ERC

Some of our members have been called as an Emergency Communications Specialist, or otherwise asked to participate in Emergency Response Communications by their church leaders.  This section of the web site was created with them in mind, but is potentially of use to anyone with a desire to be better organized for an emergency.


Background: What is LDS ERC (and what is it not?)

Note: ERC also stands for Emergency Response Coordinator, who usually works closely w/ the ECS -- who is involved in ERC -- which can be confusing....

Why?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is known worldwide for both its temporal preparedness programs; for example:
  • Preparedness of members (Food storage, etc.)
  • Welfare system (Working and taking care of each other in time of need -- not just taking a handout
  • Humanitarian Aid (labor, education, and supplies, in local communities and across the world)

As with other large organizations known for their relief efforts (e.g. Red Cross, Salvation Army, Southern Baptist), they recognize that communications is a key need during disasters.  With that in mind, they encourage each congregation to have an emergency communication plan that will allow them to effectively reach out to members before, during, and after a disaster, and pass information up & down the chain regarding needs and resources.  Such a plan should be able to use a variety of communication media as appropriate for the circumstance, and must recognize that in an emergency, conventional media are likely to be stressed. Radio services that don't rely on public infrastructure are an obvious fit, and the church recognizes, as do many others, that ham radio operators that do this stuff all the time because they like it, are a great resource.

Since Mormons as a group have an above-average interest [encouraged by prophetic counsel] in both preparedness and service to their fellow man, it stands to reason that there are a lot of LDS hams.  As with any group w/ common interests, many Latter-Day Saints form clubs or associations related to amateur radio, and church members in many areas hold communications exercises as a group to sharpen their skills and test/practice their communication plans.  Some LDS hams felt that they ought to be licensed to be prepared and able to serve if asked to by the church, but they aren't all that interested in radio and they don't do much.  Others were either passionate about amateur radio to begin with, or after getting involved out of a sense of duty and getting a taste of it, they discovered a great hobby and are taking off.   Whatever their initial interest, it's great to have a supply of fresh radio amateurs to enrich our hobby, and it's up to us as Elmers to nurture those ham seeds and give them a chance to blossom.

Misconceptions

I've seen people (particularly in areas where Mormon's make up a good chunk of the population, such as Utah and Idaho) complain about Mormons in radio, same as I've heard them complain about Mormons in scouting (The LDS church liked the Boy Scouts of America so much that they decided to adopt their program as an official program for the boys in the church; thus 37% of scout troups are LDS-sponsored. A great Eagle Scout is a great Eagle Scout, whether his bishop told him it was a great idea, or if the notion was planted by a legionnaire, a fireman, or his dad.)

The concerns about hams generally relate to the "no pecuniary interest" aspect of amateur radio.  Some have heard (or more likely, heard of) exercises or actual ER activities where reports were passed with live/dead/damaged stats on members, missionaries, and buildings; and accuse the church of using amateur radio for "business interests".  First off, in a disaster, is it right for church leaders to want to know about those they have stewardship for?  Sure! Same as your first thought ought to be your own family, and nobody's going to fault you for wanting to talk to/about your spouse & kids before Joe Blow.  The church also knows how many members they have in a particular area, and the stats of church members (which are gathered much more quickly and easily than those of the general population) gives the church an easy gauge as to the severity of the incident.  At the same time, church members are checking on their non-member neighbors, and as the response ramps up, the church is sending in humanitarian relief for members and non-members alike.  As for missionaries, they've got mothers across the country or halfway around the world that may have heard that their son or daughter is in danger, and you can bet those poor ladies would love to hear some reassuring news!  Meetinghouses, always valued as places to worship, may be used as command centers, staging areas, and shelters, so of course the church who owns them and is organizing a relief effort wants to know their status! Jeepers, it reminds me of the days when people insisted that having a Catholic POTUS would cause our country to effectively be conquered by Rome.....

Organization

The LDS church doesn't have a big central well-known group like SATERN, for example, and they don't allow things like permanent radio/antenna installations on their meetinghouses, but there are certainly groups of LDS hams across the world who love the Lord, ham radio, and their communities, and provide service to the church and others in times of need.  The church organizes its congregations geographically, so many of those hams are organized in groups that specifically focus on church members in their wards or stakes, and they identify themselves on their air that way (though, as is the case with pretty much any group of hams, they're usually happy to have others join them on the air, whether to participate "seriously" or to have a good rag chew).  In other areas, people have formed more formal associations such as Mercury Mount St. Helens, that may be composed largely of church members but have their own name.  Many other places have no predominantly-LDS group of active hams, and their members sole social contact with other hams is through clubs hosted by other organizations.  Regardless of how the hams are officially organized, because the church organizational structure covers every square inch of the globe in a geographical hierarchy, it's a terribly convenient way to organize emergency communications, particularly when they're providing a lot of the response effort.

It is also true that while churches don't have radios installed, the church has allowed the placement of equipment such as amateur radio stations and satellite phones in many of the Bishops Storehouses that distribute relief supplies, to ensure that they are contactable in the event of a disaster.  The same principle applies to hospitals and other locations that are key in disaster response: you may have great resources available, but if there's no way to communicate with them...

