Frequently Asked Questions About Hospital Support

From Amateur Radio Operators

HDSCS has received a steady stream of e-mail from hams around the country with questions and concerns about Amateur Radio support for hospitals.  On this page, April Moell gives frank answers to the most frequently asked questions.  She also responds to some of the disturbing myths and excuses she hears in discussions at ham radio gatherings.  This page has questions from Amateur Radio operators about hospital support.

Q: Our ham group is ready to approach the local hospital about ham radio support in emergencies.  Whom do we contact at the hospital?

Hospital constructionA: Here's a case where it usually isn't best to go to at the top.  Except in very small facilities, the CEO and Administrator usually delegate disaster preparedness tasks to others.  In most cases, you should start with the Disaster/Safety Coordinator.  Only very large hospitals have a Disaster/Safety Coordinator who does nothing else. Usually the position is shared by the Telecommunications Manager, Emergency Department nurse, or Director of Engineering/Facilities.  The administrator may need to approve any ham radio participation at the hospital, but it's best if the hospital's Disaster Coordinator initiates this.

Q: How do I get the hospital to become interested in Amateur Radio support?

A: Most non-hams, including hospital employees, have heard of Amateur Radio.  However, an understanding of how hams could help them isn't intuitive.  Most people know that hams can talk to foreign countries, and they may even know that hams can help these countries in disasters.  But they often don't know about our local public service capabilities and they don't fully understand how we differ from other radio services.  To a hospital executive, that handi-talkie on your belt looks just like the Security officer's radio, or the one that the Maintenance worker carries.  How could he guess that we could get a message to anywhere in the outside world with it?

Hams are sometimes mistaken for CB operators. Others are reminded of their neighbor with a giant antenna tower.  They wonder, "Why should I want that and how would it help my hospital?"

In the hospital environment, hard sell does not work.  You will turn off these people if you try to give the impression that hams are infallible, that they simply must use hams because "We're going to save the day!"  Envision that they've never met you or any other local ham, they don't have a clue what ham radio is, and you're sitting there with this little HT on your belt.  You're a volunteer, like the candy-striper in the gift shop.  And you have the nerve to tell them they simply must use you?  Just conjure up in your mind how the Administrator or Disaster Planner would react to that.

Instead, have a realistic dialogue about what hams can do and how they might do it.  Skip the ham lingo and talk to them in terms they understand.  Help them think about the types of messages they might need to send and receive in a communications failure and how ham radio could do that for them.  The more you know about the hospital environment, the better you will be able to do this.

We hams must remember that that we are just one of several communications resources.  If we understand the other resources, we will be better at expressing how we can fit in.  Here's one clue:  We're the only backup resource serving hospitals that can support both internal (unit to unit) and external communications, such as hospital-to-EOC or hospital-to-hospital.

Don't just talk about ham help in earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and the other biggies.  As you can see, HDSCS was activated dozens of times for hospital emergencies that involve communications failures, but very few of them were widespread disasters.  Most of them were one-facility phone outages with causes such as switchboard failures and cut cables.  When a nurse can't reach a doctor due to a switchboard failure, that's just as big a crisis as it would be if the outage had been caused by a hurricane or earthquake.

We hams tend to think of emergency communications as just being to and from with the disaster site and Emergency Operations Center.  But hospitals are more likely to want to contact their own doctors, other medical facilities, suppliers, and so forth.  Learn their needs and plan accordingly.

Q: I have heard that there is a new Homeland Security requirement (or recommendation) that all hospitals must (or should) install ham radio equipment for emergency communications.  Shouldn't that help get the hospitals on board with us?

A: We have been researching this apparent "urban legend" for some time and have found nothing of the sort.  Hospitals don't have to put in ham equipment or use ham operators in emergencies.  However, the Joint Commission* mandates that each accredited hospital must have an emergency management plan.  That plan must identify backup internal and external communication systems to be used in the event of failure during emergencies (EC.4.10, January 2004).  There are many ways that hospitals are meeting this requirement, including VHF/UHF walkie-talkies, cell phones, commercial radio/data systems (such as HEAR/ReddiNet), and Amateur Radio.

