And it's a lot easier, and I found all these disasters, if someone's able to get out themselves. So like I said, the amateur radio operators can relay information to other people. So if you've got a neighbor who's an amateur radio operator, they can go "Oh, hey, I'm gonna call somebody up." This happened actually after--famously after Katrina--Katrina. Hurricane Katrina took down took down communications and there was a lot of communication out by people relaying information to other amateur radio operators they knew. So they said, "Hey, you know, this is where the Smith family is. We're at this street. Can you let somebody know at our family that we're okay." And they would pass on a phone number to call or someone to text or something like that. I did that a lot in Puerto Rico. So a lot of people who are in Puerto Rico, they have family somewhere else, they have no way to tell them that they're okay and they really don't need anything, but people are worried, right? Imagine your family is in the middle of a hurricane or something like that, or wildfire, and how do you let people know you're okay.
**Brooke ** 30:45 Yeah, that makes sense. With the amateur radio networks and whatnot, you know, I know you just mentioned a few times about how you can relay information through those. And I'm curious if they're sort of existing networks of communication at all. I mean, obviously, there are folks that know each other. But do you guys have any kind of, I don't know, pre existing.... Like, do you already know where some of your people that you talk to live? Like if you had to get information to, I don't know, Montana--random example.
**Ben ** 31:27 Yeah, there's an established network to do that. I have my own opinions on how effective it is or not, but they do have a.... It's actually one of the reasons amateur radio exists in the US. It was very early in the 1900s when there were disasters, radio was the only way to get out information. And so they actually started doing that back in the days of Morse code, believe it or not, when they were relaying it. And that's part of the reason why the hobby has such a strong tradition in the communications and emergency area. And so, you know, I mentioned I was doing a lot of stuff online about, you know, wildfires and hurricanes on Twitter and what's going on. And a lot of what I do and have done is stuff that the hobby, as a whole, has been doing since its beginnings.
**Brooke ** 32:22 I didn't think about how deep those roots are. But that's kind of cool to think about going all the way back to, you know, using Morse code to relay the information.
**Ben ** 32:32 Yeah, well, in fact, you know, if you think about it, you know, everyone knows SOS in Morse code, right? Did, did, did. Dot, dot, dot [making noises like someone speaking in Morse code] All that came from--an amateur radio started around the same time as all that kind of communication was going on, you know, like the Titanic or whatever else like that. So, that is, you know, a long standing tradition. And before the internet, before we had phone networks, we had radio networks. So that's kind of the long tradition there.
**Brooke ** 33:06 Yeah, that makes sense. So you said you have some opinions about the efficacy of the system of relay that they have now and it sounds like maybe you're not entirely happy with the way that works. I'm curious to know what you think there are and why? So, you know, if there's a limitation that we need to understand.
**Ben ** 33:29 Yeah. So they have a very regimented way of sending messages. And they try to pass messages...they try to do it the old fashioned way, which is you get a message, you know, here and then you pass it. Say I want to send something to Boston. Well, they may send it to somewhere in between. And then it goes through the neighborhood and then eventually, at some point, it gets there. And nowadays, I think it's more effective to just get out of your disaster zone and get the message there. And so, you know, for me, what happens is during the hurricane issues that I had, trying to use that network didn't work because I said, "Hey, I just need...I have a real disaster here. This is not pretend. This is not a simulation. I have people who need to know that their family's okay." I had a text on my phone from people--it was actually relayed from a boat after a hurricane--saying, you know, "We're docked here. We are okay. We just want to let someone know. And so this is the boat name. This is our location. And here's the neighborhood. Here's our relative. We need to let them know that we're okay. They don't need to send the Coast Guard." and trying to send that through a network which is used to passing it by hand, it's like can someone just call them? Like, we don't need to do this. It's great practice. But when it comes to a real disaster, why are we doing all this stuff when we can just call them up? The first person who's on a cell phone network can call them up and say, "Your relatives are okay."
**Brooke ** 35:04 That's a good point. And, you know, the children's game of telephone that you're practically doing with passing it from one place to the next place to the next, you know, is not ideal, as we all know, for many reasons.
**Ben ** 35:22 And I think that's their legacy is they don't use it as much as they ought to. And maybe they're using it more now with the disasters we have. But there's a lot of experts in the world who've never applied their knowledge. I find that also the case in just disaster preparedness in general. You have a lot of people who are disaster preparedness experts and they've never had to deal with a disaster. And the worst is that people sometimes they'll say, "Hey, you're a prepper. Blah, blah, blah," and I go, "No, the preppers don't have any concept of actually reacting to a real problem." The pandemic was the big one that I saw. All these folks who said, "Hey, watch out for the zombie apocalypse, we need to, you know, stock our homes with guns and MREs." And then when there's an actual, you know, pandemic, they go, "We're not wearing masks. We aren't gonna get vaccinated." You're going, "Oh, my gosh," you know? So there's, you know, there was a miss, a complete miss, because they're just not...you know, they call themselves one thing, but they don't have...they didn't have the experience or the right mindset going into it.
