Sussex amateur radio group performs emergency scenario drill

Exercise simulates communications breakdown during winter storm
March 13, 2023

Emergency operations centers in Sussex and Kent counties teemed with activity starting March 4 and continuing through March 8, as Federal Communications Commission-licensed amateur radio operators participated in an exercise scenario involving a heavy snowstorm causing extensive power outages and blocked roads.

In order to avoid confusion among participants and other potential listeners, operators started and ended their reports by saying, “This is an exercise” or “This is a drill.” Three times a day for an hour each time, the operators monitored their radios, and reported their simulated weather and damage conditions. Operating stations were assigned different issues to overcome with their equipment so they could produce the best communication to the county EOCs in Georgetown and Dover.

Using no commercial power, operators gave radio reports across both counties to the area Skywarn coordinator, Steven Keller. Skywarn is a volunteer program of trained severe weather spotters, and many of the Skywarn members are also ham radio operators. These volunteers help keep their local communities safe by providing firsthand reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service.

Participants in the emergency drill were required to operate their equipment without commercial utility power for the duration of the exercise, as would be necessary in an actual extended utility outage. A real area-wide emergency would restrict travel and negatively affect local businesses, meaning that fuel resupply would not be possible. During the exercise, fuel for generators, vehicles, etc., was limited to whatever was in the tank or on hand at the start. Also factored in was the impact a severe winter storm would have on wired carrier internet distribution to residential locations.

The drill continued over several days to test long-term communications capabilities. Recharging could be accomplished via generator, solar power or some similar means but not through use of utility power. The same restrictions applied to laptop computers used for digital messaging over the air. One operator had created a way to use his electric vehicle to power his station, and another was considering using his lawn tractor as an emergency power source.

Operators involved are members of Sussex County DE AUXCOMM and the Amateur Radio Emergency Service. All operators submitted after-action reports to help evaluate how they can be better prepared to serve the area during a real emergency.

Local amateur radio operators will exercise their skills again during the Coastal Delaware Running Festival Sunday, April 16. Anyone who would like to participate can email

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