As HDSCS has shown in Orange County, there is no such thing as "too many backups."  Each backup method has its place, as well as its own advantages and disadvantages in each emergency situation.  Ham radio can play an important part in backing up patient care related communications, provided that the hams are well organized and an effective alerting system is in place.

Another Joint Commission requirement is for accredited hospitals to test their emergency management plans.  Hospitals offering emergency services must conduct at least one drill per year that includes an influx of simulated patients.  The drill assesses the communication, coordination and effectiveness of the organization and community's command structures (EC.4.20, January 2004).  When Amateur Radio is a part of a hospital's JACHO-mandated emergency communications backup plan, the Amateur Radio operators should always be included in its drills.

Q: A local hospital has asked for Amateur Radio support.  Now what?

A: First, before anything else, you will need a group of local hams committed to hospital support and willing to learn.  Next, you need an effective activation procedure for the hospital to use to get ham help.

Many times hams tell me that they are ready to support their local hospitals, but when I ask how (and if) they would be contacted if the trunk lines to that hospital were suddenly cut by a backhoe, they have no answer.  There are very good answers to this question, but they require pre-planning and written procedures.  The hospital workers might be able to use a pay phone or a cell phone to alert hams or contact the outside world using their Paramedic or county radio system, but they have to remember to make the call and know how to do it.

Giving the hospital just one number to call (your group's leader, for instance) is not enough.  What if that person is out of town for the day, or the week?  You need redundancy in your plan.  HDSCS gives each hospital a listing of multiple member phone numbers for day and night use, plus a group pager number.

Q: Our ham group supports the Sheriff's Department.  They ought to know when there's a local hospital problem and can notify our hams.  Why should we have a direct-to-ham alerting system?

A: Ham groups, particularly RACES groups, often tell me that their city or county will notify hams whenever a hospital communications problem happens.  But I can tell you from experience in phone outages, it rarely happens.  And when it does, the alert to hams is delayed by at least a half-hour, usually longer.  Minutes count when hospitals don't have phones.

Q: What about big emergencies such as earthquakes, tornados and hurricanes?  Wouldn't it be best to wait until city or county officials assign us to hospitals?

A: Imagine that a major earthquake has just occurred in a metropolitan area.  Do officials immediately know the condition of all parts of the infrastructure, including hospitals?  Of course not! Communications are interrupted and it will take hours for fire departments to do "windshield surveys," which only assess exteriors of structions and tell authorities little about their interiors.

Here's where hams can take advantage of their wide geographical distribution.  HDSCS members were trained to get on the air and form a net upon feeling the shaking.  Under the direction and coordination of net control, they went out to check on the status and condition of all of our supported hospitals.

When a city or county doesn't know the status of its hospitals, then government can't offer help.  Even more important, the community can't utilize the hospital as a victim receiving center.  In contrast to the usual "top-down" activation procedures elsewhere, our "bottom-up" response helps EMS and other government officials learn where the problem areas are.  This gets help quickly to the hospitals that need it most urgently.  To repeat, minutes count when hospitals need communications help.  Here is an example.

Q: What radio frequencies have been used by HDSCS?

A: All emergency communications have been on Amateur Radio frequencies, including simplex and 14 repeaters on the 144, 223 and 440 MHz bands.  HDSCS did not operate the hospital's commercial voice and digital radios for them.

Q: What kind of radios do you recommend that we get the hospitals to buy for us so we can support them?

A: We don't recommend that the hospitals to buy radios for hams' use.

Why is it that as soon as an agency says it wants Amateur Radio support, so many hams immediately tell the agency that it has to buy a bunch of radio equipment?  Could it be that too many hams simply don't know how else to respond?

Hospital employees in some parts of the country have told me that their local ham groups insist that they simply can't support hospitals unless and until the hospitals buy complete base stations and even some Amateur Radio handi-talkies.  Are you kidding?  How many of you hams are wearing your own handi-talkies right now?  How many of your cars have radio gear in them?  And homes?  Why do you need more?

It almost sounds like extortion when hams say, in effect, "We're not going to support your hospital unless you buy us all this equipment."  Or, "We want to put up a two-meter repeater on your hospital and if you let us do that, we'll support your hospital."  So if the hospital doesn't give you what you want, does that mean you won't help them in an emergency?

