In the days since the disastrous earthquake in Nepal amateur radio operators have been lending critical communications assistance, especially in places where power, telephone, wireless and internet service has been interrupted. Nepal has only 99 licensed amateur radio operators, which is why hams from other countries have traveled to the country to help.
The country’s government reportedly is trying to speed approval for international radio amateurs to transmit legally. Otherwise, only those working with official government rescue teams are authorized. On Monday the Computer Association of Nepal-USA called on the Nepal government to release amateur radio equipment that is currently being held in customs.
Amateur radio transceivers can operate at low power levels using gasoline generators, batteries, or even hand-cranked generators, while still broadcasting over relatively large distances. Transmitting in morse code, rather than audio, also improves power efficiency. This makes ham radio particularly well suited for emergency communications.
Nepalese and foreign operators have been maintaining both local and international lines of communication. Operators based in neighboring countries like India and China have been monitoring transmissions from Nepal and relaying messages to and from the rest of the world. Many of these are from families checking on and reporting the welfare of relatives.
Amateur radio operators coordinate through the International Amateur Radio Union and national groups which do a significant amount of advance planning for disaster response. According to the IARU one Nepalese ham has even been using the slow-scan TV protocol to send images over shortwave to relief groups.
On Sunday Greg Mossup, an Emergency Communications Coordinator with the IARU, talked with the CBC for a story on the communications situation in Nepal. He explained that radio amateurs work with government emergency services agencies to plan for critical emergency response. He also noted that the engineering expertise of hams makes them a valuable asset when working with search and rescue teams, especially with regard to repairing and restoring communications infrastructure.
Shortwave broadcasting also provides a critical lifeline to people in Nepal. The BBC World Service has expanded English and Nepalese broadcasts to Nepal and Northern India. Guam-based Christian shortwave station KTWR announced a daily 1-hour block of programming for Nepal containing, “disaster relief counseling, teaching, and music breaks.”