PAPERS & DOCUMENTS
EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT COMMUNICATIONS IN THE NORTH, CENTRAL
AND WESTERN PACIFIC
Higa, C., Kennard, D., Norris, J.,
and Shigetani, M. (1996) Support Emergency Management Communications
in the North, Central and Western Pacific, Proceedings of the Pacific
Telecommunications Conference '96, pp 948-956.
Emergency Management Organizations
Communications in the Pacific Islands (Region IX)
Examples of Networks Supporting Emergency Communications
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This paper provides an overview of various U.S. organizations
involved in disaster planning and relief efforts in the North,
Central and Western Pacific. It also describes the nature of
environmental threats in the Pacific which illustrates the grave
necessity of communication networks to support emergency management
efforts. Although there are numerous players involved in operating
and maintaining such communication networks, this paper focuses
on two specific examples: the Hawaii State Voluntary Organizations
Active in Disaster (HSVOAD) and the Emergency Management Network
importance of disaster planning and communication is often underplayed
until a disaster occurs. Information gained from past disasters
play an important role in improving the organization of existing
and developing infrastructures to better support emergency communication.
These networks must be operable in the absence of conventional infrastructures,
such as electricity and telephone lines. Redundant networks are
relied upon even when conventional infrastructures are in tact because
telephone lines are often overloaded by the general public. Accurate
and timely information distribution is also critical in times of
disaster. In addition to being reliable and viable systems, cost
effectiveness is key. Today, collaborative efforts among emergency
management organizations, communication network managers and technicians
are combining forces to address the emergency communication needs
in disaster preparation and response.
Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA is the governmental
agency tasked with coordinating the federal disaster response and
recovery process. It also implements the President's Disaster Assistance
Program which is designed to supplement the efforts of the state
and local government, voluntary agencies and others in providing
assistance during emergencies.
The Pacific Islands served by FEMA Region IX Pacific Area Office
include the American Flag Pacific Islands which are the State of
Hawaii, the Territories of American Samoa and Guam, and the Commonwealth
of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Freely Associated States
which are comprised of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the
Federated States of Micronesia (Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap),
and the Republic of Palau.
FEMA Region IX services an enormous Pacific region which extends
from 134 degrees east longitude to 155 degrees west longitude and
14 degrees south latitude to 22 degrees north latitude (See Figure
The combined Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is about 4.3 million
square miles of water. The total land area is 7,562 square miles,
less than 0.2 percent of the combined EEZ. Approximately 85 percent
of the total land area is in the State of Hawaii. (See Table 1)
1: Pacific Area Data
region is lightly populated, although specific islands may have
a high density (e.g. Majuro with 5,244 persons per square mile).
The total population is 1.484 million, and the population density
is 196 persons per square mile of land and 0.3 persons per square
mile of EEZ. About 75 percent of the population, or 1.1 million,
is in the State of Hawaii. (See Table 1).
Several natural hazards are common to the region, including tropical
cyclones (called hurricanes in the eastern Pacific, and typhoons
in the western and central Pacific), flash floods, flooding due
to high waves, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, drought
and storm surge. These can cause enormous damage, some of which
are severe enough to warrant assistance from the federal government.
Since 1982 there have been 30 federally declared disasters which
generated $531 million in total obligations for FEMA assistance.
(See Table 2). The total damage of these disasters was in excess
of $2.2 billion.
The primary threat in the region is tropical cyclones. Twenty-five
of the declared disasters since 1982 and 96 percent of the FEMA
obligations were the result of cyclones. The six events causing
the most obligations were cyclones (Iniki - $229 million, Val -
$77 million, Omar - $63 million, Ofa - $66 million, Owen - $17 million
and Nina - $16 million). Four of the cyclones (Roy, Russ, Yuri and
Axel) caused substantial damage in multiple jurisdictions.
The severity of these natural hazards have been costly in the resiliency
of both the people and economy. This emphasizes the importance of
disaster planning and response in the Pacific. Communication is
the critical vehicle for the organization and collaboration of relief
efforts needed to provide health care, food, water, shelter and
the rebuilding of communities.
