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Mock communications disaster puts skills to the test

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What would happen in the event of a city-wide wireless communication outage?

That's what several organizations set out to discover this weekend in Halifax. The Salvation Army, Halifax Emergency Management Office (EMO), the Canadian Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, and Halifax Amateur Radio Club gathered at Fort Needham Memorial Park to conduct a mock communication disaster.

"We're taking part in a North America-wide event that simulates loss of communications in a large way. Locally, we're suggesting that we lose internet, telephone, all forms of communication," said Wayne Harasimovitch, with the Halifax Amateur Radio Club.

"As amateur radio operators, we bring our skills and talents, which are typically a hobby, to the forefront and we assist HRM EMO with providing third level communication. Backup to the backup, if you will."

The club used a number of forms of communication, including voice, digital, and Morse code.

"The plan is to pass information, situational awareness reports and things like that," said Harasimovitch.

"You know, with the upcoming hurricane season, we never know. It could be a simple matter of losing a lot more than we did in the past."

Several organizations conducted a mock communication disaster at Fort Needham Memorial Park on Saturday. (Stephanie Tsicos/CTV Atlantic)

The mock disaster brings several organizations together, which they say is critical in the event of an emergency.

"These types of exercises build the relationships. It gets the different agencies and volunteer groups to get to know one another and exercise their practises, take away lessons learned," said Don Mosher, with Halifax EMO and Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency.

"Communications is of the utmost importance during emergencies. Not only for the safety of the first responders, but also for the safety of the public."

The Halifax Amateur Radio Club played a major role in the mock disaster.

"They really aren't amateurs. They're technical specialists in radio communications, and a lot of the advances in radio communications have come from these so-called hobbyists," said Mosher.

The Salvation Army was on site to provide support to all of the first responders.

"Our role is always first, food and hydration, and we do emotional spiritual care. In this case, we're just here to offer a good warm meal to everybody helping out," said Martina Stephens, the emergency disaster services specialist with the Salvation Army.

She said events like this provide important training, so volunteers are ready in the event of a true emergency.

"It gets us acquainted with volunteers and it gives everybody a chance to practise our skills," said Stephens.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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