Q: Why wouldn't a permanent station at each hospital be an important asset?

A: We have found that complete permanent VHF/UHF stations in hospitals are a poor investment.  This gear is too likely to become lost, stolen, damaged, obsolete, and unavailable when needed.

Think about this from a practical standpoint:  If the equipment isn't kept locked up, all or part of it will slowly "disappear." But if it is locked up, you probably won't be able to get rapid access to it at 2 AM when the emergency hits and the Administrator with the keys isn't around.  If the installed transceiver isn't familiar to the ham responding, he or she will waste valuable time figuring out how to use it.  The shiny equipment bought today will probably become obsolete in a few years, and the hospital administrators won't appreciate your coming to them again for more money to replace it if you haven't used it for an emergency in the meantime.

Q: Don't your Orange County hospitals have any pre-installed equipment?

Rooftop antennaA: All we have asked is for each hospital to install is one or more rooftop VHF/UHF antennas for our county-wide communications, with coax cable going to key areas such as the Hospital Command Center and PBX.  Because we use three VHF/UHF bands, we prefer multi-band antennas such as the Comet CX-333 2m/125cm/70cm tribander.  Many times the coax run must be over 100 feet, so we recommend Times LMR-400 or similar low-loss cable.

Each of the HDSCS members has kept his or her own "Go Kit" ready for use, with VHF and UHF transceivers, batteries, AC supplies and cables to attach to the hospital's antennas.  If the hospital's antenna becomes damaged or unusable, our hams are ready with their own antennas.  Our members know their own equipment, so they can get on the air rapidly without having to find the instruction manual for an unfamiliar pre-installed transceiver.

Note that a few hospitals in Orange County haven't installed antennas yet, but HDSCS has still willingly supported these facilities as best we can.  We never make our support contingent on any monetary expense by a hospital.

Q: But the hospital found a mop closet where we could put our own complete station.  Wouldn't it be a good idea to have our own space?

A: A mop closet is no place for a ham station for emergency use.  Out of sight, out of mind!  The ham doing outside communications needs to be close to the people that he or she is communicating for, which usually is the staff at the Disaster Command Post.

If you put your station for external communications in an out-of-reach place, then you will need an additional communicator at the Command Post to relay messages between Command Post and the station, using VHF or UHF simplex.

Q: Our local RACES group is planning to use packet radio, ATV and SSTV for emergency communications.  Won't that be helpful to hospitals, too?

A: It's very unlikely.  Far too often, we find that Amateur Radio emergency preparedness groups are technology-driven instead of needs-driven.  That mindset leads hams to push technologies that aren't truly practical or don't fit the mission.

Instead, we should always carefully analyze the agencies we want to support, assessing their typical communications paths and the types of messages that they send most often.  If other supported agencies such as Red Cross and Weather Service have a real need for visual and digital communications, that's fine.  But we have found that hospitals don't.

Some hams have been promoting packet radio to us for years.  They claim that packet should be installed in all Orange County hospitals, because hams might have to send lists of patients of supplies.  But here's the reality:  Through all of our emergency callouts, we've never had one in which we had to send messages with long lists of patients or supplies, and we've never had one where packet would have saved us a significant amount of time.  The same is true for ATV, SSTV, and so forth.

What hospitals really need is basic, reliable voice communications. Hams should concentrate on that, first and foremost.

Q: In some northwestern and southeastern states, there is a big push to install stations for HF (long-distance shortwave frequencies) in all the hospitals.  Why isn't HDSCS doing that?

A: We have determined that HF stations in our hospitals are not necessary to meet our mission.  In all our years of HDSCS support in drills and actual emergencies for dozens of hospitals, we NEVER had an occasion where we needed HF frequencies to handle emergency traffic for a hospital.

We've handled lots of emergency messages.  They have all been either unit-to-unit within the hospital, or between the hospitals and community resources such as physicians, utilities, other hospitals, Red Cross, EMS and the like. This traffic is most effectively handled by voice on short-range VHF and UHF frequencies, either via repeaters or simplex.  We have never needed long distance HF communication, but if we ever do, we have made plans to pass the traffic out of the hospital on VHF to local home stations that have HF capability.  We could also relay the message via the county EOC, where a RACES HF station is located.