Damage to inter- and intra- island communication systems is an important
effect of the tropical storms. Given their relative isolation and
geographic make-up, the communication system within a jurisdiction
and with the outside world is vitally important. A cyclone's high
wind and rain may cause damage to power and telephone lines, communication
satellite dishes and electronic equipment. It is not uncommon for
phone communications to be out during and for several days after
the storm, hampering the response and recovery function of local,
state and federal agencies. The development of a reliable, survivable
combination of communication systems for emergency management would
be a large step toward solving this repetitive problem in the region.
The many players involved in emergency management including policy
makers, managers and technicians are working together towards merging
resources to build redundancy and organization in emergency management
EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT ORGANIZATIONS
role of government and voluntary agencies like the American Red
Cross in disaster response and recovery activities can best be described
as an integrated collaborative effort. Governments at all levels--local,
state and federal share in the responsibility of mitigating against,
preparing for and responding to disasters and emergencies within
their jurisdictions. However, for many years, governments have relied
on the expertise and resources of voluntary agencies to augment
their efforts in disaster planning and response.
2: Pacific Area Disasters
in disaster preparedness and planning can best be described as a
pyramid of increasing severity. At the base of the pyramid is local
government and community organizations.
Local government provides the first line of response and is the
level of government that is closest to the situation. Fire, law
enforcement, search and rescue, and emergency medical services are
provided by the local government to ensure life and property. Community
voluntary agencies work in concert with the government to provide
feeding, sheltering and basic needs of both individuals and families
affected by the disasters. Additionally, private and government
agencies work together to restore vital municipal resources, such
as power, transportation and communications systems. If an emergency
is so great that it overwhelms or exhausts local resources, assistance
may be sought from the next level of the pyramid, state government.
State government has a duty to prepare for and respond to emergencies
within their jurisdictions. State government serves as the liaison
between affected populations and federal assistance programs. Should
the disaster be so severe that it is beyond the capabilities of
both the local and state government to respond, the governor, (or
in the case of the Pacific Jurisdictions which has one level of
government, the senior government official), may request a major
declaration from the President of the United States. When such a
declaration is made, a wide range of federal resources and assistance
programs are made available to the affected state or jurisdiction.
The federal response to an emergency represents the final tier of
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA as described earlier,
is the governmental agency which is responsible for coordinating
response efforts when local and state resources are too heavily
The American Red Cross is the leading voluntary agency involved
in disaster preparedness and response in America. Though not a government
agency, the American Red Cross has a legal and moral mandate to
provide disaster relief to the American people. American Red Cross'
authority to respond to disasters is derived directly from its Congressional
Charter of 1905.
The American Red Cross disaster services program involves the provision
of a planning, preparedness, education and relief program throughout
the United States and its Territories and Possessions. American
Red Cross disaster relief assistance involves the operation of shelters,
the provision of feeding services, providing for individual and
family assistance to meet immediate needs, such as the replacement
of food, clothing and household items. American Red Cross assistance
also involves medical health support, the handling of inquiries
from concerned family members outside the area, and the coordination
of relief activities with other voluntary agencies, businesses,
labor and government. All American Red Cross disaster relief is
provided free of charge and are a result of donations from the American
When responding to disasters, voluntary agencies provide resources
to support the government's response efforts. For example, the American
Red Cross supports government's efforts in mass care, by managing
government identified congregate care shelters. Another voluntary
agency, the American Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL), provides
emergency communications between government and voluntary agencies
during disaster. Additionally, voluntary agencies like the American
Red Cross coordinate the service delivery of other voluntary agencies
involved in the response effort. Through a coordinated, collaborative
effort government and the voluntary sector work together to address
the disaster caused needs of their communities. Communication is
a vital element of this coordination.
COMMUNICATIONS IN THE PACIFIC ISLANDS (REGION IX)
Telephone, Radio, Television
are substantial telephone, radio and television frameworks in the
major cities of the Pacific Island region served by FEMA. However,
these infrastructures can not be depended on during an emergency
due to frequent damage of telephone and electrical lines from the
harsh weather conditions. High winds, flying debris and heavy rain
have caused damage to overhead telephone and/ or electrical lines.
