We have all heard the saying; many in the ham community repeat the saying. “WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS” is the mantra for amateur radio operator involved in providing emergency communication.

This phrase has been associated with amateur radio for so long that I was unable to find an exact date of origin. I did find one site that stated that the phrase was first used in general terms as early as the first half of the 1800’s but nothing as it relates specifically to amateur radio.

Many amateur radio operators take this phrase too literally without looking at the big picture of what it actually means today versus what it meant when it was first used. But first let’s have a look at what it really means in general terms. “When all else fails” is the same as saying “When nothing else works”.

 Now let’s put the phrase into context.  Since it is not known when the phrase became the mantra for amateur radio, for the sake of argument let’s say is was during the Second World War era or immediately following. In regards to communications of that time period, “ALL ELSE” was basically landline telephones and/or telegraph networks. During that time frame these systems were fragile and susceptible to outages on a routine basis.

Fast forward to present day and let’s have a look at the “ALL ELSE”. We still have what would be classified as the traditional landline telephone system, Also cellular phone networks, satellite communications, plus all the different means of communication used via the Internet such as e-mail , social media, instant messaging and web delivered content.

 Now take the time to think about what kind of situation would have to present itself for this type of “ALL ELSE” scenario to impact a wide-spread area. Many amateur radio operators have the mentality that HF radio communication is the technology of choice for conducting EmComm operations.  Some hams are starting to shift to the “All incidents are local” methodology however those instances are not common place.

If a major incident, emergency or disaster were to occur that presented us with an “ALL ELSE” scenario requiring HF radio as the primary means of emergency communication, so many amateur radio operators would be ill-prepared to handle such an incident.  Amateur radio operators will state that they practice Off-Grid communication during events such as the annual Field Day. While this is a 24-hour event, very few hams who claim to participate in Field Day actually operate the entire 24-hour period.  Most hams pack up right after dinner is served on Saturday night. While their radios may be connected to a 12 volt battery, some will sit inside a climate controlled building with their computers connected to the buildings electrical system. Most of these radio operators only have a single battery to power their equipment and have no means to recharge when needed.  Is this truly the way to prepare for an “ALL ELSE” scenario? You decide.

In the present day; amateur radio is less likely to find themselves in an everything is down situation and should adjust its thinking to a more realistic scenario where the use of amateur radio communication can be utilized as a supplemental system to relieve the burden placed on the commercial and public safety communications systems and networks. A total loss of the telecommunication network is possible but not probable and many procedures have been put into place to restore the infrastructure should that be needed. The issue is not if the networks are completely down. The question to ask is how much capacity will the networks be able to handle?  

Instead of marketing amateur radio emergency communications as the last result “when all else fails”, we need to start promoting ourselves as a supplemental force-multiplier to lessen the burden on the existing networks to keep them from failing due to the excessive workload.