Some have claimed that hospitals need to be able to communicate with the state Office of Emergency Services in Sacramento after an earthquake or other wide-area disaster.  But the established governmental protocol is quite different.  If any Orange County hospital needs additional resources, the first request must go to Orange County Emergency Medical Services Agency.  If the county can't provide, a request for resources from the state would be made by the OC-EMS officials.  If normal telephone communications are not available, that request would go via RACES from the Orange County EOC, not directly from the hospital.  The plan in your area is probably similar, because these are established protocols that are compliant with NIMS (National Incident Management System) and SEMS (Standardized Emergency Management System) policies.

Q: But in our state we have hurricanes that can wipe out communications over many counties, so we need HF stations in our hospitals.  Don't you agree?

A: There is nothing wrong with having HF capability at your hospital(s).  But don't assume that the installed station, its antenna and its power source will survive the hurricane in operating condition.  And please don't delude yourself and the hospital staff into thinking that just because a station is there, the hospital is ready for any disaster.  If the hospital doesn't have all of the other important elements of Amateur Radio support (a trained cadre of community hams with portable equipment, an activation plan, liaison with other ARES/RACES/ACS groups, regular drills and so forth), then your HF station may be of little real value and will give a false sense of security.

Q: We have both ARES® and RACES in our county.  Which is better for hospital support?

A: There is a wide variation in policies of ARES and RACES groups around the country, so there is no hard-and-fast answer to this question.  In some places, ARES and RACES are combined, with members wearing RACES hats during emergency activations and ARES hats for non-emergency public service communications. In other places they are separate organizations, with RACES responding to government agencies and ARES helping non-government entities.

The important thing to consider is that all of your local hospitals must to be able to get help in isolated emergencies quickly, with no "middlemen."  In widespread emergencies, all hospitals should be checked right away, to verify that communications have not been disrupted, or if they have, to get help to them quickly.

A lot of folks tout dual ARES/RACES membership for individual hams and also combined ARES/RACES groups.  Here's what I've seen around the country: When a combined ARES/RACES group supports hospitals and a disaster occurs, RACES procedures rule.  That means a top-down response, where hams wait for an official to give them assignments.  That mindset assumes that "no news is good news." You simply can't assume that with hospitals.  There's nothing clairvoyant about county or city officials.  How are they going to know that a hospital has a communications problem if the hospital can't communicate it to them?

That's why we believe that ARES is much more appropriate for supporting private hospitals than RACES.  ARES permits automatic activation (our Core Team response) in widespread disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes.  ARES also facilitates direct contact from hospitals to hams for quick callout during isolated (one hospital) phone failures.  By comparison, RACES procedures usually mandate a formal activation by a government official or agency, which consumes valuable time.

Q: How do we fit hospital support into our existing ARES/RACES organization?  Should there be a separate appointed Emergency Coordinator?

A: That depends on the nature of your area and the other agencies/governments being served by the local hams.  Here in Orange County, there is a strong county-level RACES organization and 22 city-level RACES groups.  ARES in our county is completely separate from RACES.  In recent years, OC ARES primarily has supported the Red Cross and hospitals, although there are other ARES members-at-large who have been available to support cities and industries at the non-government level.

I believe strongly that hospitals must have a priority response at the beginning of any major incident.  Patients' lives and well-being are immediately at risk in any communications failure, and every hospital is an important resource for the community, especially in incidents where people have been injured.  That's why a specialized ARES organization (HDSCS) was formed just for hospital support, with its own ARES EC and several Assistant ECs.  It had a separate membership roster, meaning that all HDSCS members were also ARES members, but not all ARES members were HDSCS members.

In a rural area with only one or two medical facilities and other ARES/RACES activities such as SKYWARN, it might be OK to have a common roster and to train every member for a potential response to the hospital.  But for any an urban area where there is a concentration of hospitals, I think a separate ARES organization such as HDSCS would ultimately be best.  Next best would be a sub-group of ARES members who are dedicated to hospital response and make extra effort to be involved in hospital drills and meetings.  The rest of the ARES folks would be potential additional responders and should have at least some education about responding to the hospitals.