To more directly answer the "What is..." question, the prhrase "LDS ERC", usually refers to EmComm activities (training/preparation or event responses) utilize the geographical organization of the LDS church. Obviously Latter-day Saints are either leading it or playing key roles, since they would be the ones with the knowledge of the boundaries and have access to the mapping tools, etc. that make the job easier.  Another factor in the strength of LDS ERC is a knowledge of the geography and the people.  The LDS church has a lay ministry, and it's fairly likely that a lot of the LDS hams involved in a response will have above-average familiarity of the branch, ward, and stake that they reside in, as they have traveled throughout it, ministering to their fellow church members.  They know where streets are, what the natural geography's like, and they know where other people live that can help, and what other resources those people may be able to contribute to the effort.  Better servant during peaceful times = More useful servant during an emergency.

Priorities

Many LDS hams wear multiple hats, same as other operators do.  For example, at the time of this writing, I'm serving as the president of Mercury Mount St. Helens.  I've also been recently called to be the ECS for the Longview, WA stake. I'm also a member of the Cowlitz ACS.  I'm also a radio operator for the Civil Air Patrol.  Incidentally, I'm also responsible for a wife and 12 children. (With 6 of us licensed, we could easily form our own radio club...)  When we join organizations or accept specific assignments, we need to figure out what our priorities will be, and try to make it clear to everyone that's relying on us.  It wouldn't be fair for me to let CAP think that in certain types of emergencies they're likely to be my top priority, if there's a good chance that they won't.  For me, my family is the obvious #1, and the priority after that depends on what I feel like the need are.  Very often, the LDS church is the first organization to really be "on the ball", and the ERC net structures kick in.   While this hierarchy of contact may continue for some time, it often drops to a secondary status in relief organization.  Once things get going, general relief efforts are usually directed by the local gov't groups, with the church placing their resources at the gov't disposal.  In our area, we have the Cowlitz Country ACS that's functioning under the authority of the DEM (which in turn falls under the sheriff), so in many cases they'll be the ones directing things.  In such cases, they may still choose to adopt the use of the church geographical divisions for convenience, or an entirely different structure may be adopted.  In the same spirit that the ICS was developed, you do whatever makes sense for the situation, and leave politics/religion out of it.  In most cases, these different roles mesh can mesh well; you just need to make sure you're not in an essential leadership position in multiple organizations.  For me, the biggest potential  conflict would be w/ CAP; when signed into a CAP / Air Force mission, I'm not supposed to be operating a ham radio, so theoretically I could be signing in and out to dance that dance.  In reality, the big reason for that is to protect the amateur airwaves from encroachment by the gov't, so as long as I was switching roles and not actually trying to do things on behalf of CAP by ham radio, nobody's going to care if I call my wife or someone else on another radio if needed while I'm on duty.  If I'm more valuable to the response effort by being in CAP at a given moment, that's where I am; if I need to be a ham for a while, I'm a ham for a while and can coordinate w/ CAP using other methods.  Of course in an emergency there's always the possibility of cross-service radio operation, whether on different frequencies or on a shared band like 60m.

WWW resources

Official Information

Other Useful Information


Useful Tools

  • Telephony/messaging - How to quickly contact large numbers of people before, during, and after an emergency?  (Sure the church wants their hometeachers & priesthood leaders actively involved in their families' welfare, but instead of delaying response, wasting everyone's times in a classic inefficient & spotty phone tree that further ties up overloaded lines, how about organizing something that's fast and helps members feed info back up the chain? Then quality person-to-person interactions can start.)
    • FreeSMSGateway.info - Enter a phone#, and it'll tell you if it's cellular, who the carrier is, and what the SMTP-SMS/MMS gateway email addresses are.  (It consults the number porting database, so it should return accurate results!)  Limited to 15 lookups/month per IP address.
      This info is also available in bulk via their TEXT@ service, but an account costs >= $12/month whether you use it or not. :-(
    • Intro to Twilio & its competitors - Unlike Hyper-Reach, who  provides a ready-to-use service aimed at local gov'ts and others with a need for urgent mass-messaging (They didn't reply to my web-form request for info, but I assume their expensive), Twilio and similar platforms provide inexpensive and easy-to-use cloud APIs that allow you to build your own custom communications apps from a website, mobile app, or even a Google Spreadsheet. This is getting a bit geeky, but it's an option that I want to explore (I'm currently looking at Bandwidth and Nexmo) in terms of creating something that can be shared with other ERC units, thus getting more value from the effort/cost involved in creating a system.  This is geeky, but use your imagination. Sure, we know that public infrastructure's likely to be suffering in a disaster, but popular communications channels are available more often than they're not, and the potential value in an automated system of mass-contact (1-way or two-way w/ info gathering), particularly one hosted out of your area w/ redundant routes, should not be underestimated. Typical transaction costs seem to be arround 1/2 cent, whether for lookups or messaging -- about 200 people for $1.


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