Amateur radio fans mark flood anniversary

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A NATIONAL group of communications volunteers will celebrate its 60th anniversary today after being formed in the aftermath of one of the UK’s worse peacetime disasters.

The Radio Amateurs’ Emergency Network (RAYNET) was formed on November 25, 1953, after the East Coast Flood that year that saw the loss of 307 lives.

An earlier attempt to establish a volunteer emergency communications service had been rejected by the Government in 1950.

Ever since, RAYNET volunteers have been active or on standby countless times, including during the 1988 Lockerbie air disaster, the 2009 Cumbria floods and more recently the storms of October barely a month ago.

There are now about 2,000 RAYNET volunteers, who are mostly licenced radios amateurs or “hams”, with groups covering most the country.

Chairman Cathy Clark said: “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.”

The network is able to provide vital communications for emergency responders when existing communications networks fail or become overloaded – as is often the case in disaster situations – or help diverse emergency response agencies communicate with each other.

In 1953, exceptional weather conditions, coupled with an inability to warn people, meant that whole communities were unaware of the imminent threat from the devastating storm surge that saw many low lying areas of East Anglia and the Thames Estuary suffer severe flooding.

About 32,000 people were evacuated, 160,000 acres of land were inundated, causing around £1.2bn of damage.