Q: Should some of our ARES hams be totally dedicated to hospitals, or could they also respond to Red Cross and other agencies?  Couldn't they also belong to RACES and ACS?

A: In the mid-1980's, there was a major HAZMAT incident involving 3 cities and the Red Cross in Orange County.  When city emergency managers made calls to activate their RACES radio responders as the incident progressed, they discovered that the majority of them were already deployed with other cities or the Red Cross.  That soured most of these managers on the idea of multiple emergency group affiliations and it led to rigid membership requirements.  Many RACES groups in our county now insist that hams that are on their rosters cannot be members of any other ARES/RACES organization.

By contrast, HDSCS has not insisted on exclusive membership.  Since about 80% of HDSCS activations involved only one hospital and were not widespread incidents, we weren't about to tell a ham who belongs to Red Cross or a city RACES group that we didn't want him or her in HDSCS.  But we did inquire about the other emergency group memberships and obligations of our members, and we took that into account in our planning.  We asked new members to declare their group of "primary allegiance" in responding to a multi-agency or area-wide disaster.

Members who declared HDSCS as their primary response were placed on specific call-up lists for one or more of our hospitals.  In addition to responding first to HDSCS callouts, these primary responders also identified a hospital that they live or work close to as their Core Hospital.  In a major disaster, area-wide power failure or phone outage, these hams automatically deployed to check on their Core facilities, without waiting for a phone call.  If they were somewhere else in the county or nearby in another county when a major disaster strikes, they came up on our designated frequency, indicated their locations and availability.  Net Control then directed them based on the needs at that time.  If Core Team responders were not needed and another agency could use additional support, we released them.

Hams declaring another group as primary were considered as only general "Call-up" members of HDSCS.  In a multi-agency incident, they were asked to notify HDSCS if their primary groups do not activate or when they are no longer needed by that group.  This worked very well, because HDSCS was often active sooner and longer than the other groups.  We've gotten relief operators following earthquakes after some cities deactivated their EOCs.

We haven't let our members cop out and say, "I'll go out with whichever emergency group calls me first."  That ambulance-chaser mentality pits one ham group against another when disaster strikes.  It leaves group leaders wondering how many potential responders they really have.

Q: Our ARES members are taking the ARRL Emergency Communications Course.  What other education do they need to be ready to support hospitals?

A: We've always been pretty good as hams in terms of the communications and message training that we do.  But my observation is that hams aren't spending enough time to learn about the agencies they support, the procedures that agencies use on a day-to-day basis, some of the language and the nuances.  I'm not expecting hams go out and take a medical terminology course.  But if you're going to be supporting hospitals, it would be good to know a few terms like "stat," "Code Blue," "Code Red" and the triage terminology.  Do you know what HICS is?  You're not going to be an intelligent intermediary for handling messages in an emergency if you don't get familiar with the hospital and its most important communications needs.

Learn to match in appearance and attitude.  When you go into a hospital, you're going into a very professional environment.  You have to fit in with that if you want to be taken seriously.  You don't need to wear greens or even a uniform, but you won't be welcome in grubby clothes.

When you talk to hospitals and train your group members, emphasize both internal and external communications support.  The hospital's business-band walkie-talkies help with internal (unit to unit) messages.  Cell phones can do external calls (from hospital to outside doctor, for instance).  However, ham radio can do both, which is a major advantage.

It's very important to participate in the hospitals' drills. And your participation needs to be realistic.  It's no good for hams to come in an hour ahead, set up equipment in the lobby, independently transmit a few ham-created messages to the EOC or disaster site, and then go home without participating in a critique.  That's what college students call "dry labbing," and it hurts our cause more than it helps.

Make the hospital folks test their activation procedures as part of the drill, so they will get used to the idea of calling hams right away when communications fail.  It's frustrating to delay the start of hams' drill participation while waiting for that call, but if you don't do it, the hospital will get the impression that somehow hams will have ESP and show up without being called when a backhoe cuts their trunk lines.

