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3. District Communications Plan

3.1. Introduction

One obvious failure that was exposed is the lack of adequate plans for communications among the counties in a District. Certainly there has been discussion, and also discussion about communications between Districts. But before we develop between District plans, we need to have the problem solved within a District.

3.2. Call Trees

Many counties, and even a few Districts, have call trees established, although these are rarely up to date. Certainly, we should use every technology at our disposal, and the telephone is a common, and reliable mode.
However, this mode will not work if the numbers are out of date, if we only have home numbers and people are away from their phones, or, of course, if the phones are out. These systems need to be tested frequently, but backup mechanisms must also be in place.

3.3. Pagers

Many programs have pagers, either provided by their counties, or developed by the programs themselves. Pagers tend to be more reliable than cellular systems, but few, if any, Districts have paging systems for all the counties in the District.

3.4. Email Notification

Most, if not all, Districts have email lists for notifying the various ECs of an event. However, email is not real time, and most ECs do not have mobile email devices, so email is not appropriate for notfication of an incident. In addition, many types of incidents can impact local Internet connections (although widespread Internet outages are virtually unheard of).

3.5. Text Messaging

In cases where all ECs have cellular telephones, notifications based on text messaging can be effective. However, keep in mind that in the event of an actual incident, or even a high profile exercise, cellular systems will fail almost immediately, so this method is of limited use in the event of an actual incident.

3.6. Repeater Systems

Many programs have some sort of scheme for notification by repeater, and in most cases, the various counties in a District are at least aware of the frequencies of repeaters in adjacent counties, so when the repeater infrastructure is unaffected, repeaters are of course useful tools.
However, repeaters often have their vulnerabilities. Often, they are higher profile than home stations, so are more likely to be affected by some kinds of weather events. Repeaters are often isolated, and may not be in hardened sites, so can be affected by vandalism and other human caused incidents. Repeaters often have some backup power, but frequently that backup power is limited.

3.7. Simplex Systems

Most programs do not have reliable simplex systems thought out, but certainly, they offer the potential for greater robustness than most other systems. To be effective, however, all parties need to know what is expected.
Some things to consider:
  • There must be a prearranged and well communicated plan for frequencies to be used
  • There must be a prearranged schedule
  • Each key station should be able to operate for an extended period of time removed from commercial mains
  • Each key station should have a backup plan in the event of antenna damage or equipment malfunction

The plan must be communicated

No plan can be effective unless all affected parties are well aware of the content of the plan and are capable of implementing it