Skip to main content Accessibility help

Keeping Communications Flowing During Large-scale Disasters: Leveraging Amateur Radio Innovations for Disaster Medicine

  • Victor H. Cid (a1), Andrew R. Mitz (a2) and Stacey J. Arnesen (a1)


Medical facilities may struggle to maintain effective communications during a major disaster. Natural and man-made disasters threaten connectivity by degrading or crippling Internet, cellular/mobile, and landline telephone services across wide areas. Communications among staff, between facilities, and to resources outside the disaster area may be lost for an extended time. A prototype communications system created by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) provides basic communication services that ensure essential connectivity in the face of widespread infrastructure loss. It leverages amateur radio to provide resilient email service to local users, enabling them to reach intact communications networks outside the disaster zone. Because amateur radio is inexpensive, always available, and sufficiently independent of terrestrial telecommunications infrastructure, it has often augmented telecommunications capabilities of medical facilities. NLM’s solution is unique in that it provides end-user to end-user direct email communications, without requiring the intervention of a radio operator in the handling of the messages. Medical staff can exchange email among themselves and with others outside the communications blackout zone. The technology is portable, is deployable on short notice, and can be powered in a variety of ways to adapt to the circumstances of each crisis. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2018;12:257–264)


Corresponding author

Correspondence and reprint requests to Victor H. Cid, 6707 Democracy Boulevard, Suite 440, Bethesda, MD 20892 (email:


Hide All
1. Townsend, AM, Moss, ML. Telecommunications Infrastructure in Disasters. Preparing Cities for Crisis Communications: New York University Centre for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response Published April 1, 2005. Accessed April 11, 2017.
2. US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. 2017-2022 Healthcare Preparedness and Response Capabilities. Accessed April 11, 2017.
3. Richards, C. When Communications Infrastructure Fails During a Disaster. DRJ. Published November 12, 2015. Accessed April 11, 2017.
4. Tran, NH, Pedler, D. The impact of extensive loss of telecommunications on general practice: A case study in rural Victoria. Aust J Rural Health. 2016 May 25.
5. WS, Hooke, PG, Rogers, eds. Public Health Risks of Disasters: Communication, Infrastructure, and Preparedness. Workshop Summary. National Academies Press. Published January 25, 2005. Accessed April 11, 2017.
6. Chaffee, M. Willingness of health care personnel to work in a disaster: an integrative review of the literature. Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2009;3(1):42-56.
7. Stergachis, A, Garberson, L, Lien, O, et al. Health care workers’ ability and willingness to report to work during public health emergencies. Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2011;5(4):300-308.
8. Wohlstetter, J. KATRINA: The Sound of Communications Silence. On Bandwidth: An Online Newsletter of the Discovery Institute, September 2005. Accessed April 11, 2017.
9. Carter, C. :45 Seconds in Joplin. State Magazine. Published Spring 2011. Accessed April 11, 2017.
10. McKay, J. Sandy Created a Black Hole of Communication. Emergency Management. Published January 28, 2013. Accessed April 11, 2017.
11. Cid, V, Mitz, A. Optimizing Amateur Radio Resources for Major Disasters. QST. 2011;95(9):30-34. Accessed April 11, 2017.
12. Conuel, T. Emergency Backup Communications: The Old Meets the New. NLM In Focus. Published January 10, 2013. Accessed April 11, 2017.
13. Bethesda Hospitals’ Emergency Preparedness Partnership (BHEPP) website. Accessed April 11, 2017.
14. Zuetell, M. Amateur radio support for hospitals. NcUsaac JH ed. In: Hospital Preparation for Bioterror: A Medical and Biomedical Systems Approach. Burlington, MA: Academic Press; 2006:2019-2227.
15. Kutzko, J. Backgrounder: Amateur Radio Emergency Communication. ARRL. Accessed April 11, 2017.
16. Farnham, JW. Disaster and emergency communications prior to computer/Internet: a review. Crit Care. 2005;10:207. Accessed April 11, 2017.
17. Keane, SK. Radio amateurs in Japan keep providing communications support in earthquake’s aftermath. QST. 2011;95(6):77.
18. Keane, SK. Radio amateurs assist American Red Cross, served agencies during Joplin storm. QST. 2011;95(8):66-67.
19. Myers, B. Disaster on Long Island. QST. 2013;97(2):78-79.
20. Nollet, KE, Ohto, H. When all else fails: 21st century Amateur Radio as an emergency communications medium. Transfus Apher Sci. 2013;49(3):422-427.
21. Palm, R. Hurricane Sandy debriefing. QST. 2013;97(2):86-87.
22. Bowman, M, Graham, JH, Gantt, J. Robust and affordable mobile communications for emergency management. Int J Emerg Manage. 2007;4(4):649-669.
23. Nagami, K, Nakajima, I, Juzoji, H, et al. Satellite communications for supporting medical care in the aftermath of disasters. J Telemed Telecare. 2006;12(6):274-275.
24. Petrescu, M, Toth, V. AX.25 amateur packet radio as a possible emergency network. Stud Health Technol Inform. 2000;77:1020-1022.
25. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, CMS Manual System, Pub. 100-07 State Operations Provider Certification. Accessed April 11, 2017.
26. US Army Military Auxiliary Radio System website. Accessed December 5, 2016.
27. The ARRL website. Accessed April 11, 2017.
28. MacDonnell, R. Squeezing more from Winlink 2000. QST. Published June 2006. 28-31.
29. Amateur Radio Safety Foundation website. Accessed December 5, 2016.
30. ARRL. Articles and Applications Stories. Accessed April 11, 2017.
31. National Institutes of Health Radio Amateur Club website. Accessed April 11, 2017.
32. ARRL. The ARRL Antenna Book. 43th ed. Newington, CT: ARRL; 2016.
33. Rauch, C. Jr. Short dipoles and problems website. Accessed April 11, 2017.
34. The short dipole antenna. Antenna Theory website. Accessed April 11, 2017.
35. Current Rules Holding Hams Back from Adopting State-of-the-Art Technology, ARRL says. ARRL website. Accessed April 11, 2016.
36. Taylor, J. Open source WSJT: Status, Capabilities, and Future Evolution. 12th International EME Conference, Wurzburg, August 25-27, 2006. Accessed April 11, 2017.
37. Ford, S. Chapter 5 – PACTOR. In: ARRL’s HF Digital Handbook. Newington, CT: The American Radio Relay League, Inc; 2007.
38. Digital Data Modes. ARRL website. Accessed April 11, 2017.
39. Shannon, CE. A mathematical theory of communication. The Bell System Technical Journal. 1948;27:379-423, 623-656.
40. Nyquist, H. Certain topics in telegraph transmission theory. A.I.E.E. Trans. 1928;47:617.
41. Ford, S. The ARRL Field Day Handbook for Radio Amateurs. Newington, CT: ARRL; 2010.
42. Mid-Atlantic, IP. Network website. Accessed February 10, 2017.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Keeping Communications Flowing During Large-scale Disasters: Leveraging Amateur Radio Innovations for Disaster Medicine

  • Victor H. Cid (a1), Andrew R. Mitz (a2) and Stacey J. Arnesen (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.