Practice some message-handling with the staff.  Don't expect that everything in the drill is going to be wonderful and you're going to get all kinds of good messages.  You have to take them by the hand sometimes.  Let them know to whom you can communicate and suggest a simulated message.  Encourage some third-party interaction, where they talk directly to their counterparts at other facilities on ham radio.

Participate in the hospitals' critiques after the drills and be an active listener.  You may find an opportunity to explain how ham radio could be of more assistance.

HDSCS has done a lot of "standby operations," coming in during the wee hours when new hospital phone or electrical systems are cut in, and so forth.  It gave us good experience and sometimes these operations have turned into real communications emergencies when things have gone wrong.

Q: Our small ARES group already supports Red Cross and some other agencies.  We can't support our hospitals now because we just don't have the people.

A: Maybe you and your emergency group need to take a look at your priorities.  Every hospital is a vital organ in the community.  If it needs help in a disaster and it has no communications to the outside, lives could be lost.  What could be higher priority for ARES communications than that?

Not every potential emergency involves all the other agencies your group serves.  A single-hospital switchboard failure isn't going to require response by Red Cross.

If you need more members to add hospital support to your ARES activities, get busy recruiting and training them.  On the other hand, if you tell a hospital official, "We don't have enough people to support your hospital," you may never get another chance with that facility.

Q: We're planning on having a special licensing class just for hospital employees.  Isn't that best for having radio operators who know the hospital?

A: Across the country as I talk to hams and emergency groups, I observe this mindset far too often.  A little critical thinking will show that basing your hospital support plan only on licensed hospital employees is a bad idea.

First, there are legal issues to consider.  FCC regulations prohibit hams from communicating on their bands on behalf of their employers and from accepting compensation (including wages/salaries) for communicating on ham radio frequencies for anyone. (FCC 97.113)  Spend some time with ARRL's FCC Rule Book to make sure you fully understand all the ramifications of these provisions.

There are practical issues also.  Let's say that two doctors, a pharmacist and a biomedical specialist get their ham tickets.  What happens to them in a mass-casualty incident or another disaster when patients descend on the hospital and communications are overloaded?  They'll have to be hard at work at their regular jobs, of course.  They won't be able to provide backup communications.

In an emergency when phones fail or are overloaded, hospitals need dedicated communicators.  By that I mean listening as well as transmitting.  We all get caught up in being ready to transmit an important message, so we forget that one of our most important values is our ability to be able to receive important information, too.  If you're a hospital employee, busy with your hospital tasks, perhaps you can stop to jump on the radio and ask for something you need.  But what if somebody needs something from you?  You're not listening, because you're busy doing your hospital tasks.  So you need non-hospital people as part of hospital communications backup support, because you can't wear all of those hats.

On average, we've needed 11 hams for each of our emergency callouts, including a Net Control, base station, and operators in the medical facility or facilities.  Having a few hospital employees would be far from enough.  It is far better to have a cadre of outside volunteer hams at the ready, as we do, to go into the hospital and perform communication tasks while the hospital folks go about their emergency medical duties.

Hospital-employed hams can serve as valuable liaisons, but they can't do the job by themselves.

Q: The hospitals' drills and meetings are usually during the day on weekdays.  That's hard for those of us who work.

A: Weekday hospital drills and meetings are a fact of life.  If hams keep whining about this, hospitals will never believe that Amateur Radio is a credible, reliable resource.  I hear this excuse a lot from hams in other areas, and it really annoys me because these same hams are quite willing to take time off from work for the fun parts of our hobby.  Remember last Field Day?  How many local hams took the Friday before to prepare and maybe even the Monday after to recuperate?  Same for the hamfests and other contests.

I know that one of the reasons HDSCS was so well accepted in Orange County is the fact that hams were represented at the major meetings with hospitals.  They also participatde in all the drills, regardless of day of the week or time that they occur.  The hospitals trusted we would be there, and we were.

Q: Our ARES group has an agreement to support the hospital in a disaster.  But the hospital's new Disaster Coordinator doesn't seem to know anything about it.

A: That's the real world.  There's a much high turnover rate in hospital personnel these days.  We hams must be willing to continuously re-explain and re-educate.