If the public telephone system remains operational, it is also first
to become overwhelmed.
radio communication is commonly used for communication in rural
areas. Amateur radio communication is highly prevalent in the Pacific
Islands. According the Federal Communication Commission, there are
approximately 570 licensed amateur radio operators in Guam alone
and another 500 total in the other U.S. territories and possessions
in the Pacific. Amateur radio communication is used for voice and
data applications. Due to the ease of installation and mobility
of amateur radio equipment, amateur radio operation has historically
been instrumental in providing communications in an emergency. Amateur
radio communication infrastructures have often provided redundancy
or replacement of conventional telephone communication. However
it is evident, from past experience in both real time emergencies
and unannounced drills, that there are factors, other than technical
systems, to be considered. For example, there is a need for operators
to be trained for emergency situations. There is a need for structure
and organization of the voluntary groups to be able to actively
and effectively support disaster relief efforts from the local to
the federal level. Section 5.2. of this paper identifies how the
Hawaii State Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, or HSVOAD,
was formed in order to address these issues in Hawaii.
A high frequency radio costs approximately $1,500 U.S., with no
recurring transmission costs. In the event of risk or loss of life
or property, all local communication frequencies are made available
for emergency communication.
PEACESAT stations are located in 22 Pacific Island countries. As
described in following sections of this paper, nine additional PEACESAT
stations will be installed in each Emergency Management Office of
the Pacific Island jurisdictions of Region IX establishing an Emergency
Management Network. Additionally, in September of 1995, PEACESAT
and the National American Red Cross entered into a Memorandum of
Understanding confirming the commitment by each organization to
work collaboratively in disaster relief efforts.
The PEACESAT system utilizes a decommissioned meteorological satellite,
GOES-2, of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Current PEACESAT services include voice, data and facsimile. A PEACESAT
Services Improvement Plan is being implemented which will provide
a digital overlay to the existing analog system. New services will
include higher speed data, concurrent voice and data communication
and compressed digitized video.
PEACESAT provides public service communication for distance education,
training, research and economic development. Providing communication
to support emergencies is also a primary mission of PEACESAT. In
the case of an emergency, all scheduled programs are preempted to
support the country in need of communication.
A standard PEACESAT station costs approximately $30,000 U.S. There
are no recurring user fees in terms of transmission costs.
systems are deployed for emergency response by American Red Cross.
Inmarsat-A stations are portable systems which provide voice, data
and fax transmissions via an Inmarsat satellite and Land Earth Stations.
Inmarsat-A terminals provide a wide range of mobile coverage in
all four ocean regions.
Currently there are two Inmarsat-A stations based in Hawaii, one
in Guam and one in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
If an emergency occurs in other parts of the region, Inmarsat-A
systems are brought in from either Hawaii, Guam, Saipan or the U.S.
An Inmarsat-A terminal costs approximately $30,000 - $40,000 U.S.
Transmission costs are approximately $10 U.S. per minute.
are military communication networks in place which are primarily
used to provide service to the armed forces of the government. These
networks, understandably, cannot be readily depended on for dedicated
civilian use. The military plays a major role in providing relief
efforts during emergencies and require communication for their own
needs. Security restrictions are also a concern for military communication
EXAMPLES OF NETWORKS SUPPORTING
Emergency Management Network utilizing PEACESAT and the Hawaii State
Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (HSVOAD) are specific
examples of emergency managers and communication network managers
acting jointly to address the issues of establishing overlays of
communication infrastructures to support emergency communications.
The Pacific islands served by FEMA's Pacific Area Office correspond
to the member States of the National Emergency Management Association's
Pacific Caucus. The Pacific Caucus and the Governors of the AFPI,
who also make up the Board of the Pacific Basin Development Council
(PBDC), proposed to establish an Emergency Management Network (EMN)
using the Pan Pacific Education and Communication Experiments by
Satellite (PEACESAT) program. The EMN will strengthen emergency
management planning, programming and response communication throughout
The Department of the Interior (DOI) and FEMA are jointly funding
the EMN through a cooperative agreement with the PBDC and PEACESAT.
The EMN will be made up of the Pacific Caucus Emergency Management
Offices (EMO) in: American Samoa, Guam, Saipan in the Northern Mariana
Islands, Majuro in the Marshall Islands, Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk
and Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia, and Koror in Palau.
The Hawaii Civil Defense and the Pacific Area Office will be able
to access the PEACESAT network via a phone-patch to the PEACESAT
Headquarters located at the University of Hawaii.
