Viewpoint: Emergency comms vital

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By BRIAN WOLFE-MILNER

I am writing on behalf of the Salt Spring Island Amateur Radio Society to support the application by the Gulf Islands Community Radio Society for their community radio licence. Our organization believes this will be an important piece of infrastructure for the Salt Spring Island.

We are able to receive some Vancouver Island and Vancouver radio stations but they have little content specific to Salt Spring Island.  A community radio station would fill this need. The community station that operated here in the past was listened to and enjoyed by many islanders.

Last December, during the day, Salt Spring Island experienced a wind storm with hurricane force winds. A lot of damage was done to buildings, hydro, telephone, internet and cable lines,  the roads and  landscape. Fortunately there were no fatalities on the island but many vehicles were destroyed. The storm raged over a period of about seven hours and in the aftermath many roads were inaccessible, we suffered  island wide power outages and poor communications. The power outages and road closures continued for several days and with poor communications  it was very difficult to keep the population informed. Fortunately the cellular network was still working although it was said they were frequently at full capacity, dropping calls and refusing to connect new callers.

I attended debriefs of the event and the most common observation was that people did not know what was happening. For example, school buses were not running, so school children could not leave the school and some parents were frantic not knowing what was happening with their children. Other people were unable to get home because they were not able to find out which roads were passable.

If we had had a community radio station that coordinated with our Emergency Operations Centre,  a constant flow of information could have been broadcast to most of the population of Salt Spring Island both in their vehicles and at home.

Our society believes that if only for emergency communications, this licence should be granted. Salt Spring Island is isolated from other population centres and relies solely on air or water transportation for our everyday needs. When a major catastrophe occurs in the southwest corner of B.C. we would be on our own for many days and perhaps several weeks. Communications would be vital in that scenario as they are in any emergency. Our amateur radio operators will do our best to help with the flow of information region wide but we do not have the coverage that would be provided by broadcast radio.

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