UK Emergency Group marks 60th anniversary

Sixty years ago, the east coast of England was struck by a devastating flood which took the lives of 307 people.

In addition to the lives lost, The East Coast Flood of 1953 caused 1.2 billion British Pounds in damaged, covered more than 160,000 acres and forced more than 32,000 people to evacuate.

A huge storm surge had preceded the 1953 flood, and overwhelmed the low lying areas of the Thames Estuary and the East Anglia region. Evacuations of these areas were hindered by the lack of effective communications. Ham radio operators, as they often do, filled that gap.

At the time the UK had no volunteer emergency communications groups. Previous attempts in 1950 to establish such an organization had been blocked by the government. But exactly 60 years ago today (November 25), and in the wake of the destruction of the '53 Flood, RAYNET, The Radio Amateurs’ Emergency Network was started.

Today the 2,000 licensed amateur radio operators of RAYNET serve as the UK's premier volunteer communications group. In an effort to advance emergency communications, as well as amateur radio, RAYNET and the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) have entered into a formal agreement to work together.

In the years since being formed, RAYNET has been activated numerous times, including the Lockerbie air crash, Severn Tunnel incident, Towyn flooding, North Wales, Portland WWII bomb evacuation, Sea Empress oil pollution disaster, and the 2009 Cumbria floods.

RAYNET Chairman Cathy Clark G1GQJ was quoted by the Yorkshire Post as saying: “The East Coast Flood of 1953 was a terrible disaster but it precipitated the creation of a group of communications volunteers which, despite advances in technology, is needed now more than ever.

“With our current unpredictable climate and the high risk of failure of modern communications networks RAYNET volunteers can make a crucial difference.”

Like their counterparts around the world RAYNET not only provides vital communications for emergency responders when existing communications networks fail or become overloaded, but also assist with public service events such as parades, marathons, and festivals.