Each earthstation will consist of an analog transceiver, a 3.5 meter
satellite dish, and a radome. PEACESAT earthstations share the use
of nine analog simplex channels that support voice teleconferencing
and three full-duplex point-to-point channels for voice, fax or
data transmission. One full-duplex and one simplex circuit will
be dedicated to the EMN.
The full-duplex channels support 9.6 Kbps data communication for
data transfers or access to information services such as Internet.
PEACESAT headquarters in Honolulu provides Internet access to the
Pacific via GOES-2. The PEACESAT standard terminal can be upgraded
to support higher data rates up to 32 Kbps.
All standard PEACESAT stations are equipped with a telephone patch
which can connect calls from the public switched telephone network
to the PEACESAT network. This would be practical for a location
outside of the GOES-2 footprint, Washington D.C. for example, to
be in direct contact with the EMO facing the crisis. If Saipan was
completely devastated without telephone communication, electricity,
etc. the EMO would contact another PEACESAT station, Honolulu, for
example, who would then "phone-patch" the appropriate
federal office for a current status of the situation and needed
PEACESAT systems have withstood environmental disasters in the Pacific.
Recent examples include Hurricane Iniki and Typhoon Omar. Historically,
PEACESAT has provided communication to devastated areas when telephone
lines were either completely disabled or overloaded. However the
EMN intent is to combine several integral components that will provide
the basic structure to better orchestrate disaster planning and
The EMN calls for the PEACESAT antenna to be housed in protective
radome coverings for an added level of protection and will allow
communication during the storm. Theses PEACESAT stations will be
equipped with back-up power, sturdy facilities and personnel who
are readily available and trained to operate under emergency situations.
The EMN will be instrumental in assisting FEMA to fulfill its response
and recovery, preparedness and training, and mitigation roles in
the Pacific. The EMN will provide a reliable, survivable communication
system during and after a disaster. This will allow FEMA to respond
to a disaster quicker and more appropriately, to overcome the large
distances and high cost of travel that impede staff training and
education, and to provide information on a timely basis.
the wake of Hurricane Iniki, which in 1992 devastated Hawaii's Northernmost
island of Kauai, it was clear that a collaborative and cooperative
disaster response effort on the part of government and voluntary
agencies was required. However, the desire to coordinate the various
disaster relief programs became an almost impossible task as conventional
communication systems were disrupted, over taxed or destroyed along
with approximately half of Kauai's 20,000 homes and most of its
70 hotels. Over 7,000 of Kauai's 52,000 people were left homeless.
In retrospect of the Iniki experience voluntary agencies, realized
that a more coordinated effort among Hawaii's communities must be
developed to insure a more efficient disaster response effort in
the future. As a result, on July 27, 1993, the Hawaii State Voluntary
Organizations Active in Disaster, or HSVOAD was formed.
The mission of the HSVOAD is to "facilitate the provision of
comprehensive services to the People of Hawaii in disaster preparedness,
response, and recovery by fostering coordination among private,
non-profit and government agencies". The emergency management
objective of HSVOAD is to "ensure a collaborative,
effective, and timely disaster response among volunteer organizations".
In an emergency situation, when the State of Hawaii Civil
Defense Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is activated, a member
of the HSVOAD is assigned to the EOC team. The HSVOAD representative
within the State EOC will respond to operating requirements of the
State Director of Civil Defense, State and County government requests
for coordination and disaster assistance, as well as from HSVOAD
member agencies. With such an important role to play, the HSVOAD
realized early on in its formation that a reliable cost-effective
communication system was needed to insure continuity of communications
during and after a disaster.
Training and practice is essential in forming an effective emergency
operations routine. In March of 1995, an initial emergency test
using volunteer amateur radio operators and CB stations was conducted
specifically to aid the HSVOAD organization. Communication links
were set up by amateur radio operators and CB operators at the HSVOAD
member agency offices.
The emergency communications test operated within a pre-determined
scenario that called for a near miss hurricane that left wind and
major flood damage in West Maui and the Southern Region of Hawaii
County. There were ensuing problems related to food, shelters, and
mass care. The emergency communications network, or HSVOAD-NET,
was activated to address these various concerns.
In all, ten HSVOAD sites on four islands came on-line. The test
proved without a doubt that a designated voluntary agency emergency
communications system was an absolute necessity and completely feasible.
To further validate the existence of a voluntary agency emergency
communications system, the HSVOAD-NET was activated during the State
of Hawaii 1995 Hurricane Exercise. During the May exercise, all
twenty-five HSVOAD member agencies expressed interest to participate.
