Active Local Emergency Response Team

Introduction

Sometimes called Area Local Environment Response Team or other similar descriptions, these are not necessarily formally registered teams of volunteers.

In the concept encouraged by CWB, ALERT members set up locally and autonomously and use their own local resources and knowledge to provide an ongoing network of communications, especially radio communications, which may conduct daily or periodic radio checks to ensure equipment is working and ready to activate in times of communications emergency, severe weather, power outages, disaster or other abnormal events.

These in turn activate prepared volunteer teams, which may be described as Neighborhood Emergency Assistance Teams, at the basic street block or immediate neighborhood level. These consist of those willing to assist in supply of food, cooking, distribution, batteries, fuel, equipment, skills, expertise, whether medical, logistical or other during times of emergency.

NEAT make contact with vulnerable neighbors and ensure their safety and welfare, providing local assistance where possible, or otherwise seeking help from further afield. If communications are down, NEAT can contact via ALERT members who in turn may pass on messages to Communicators Without Borders as required.

How do I get started?

Neighbors may band together in a variety of ways to help one another, especially during any emergency.

Find out what preparedness efforts are going on in your area and join in the effort. Learn what plans are already in place and note the communication plan or absence thereof. Community groups are usually eager to learn from people with knowledge and experience in the areas of concern to them. Participation in local preparedness courses or training will let you meet like-minded individuals with whom you can share ideas. If there is no ALERT/NEAT program in your area, consider starting one.

Using Public Service Radios (FRS/CB)

The most popular and ubiquitous communication tools not dependent on the telephone system or Internet are sometimes referred to as Family Radio Service (FRS) or CB (Citizens Band) radios. These are radios that require no license to own and operate and have local range only, but are sufficient for a neighborhood, using low powers usually at UHF frequencies.

When equipping an ALERT group for the first time, have everyone buy one make and model of radio (or buy the same radio in bulk for additional cost savings). This will assure consistent channel numbering.

If different models and makes are already employed by ALERT members, prepare a chart to go with each radio showing the channel number that goes with each frequency.

Every radio owner should be able to power his or her transceiver from standard alkaline batteries. Rechargeable NiCad, NiMH or Li
- Ion batteries are great for everyday use when AC power is available to recharge them, but recharging batteries when the power is out or when heavy use drains the batteries quickly can be a problem. Alkaline cells are inexpensive, can be replaced quickly, have a relatively long shelf life and are usually kept on hand already for use in flashlights and other devices. If a radio needs a separate shell to use these disposable batteries, get one for each radio. If the alkaline batteries fit directly into the radio, keep some packed near (not in) the radio, and refresh the supply when necessary.

Radio Coverage

You can suggest or organize a coverage-mapping exercise in which your neighbors test their radios from different locations, indoors and out, to identify any hot spots and dead spots. Find the places you can transmit with the most complete coverage and prepare to use relays for hard-to-reach areas if necessary. Knowing this before a disaster strikes will be most helpful, and it will get people used to using their radios.

During a disaster, time and radio resources may both be in short supply. People will be occupied with caring for their own families or performing their assigned team tasks. It benefits everyone to keep transmissions short and to minimize confusion over who is calling whom. Radio Amateurs and Communicators Without Borders are familiar with good radio protocol and can teach it to their
neighbors and ALERT team members to promote efficient use of whatever radios are in use.

Linking to the Outside

In addition to helping with neighborhood communications plans, Communicators Without Borders and Radio Amateurs may be
called upon or expected to provide a link to adjacent areas or to first responders. You should be aware of the other Communicators in your area who are active in the local emergency telecommunication organizations and know the frequencies on which you can reach them. They will probably be your best access to first responders and aid organizations if there is any
access to be had.

You should set realistic expectations as to what you can accomplish. Surrounding areas may be experiencing the same problems you have locally. Fire department and law-enforcement agency communications will be very busy and will give priority to those groups with which they are familiar.

Communications in Neighborhood Preparedness

Flyers announcing a planning meeting and agenda can be dropped in mailboxes, followed up with telephone calls. A community center or even a neighbor's home can serve as the venue for the meeting. The initial meeting is an ice breaker for neighbors to get to know one another in the context of possibly relying on each other in a disaster response scenario. To start off the meeting, a review of the types of hazards that face the neighborhood and history of events in the past can set the tone and
instill the gravity of the mission with attendees.

A roundtable discussion can be held with introductions of individual neighbors, noting their personal and professional experience, and interest in fulfilling preparedness functions. Initial assignments can be made, and then changed or modified in future meetings as necessary.

Communicators Without Borders and ALERT are the obvious choices to lead the communications function, and accordingly able to overcome the effects of isolation of the neighborhood in a post-disaster environment. Amateur Radio is the most versatile
radio communication service available to the average citizen and neighborhood. The radio amateur is the most experienced in radio communications principles and practical applications.

Communications functions also involve the immediate safety of life and property in the aftermath of a disaster, getting the neighbors to communicate with one another to activate the neighborhood plan and establish reliable communications with the outside world to convey situation reports, critical needs and delivery of critical supplies.

Health and welfare messages on behalf of neighborhood members can be transmitted to the outside world (which might be only a few blocks away) to concerned friends and family members. There is no underestimating the need for radio communications, not only for critical needs, but indeed for the morale of the potentially psychologically stressed, devastated neighborhood families.

The radio amateur could also maintain portable electrical generators and docking stations for rechargeable batteries, perhaps in his garage, for neighborhood use as required when normal power is out. They are experts in the use of alternative power sources.

The neighborhood team concept can potentially save the lives and properties of some of the most important people you hold dear besides your family and friends - your neighbors.

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