URAM makes innovative use of ham radios to send SMS messages in emergencies

The Unión de Radioaficionados Mexicanos (URAM), also known as the Mexican Amateur Radio Union, based in Mexico City, is a non-profit civic association that aims to encourage self-training, intercommunication and technical research among ham radio enthusiasts. Through its affiliation with Federación Mexicana de Radioexperimentadores (FMRE), the national body representing amateur radio internationally, URAM ascribes to the International Telecommunications (ITU) regulations governing the operating of ham radios.

In line with the ITU Development Sector’s mandate to develop and improve communications infrastructure in developing countries, Juan Carlos Perez De Castro and his team at URAM took up the challenge to build an emergency communications network that would be available when conventional telecommunication systems failed. Considering that many mobile networks may be disrupted or become saturated during an emergency or natural disaster, De Castro needed an API gateway solution to send SMSes using their digital mobile radio network to communicate with other amateur ham radio operators and emergency services.

During a large scale disaster (such as an earthquake or hurricane) affected areas usually suffer damage to power cables and telephone lines while mobile networks and internet access become saturated due to increased demand. This means that communication would be near impossible if it were not for amateur radio systems that are still operational under battery or solar power and do not rely on the power grid or the regular communications infrastructure. According to De Castro, one of the roles ham radio operators play during a disaster is that it enables communications in to and out of the affected area. People from the affected areas are able to communicate with family members in a different city, state or even country to let them know that they are safe, or their location during evacuations.

In an innovative approach to create effective and time sensitive communication during an emergency or natural disaster, URAM integrated the BulkSMS API solution with a Raspberry Pi computer which then connected to various digital mobile radios around the city. With this SMS API integration in place, the system is ready for use to send SMS messages via the radio SMS gateway when emergencies or natural disasters affect communications infrastructure in the area.

“We created a system where an SMS will be deployed by attaching a computer to our radios to type radio network messages that can be delivered through our radio SMS gateway to the BulkSMS API which is then delivered to the necessary recipients.” says De Castro.

By using URAM’s radio frequency to send SMSes, De Castro has pioneered a system that circumvents the time-consuming and costly task of asking another ham radio station, in a non-affected area, to pass on messages from those in the disaster zone to their family members.

While this system is still in beta stage of development, De Castro is confident that the ham radio to SMS messaging service will be helpful to the community, public safety organisations and rescue agencies during natural disasters.

“We wish to commend URAM’s innovative use of our SMS API as it demonstrates how versatile technology can be in finding a wireless communication solution when faced with the problem of network outages or saturated internet access during a disaster or emergency,” says Dr Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com.