The devastating earthquake in Nepal is being met by an international relief effort led by Indian, China, Pakistan and the United States. Secondary powers like Canada are doing what they can but it’s always going to be too little too late for too many.
This is the nature of wide-scale disaster relief and it’s not new. We saw all this before in Haiti in 2010 when over 200,000 people perished.
The first thing to fail is the communication’s infrastructure.
Power is cutoff within seconds and sometimes remains off for days and weeks even in urban centres. Cell towers fall and existing surviving equipment is immediately overloaded and fails. )Texting may still work and is the easiest communications to re-establish.)
Governments in these third world countries are less than well organized at the best of times and massive disasters are not the best of times.
Within hours of the initial tragedy aid agencies implement their rapid reaction disaster relief teams. Military teams from many other countries began to assess what they can do. Money gets pledged. People get worked up.
And then the airports in the affected area are crippled by the number of incoming flights and close down until the backlog can be sorted out by controllers who have their own personal problems to deal with after work. This takes days to do.
Meetings between helping agencies, foreign militaries and local governments often are acrimonious at best and poisonous at the worst. I witnessed what happened at the Hagarsville Tire Fire meetings that involved at least three layers of government plus a whole whack of special interest folks.
It got sorted but there was some arm wrestling that went on during the weeks it took to put the fire out. There was a danger than poisonous chemicals were leaking out of the fire scene and being washed into the watershed by all the water being poured onto the blaze could cause a widespread evacuation of everyone from Hagersville to Lake Ontario. That’s a lot of people and a lot of civic disruption. The army would have been called in.
Same thing happened in the 2003 Toronto with the SARS outbreak. When early information was suppressed, rumour and panic in the media began to make matters much much worse than they really were (and they weren’t good to begin with).
It wasn’t until the intervention of Dr. Sheela Basrur then Ontario’s Chief Officer of Health whose calm and informative manner reassured an uneasy public and coordinated the official communications that saved the day. She was informally called a hero by many and a grateful province named its new headquarters for the province’s new health agency the Sheela Basrur Centre.
So during big disasters in far away places, foreigners and tourists travelling in these remote areas of the world (and even more remote back country) are on their own for at least 48 hours and even longer.
It takes days, even weeks for aid agencies to coordinate the necessary help and cobble together some infrastructure.
That’s the way it is people.
There’s a lot of criticism of the response from Canada and on the ground in Nepal that’s from people who are panicked and uninformed. It is to be expected.
These days, not much. In the old days of the 1964 Alaskan earthquake Ham Radio was for some the only form of communications within Alaska and out to the rest of the world.
Oh we still have a role to play. Once organizations such as the Red Cross get established they need communications and Amateur Radio is perfect for communicating across town, across the country or out to the rest of the world. The 1985 Barrie Tornado is a good example where Red Cross shelters kept in touch via Amateur Radio.
Like the military and unlike every other communications group, Amateur Radio can function in the complete absence of infrastructure. We don’t need electricity as our rigs can run on batteries or generators. We don’t need towers or central switching like cell systems.
All we need are volunteers with a smattering of training willing to sit in a relief shelter and pass information as directed by officials on the ground. That’s it.
Now there is a move towards creating MESH networks that can instantly create communications infrastructures based on emergency power and portable antennas to create what is essentially a private Internet and I highly support this effort.
It’s too bad nobody in Amateur Radio in Canada is doing anything about this on a national basis…but I’ve spoken on this lack of foresight and intelligence before.