**Brooke ** 36:40 So I'm curious about the types of information that we need to share. You know, we talked about after a disaster, you know, being able to relay that, you know, this person is okay, you know, finding so-called missing or unknown people and figuring out what's going on with them. But what else...like what other kinds of things do people need to relay that this network could be useful for after a disaster?
**Ben ** 37:08 Yeah, help. Help is number one. So life threatening information. So if somebody is trapped or needs help, medical help. And, obviously, you have to know where to get it to. But in most cases, if you can get that information to the authorities, somebody is going to come and help you. And they just need to know it, right? So your local fire department, right? Or, maybe it's a search and rescue team or something like that. You need to be able to get that information to them. And so that's definitely a big one with communications. I don't know if you've ever seen that 911 systems go down in the US all too often.
**Brooke ** 37:53 I have heard.
**Ben ** 37:54 And if you don't have 911, you have to be able to call for help, right? And so we haven't seen that a ton where people have used radio to do that. But it is one thing. So if our 911 system here goes down, I know that I can call somebody else who can get to, you know, fire and rescue or whatever it is. So, help for sure. And the other part of it, the communications, is for your community, is helping out in the community, is knowing more situational--it's something called situational awareness--what's going on? Where are the issues? What's happening? And, you know, that's not just for you to communicate. It's another thing to listen. So, you know, the nice thing about radio is you can both listen and also communicate. And being able to listen to know what's going on is a huge piece of it. So you'll find that even if you're not somebody who's on the air communicating after a disaster, you can at least listen and hear what's going on and know what to watch out for. Like, hey the freeways shut down, so don't go that way. Or, you know, the fire is in this area. Or, you know, in hurricanes, hey, you know, this is where the aid center is, or whatever it is, or this is where someone's distributing food, you know? So there's all that information. It is really helpful as a part of a disaster plan is how do you know what's going on and where things are happening. In the amateur radio community, which is something that everyone should do, you know, they actually share information. So there's people all around town and they go, "Hey, no one said this on the news. There's no information about this. But you guys can't go there. The bridge is down."
**Brooke ** 39:42 That makes sense. So, escape route, maybe for lack of a better word, but just like, you know, communicating infrastructure issues. That's really interesting. Other things that you can think of that are, you know, types of information that people need that can be useful in sharing, if any? If not, that's okay.
**Ben ** 40:09 Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, I think it's the general awareness. And this is a tool, you know, the radio stuff I talk about is just a tool for what's going on. And, what I'm sharing on social media, it's not just the radio stuff, although it's a big part of it, but it's things like, you know, where do you get information about evacuation zones, right? Where is--during fires we can see maps of where the fires are. You can look up... You can look up evacuation centers. You can get maps of flooded areas. There's a lot of information sources. And I think on the communication side, even if you're not cut off, there's a lot of things that just letting people know about--and that's what I do--is what is this situation? Where are the issues? What's going on? I mean, today, I've been sending out messages about flooding. And I don't know if you know, but there's huge waves off the coast of California right now. And they're parts of Santa Cruz, there's parts of the Pacific Coast Highway that are underwater because of these big waves. And just knowing about that stuff is useful in that general awareness. And this whole area of communications, you know, the situational awareness is something that in disasters, you know, it really does make a difference. And I've had people say, "Hey, you know, we knew, because you were paying attention to what's going on with the fire, that we needed to get...we needed to take our horses and get them evacuated," And it takes a while to evacuate horses, right? And, "Oh, our house, we knew that our house was in a threat area. We needed to get...we needed to get our aunt, you know, to safety." And it's just that time, that information, you know, you don't want to be the last person to know that something's happening in your neighborhood. And this whole part of the aspect of listening to the radio helps with that in just the general situational awareness.
**Brooke ** 42:11 There's, you know, kind of a component after the radio, because not everyone's going to have the radio, you know, if then, you know, if you are the one who gets the information via the radio, then how you go out and disseminate it. But that's maybe kind of another topic, unless you want to get into it. But, you know, do you put up posters? Like, you know, letting other people know, "Oh, I found out that such and such bridge is down. How do I communicate that to folks that don't have a radio? How do we spread that wider?
**Ben ** 42:41 Yeah. And that...I don't think we've solved that problem in general, you know, just how do you get the information faster. I, you know, I talk about the rate just because that puts you on the knowing side of things versus the not-knowing side of things. And it's just...it's just one of those things in disasters, having that awareness--even if you can't communicate out--knowing what's going on gives you an advantage to you know, safety and health and all that. It is really helpful.
**Brooke ** 43:12 Yeah, okay, I've got one last question for you, I think. I think, unless something sparks in my brain here. But is this useful in all types of disasters, natural disasters, emergencies, whatnot? Or are there ones that this tool would not be useful or effective for?
