Open lines of communication are essential to emergency response

Published 7:00 am Thursday, September 10, 2015

One of Hurricane Katrina’s many valuable lessons is the importance of communication during times of crisis. The 2005 storm severely disrupted and destroyed emergency networks, impeding recovery efforts and leaving many Americans unable to reach their loved ones on the Gulf Coast.
Determined to help, Mississippi’s amateur radio operators became a life-saving force during the disaster, serving as a vital means of communication for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross, and other relief organizations.
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting some of these operators last month during a special event with the Jackson County Amateur Radio Association commemorating the 10th anniversary of Katrina.
We remain thankful for their public service in relaying critical information when emergency networks could not.
Wicker Bill Would Support Parity
In the coming weeks, the Senate Commerce Committee is expected to consider a bill I have introduced with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) that would give amateur radio operators the ability to negotiate with subdivisions that prohibit outdoor antennas. Currently, homeowners associations can arbitrarily deny antenna requests without providing a reason. When that happens, the value of amateur radio in emergencies is lost.
The “Amateur Radio Parity Act” would put in place a process that could lead to reasonable accommodation for antenna installations while still preserving the decision-making authority of homeowners associations over the community’s aesthetic interests. It would direct the Federal Communications Commission to adopt a flexible standard that balances both the needs of property owners and the needs of the public.
A blanket restriction on amateur radios should not stand in the way of keeping lines of communication open during an emergency, especially when antennas can now be installed discreetly, without affecting a property’s overall appearance.
The more than 5,000 amateur radio operators in our state are just one proven resource for staying prepared in case of a disaster.
There have also been instrumental upgrades to storm weather technology, such as the early warning system at the National Weather Service in Jackson, which was successful in saving lives when a tornado came through the Hattiesburg area last year.
How Mississippians Can Prepare for Severe Weather
Every individual and family, however, should have an emergency plan prepared well before severe weather arrives, including a disaster supply kit and home evacuation plan.
This year’s hurricane season is well upon us, running from the beginning of June to the end of November. The United States has already seen sizeable activity, with Hurricane Danny and Tropical Storm Erika in the Atlantic and Hurricanes Kilo, Ignacio, and Jimena in the Pacific.
To prepare for a hurricane, Mississippians should know the risks associated with the area in which they live, such as flooding. Hurricane Katrina taught us that all 82 of our counties can be affected by a massive storm.
Residents in evacuation zones need to know evacuation routes, designate a safe place they can go, and have a plan for contacting family members if separated.
Preparedness is perhaps our biggest weapon against unpredictable weather and other hazards that might befall our state. Mississippians should be both ready and vigilant for these challenges.
To find more information on what to do before a hurricane and other disasters, please visit the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency’s website at

By Senator Roger Wicker

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