Unfortunately there were not enough CB and Amateur radio operators
available to support their involvement. To address this issue, the
HSVOAD made arrangement to phone patch or CB patch voluntary agencies
into the emergency communications net, via the MARS communications
systems. Thus, HSVOAD agencies that did not have an on-site amateur
radio operator were able to participate and communicate. Those voluntary
agencies that actively participated were serviced by amateur radio
operators equipped with hand-held portable radios. Additionally,
voluntary agencies located in areas not conducive to VHF transmission,
(high rise buildings), were serviced by CB operators. During the
hurricane exercise, HSVOAD member agencies and the local governments
were successful in using the given scenario and resources to create
a workable communication solution. From this exercise, the HSVOAD
and related players will be in a better position to respond proactively
rather than reactively, in the event of an actual hurricane.
The beauty of the HSVOAD-NET is that the system utilizes existing
training systems and volunteer structures. The system is not complicated
and is "user-friendly", with the option of transmitting
voice or data information. Also, in the event that a voluntary agency
would like to transmit and receive its own communications, a portable-hand
held VHF radio can be purchased for $300 or less. Voluntary Agency
staff can train themselves to be systems operators by completing
the ARRL home study course and applying for a Ham Radio License.
The ability to "self-train" and procure affordable equipment
makes HSVOAD-NET very cost effective. Supporting the HSVOAD-NET
are existing "repeaters" operated and owned by private
radio clubs and state government, providing instant state-wide coverage.
It should be noted that HSVOAD intends to work with member agencies
like the ARRL, the American Red Cross and PEACESAT to further develop
redundant communication systems that can enhance the HSVOAD-NET.
A few desirable developments would include interfacing HF and VHF
networks to satellite communication for extended coverage, portable
satellite systems and packet data communications via HF or VHF radio
to be interface to satellite terminals for data communication from
HSVOAD is dedicated to the continued development and utilization
of redundant methods of communication during times of disaster.
management communication for planning, response and relief efforts,
are currently being addressed by emergency managers and organizations,
who are joining forces with various communication networks with
the intent of providing redundant, reliable and survivable communication
in the Pacific areas.
It is evident that there is a need to identify communication systems
that are in place and identify innovative means of strengthening
these infrastructures by considering alternative power (solar power
repeaters, generators, etc.), overlapping system applications with
redundancy, organizing the information flow and management of the
networks to best serve the emergency communication needs.
With systems and networks in place, it is critical to provide operators
with proper training and practice. Routine emergency communication
network drills involving all parties likely to be involved will
do many things: It will verify the operational condition of the
communication equipment if not used on a regular basis exercise
operational procedures and maintain collaborative relationships.
There are numerous efforts working parallel to these which are not
mentioned in this paper. They include information delivery systems
to reach the masses specifically for disaster preparedness. For
example, systems which can transfer and distribute weather images
and information for advanced warning and proper preparation. An
example is the Radio Activated Alarm System (RAAS) developed by
the Scientific and Commercial Systems Corporation. It is a hand-held
system which receives warning alarms indicating danger. It is intended
to provide wide range of coverage with various types of repeater
systems attending specifically to rural areas. There are many innovative
applications for a system such as the RAAS.
Communication technology is ever changing and developing. Emergency
managers must push communications technology to the limit. It is
a challenge we can ill afford to ignore and that requires organizations
to work together and join resources.
AFPI American Flag Pacific Island
ARC American Red Cross
ARRL American Amateur Radio Relay League
CB Citizen Band
DOI Department of the Interior
EEZ Exclusive Economic Zone
EMN Emergency Management Network
EMO Emergency Management Offices
EOC Emergency Operations Center
FEMA Federal Emergency Management Agency
FSM Federated States of Micronesia
GOES-2 Geostationary Operating
HF High Frequency
HSVOAD Hawaii State Voluntary Organizations
Active in Disaster
MARS Military Amateur Radio System
NMI Commonwealth of the
Northern Mariana Islands
NOAA National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration
PBDC Pacific Basin Development Council
PEACESAT Pan Pacific Education and Communication Experiments by
RMI Republic of the Marshall Islands
RAAS Radio Activated Alarm System
VHF Very High Frequency