**Ben ** 43:34 Yeah, that's a good question. Um, I think it's actually useful in most cases. It's very used during hurricanes. It's used a lot during wildfires. It is used a lot in earthquakes. Most of the folks that I know who are licensed here in my area, who are older than me, are, were licensed because of the Northridge earthquake. They all said, "Hey, we..." you know, the typical problem was, "Oh, I was at work. And my wife was one place and my kids were somewhere else and we could not communicate." And they said, "How do we fix that problem?" And so they said, "We're gonna get licensed as an amateur radio operator." And so earthquakes are a huge driver in California. But I think in general, I found it useful in all sorts of situations, whether it's an emergency. So yeah, and even interesting enough--and maybe it's more of a social thing, because there's a social group built in--but even with the pandemic, we we had a group who started out on the radio. And it's...maybe you could have done this on Zoom or on the phone, but there's a bunch of folks on radio who started talking every day. And you knew what's going on and you were able to trade information. Even today, now I go, "Oh, hey, there's a big outbreak of COVID," because, you know, three of the people on the net--we call them net like, it's like a round table or networ and people check in--and someone goes, "Oh, you know what, our whole family just caught COVID." And you go, "Oh, you know, I haven't heard that for a while. So maybe something's going on." You know? It is interesting. It's just another way of getting information about what's going on. And it gives you a little bit of a network. And that network also operates.... You know, the nice thing about what we do is that operates when all the power goes. In California, they've been shutting down power during high-wind events. And that often takes down cell towers. They're supposed to.... They've got some laws in now and they're supposed to put them back up, but it's not there yet. And so they shut things down. No one knows what's going on. They hop on the radio, they go, "Hey, I got a blackout here. What's going on?" Somebody who's outside of the blackout looks it up and says, "Hey, they shut down your whole part of town because of the wind danger," or whatever it is. So, it is useful.
**Brooke ** 45:57 Yeah. And going back to our Lahaina example, that's a thing that would have been helpful in preventing some of those fires, if they had shut down power lines with what was coming in. And that is, unfortunately, because of the age of our power system and the lack of maintenance we've done on a lot of our infrastructure. Shutting off the power is one of the things that power companies are doing more often as a safety measure.
**Ben ** 46:29 Yeah. And you know, some of that is...is liability, because of the number of fires that have happened and all that. And some of it, interestingly enough--and this is a climate issue--is some of that damage is just happening much more often than it used to. And, you know, some of the things I didn't talk about, but, you know, part of what we do as amateur operators is you don't just have the radio, but you also have to consider how am I going to charge it? How am I going to do that? Do I have a battery bank that works? Do I have a solar panel? There's a lot that goes into that, you know? It's kind of a general resiliency thing, which is...is very relevant in that case, right? Your power goes out and your cell phone tower is now down, how do you know what's going on? Most likely, somebody who's an amateur radio operator has a battery-backed up radio and knows what's going on. Because you know, and it doesn't matter. I can talk to Brazil when none of my neighborhood has power just for fun because it's there and running.
**Brooke ** 47:42 Yeah. And before anybody asks me about it, I am not trying to say that the power company shutting down the power is a good thing or a bad thing, only observing that it is a thing that is happening and it has benefits and costs to it.
**Ben ** 47:59 Yeah, for sure. Yeah. And it makes sense. I mean, most of the...many wildfires here have been caused by power lines. So, you know, the converse thing is when they shut down the power the, you know, like I said, the cell phone tower doesn't work anymore. And that's what happened in Lahaina, the power stopped working and you lost the cell phone towers and then all of a sudden you're in trouble.
**Brooke ** 48:21 Yep, yep. Alright, I think that brings us to a conclusion on this topic for today. So Ben, I want to thank you so much for reaching out and offering to have this conversation with us and making the time to sit with me and talk about it. I have learned some things today and I'm excited about that. Is there anything else that you would like to say? Anything that you would like to plug, social medias, charity groups, anything like that?
**Ben ** 48:51 Yep. So um, I am nowadays on Mastodon. So if you want to follow my disaster emergencies and random musings on life, I am [email protected]. So that's my...that's actually my callsign, my radio callsign, [email protected]. And, you know, as much as I talked about the disaster part of the hobby is there's a lot of fun stuff too. We can talk to astronauts in space. We have our own satellites. There's all sorts of science stuff you can do. And it is really quite a...it's not just for disasters and emergencies. It just happens to be a useful part of it.
**Brooke ** 49:43 Well, thanks for putting that in. I appreciate it. You can also find me on Mastodon @ogemakweBrooke, that's Brooke with an E. And Ben again, I just really want to thank you for coming on today and talking with us. Yeah,
**Ben ** 50:00 Hopefully someone learned something. So thanks a lot.
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