Exactly 20 years ago, on 6 March 1987, the roll on/roll off passenger ferry Herald of Free Enterprise left the Zeebrugge harbour to set course to Dover. Only a few minutes after its departure and due to a combined number of human errors the ship capsized. 153 passengers and 38 crew lost their lives, most inside the ship from hypothermia in the freezing water. This was the biggest non-wartime shipdisaster since Titanic in 1912.
Many lessons have been learned but one lesson seems to have been forgotten… Soon after the disaster got known to the public, normal (telephone-)communications got congested and became inpossible. But HAM’s were there to take over. Soon a network of radio amateur stations was set up under the lead of Claude ON7TK (who later received the ‘Golden Antenna‘ from DNAT and the city of Bad Bentheim).
Today, 20 years later, there doesn’t seem to be any organised network of (trained) radioamateurs to do this kind of tasks anymore. Yes, the Rode Kruis Noodnet (Red Cross Emergency network) still has a website but I don’t know of any radioamateurs in my region that are currently active in it.
During my activities in car rallies I am regularly in touch with Red Cross people of different ranks and they all seem persuaded that their communications systems can handle every possible disaster… [sigh]. For them, us radio-amateurs are only, as the name says, ‘amateurs’ or, translated, children with expensive toys. Certainly, we have come to the 21st century and soon in our country there will probably be more cell-phones (with dodgy ringtones) than people. We have satellite communications, we have trunking etc. But most people don’t realise that the bandwith on those networks is limited.
Of course we don’t regularly have any typhoons or tsunamis or earthquakes in our region, but is this an excuse not to be prepared?
Some of you smart guys will reply:”But we participate in field day twice a year, that is an emergency exercise!” Maybe it is, if you can call running around for 2 weekends to get all needed gear ready (not to forget the barbecue!) being prepared…
And you, are you ready? Or, like most people I know, don’t you even have a working flashlight anywhere in your home?
HAM RADIO IS THE ONLY FAIL SAFE COMMUNICATION SYSTEM IN THE WORLD! but only us HAM’s seem to know it…
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