When was the last time your ARES EC made contact with the disaster planners at all of the local hospitals?  When was the last time your ARES group participated in a hospital drill?

Be willing to review your role over and over again with the hospitals.  You simply can't assume that all your local hospital people know and remember all that we can do.  And who knows what kind of internal training they do?  I can educate a Disaster/Safety coordinator over and over, but how much does he or she pass on to the rest of the hospital staff?  So be willing to teach it and review it with multiple people, every year, multiple times per year.  And make sure that the ham communicators are prepared to educate as necessary every time they respond.

Offer to teach.  I have attended many Disaster/Safety committees, Head Nurse meetings and hospital in-services to explain Amateur Radio.  And ask to be taught, too.  Invite hospital people to your ham group's meetings.  to you how the Laboratory works.  Have them tell about Radiology, the burn center, and so forth.

It's unfortunate, but from what I've seen, far too many hams don't have good staying power in public service.  We want to be EC for a year or two, help the hospitals for a year or two, and then get out.  I understand that it's your hobby, but if you're serious about helping hospitals, you need to develop regular contacts, regular participation, and they need to see you regularly.  I have gone to about two dozen hospital disaster and drill planning meetings every year.  I also have had Assistant Coordinators who attended some meetings.  When the hospital folks didn't see me, they usually saw somebody else they knew.

Q: The Administrator of our local hospital says he isn't interested in Amateur Radio help right now.  Why bother?

A: Hospitals are very self-sufficient entities.  The reality is that they will get along without us.  But they will get along far better with us in a disaster, if they understand how to use us and we know how to help them.

Sometimes we hams get whiny when a representative from a local hospital says, "No thanks, we really don't think we need you."  But why should we be surprised at this initial response, if we haven't had a chance to prove ourselves?  Hospital folks don't intuitively understand and envision our capabilities.

And then we hams tend to make things worse because we don't go ahead and prepare anyway.  Since when does a hospital saying it doesn't want you now mean that it won't ever really need you?  Yes, it's true that some hospital Administrators aren't willing to take a chance on hams.  But does that mean hams shouldn't be preparing to support them in the next big disaster anyway?  We're not doing our emergency services for the benefit of those Administrators.  We're doing it for the ultimate benefit of patients in the hospital beds.  Be prepared, so you'll be ready in case you're invited in later, or a major emergency forces the issue.

OC-EMS Command VehicleQ: It must take lots of money support all those hospitals.  What kind of budget did HDSCS have?

A: Zero!  We had no dues and no treasury.  We didn't accept cash gifts and we liked it that way.  We've seen far too many other ham groups getting bogged down in fiscal matters, creating dissention that detracts from the mission of the group.

Yes, we have had expenses, like this Web site, that have been paid out of members' pockets or donated by friends of the group.  Our supported hospitals have been quite willing to help us with other needs, in gratitude for our past support to them. 

Perhaps you have heard the expression, "No money, no mission."  We don't believe that it's always true.  We've learned that you don't need lots of money to provide Amateur Radio support to hospitals.  You just need committed volunteers.

Q: Could you please provide the HDSCS manuals as a guide for our own group?

A: Because they include specific details about Orange County hospitals and other sensitive information, our HDSCS member manual, other member documents and training materials aren't available to non-members.  As a guide to planning support for hospitals in your area, here is a list of topics included in these documents:

In the Photos   At top:  Almost every large medical facility is expanding, remodeling, or planning to do so.  Many California hospitals are rebuilding to meet new stringent earthquake standards.  Every time a hospital "cuts in" a new phone system or interrupts utilities for some other construction-related reason, there is an opportunity for a "standby operation," where hams provide backup communications during the changeover.  In center:  HDSCS member Roman Kamienski KG6QMZ helps install an Amateur Radio VHF/UHF antenna atop an Orange County hospital.  Near bottom:  Bob McCord K6IWA operates ham radio gear in the Orange County EMS command vehicle.  The HDSCS mission has expanded in recent years to include support to the Orange County Healthcare Agency and EMS.

*Formerly the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAH, 1951) and the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO, 1987)

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This page updated 14 October 2018