The Orange County Hospital Emergency Radio Team, or OCHEART, is a unit of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®) formed in October 2019 to establish a backup communications system for critical Orange County medical facilities.
OCHEART was inspired by the Hospital Disaster Support Communications System (commonly referred to as HDSCS or the “Hospital Group”) .
Although HDSCS started with backup for the PBX at just one hospital in 1980, the team was supporting 35 facilities by the time it disbanded in October 2018.
HDSCS training and preparation was aimed at providing backup communications in the event of a communications outage at a single hospital (which is a true emergency), mass casualty incident or countywide emergency. Over a period of thirty-eight years, HDSCS was activated 100 times to provide such support.
In April of 2019, Mission Viejo ARES-RACES and Laguna Niguel Auxiliary Communications Service formed a multi-agency task force called “South Orange Hospital Emergency Amateur Radio Team” or “SOHEART”, to explore the feasibility of restoring some of the support previously provided by the hospital group to medical facilities in South Orange County. Emergency communications protocols patterned after HDSCS were developed and field-tested in the ensuing months.
On October 1, 2019 SOHEART officially became OCHEART, and was mandated by the Orange County Health Care Agency to expand the SOHEART concept on a countywide basis under the auspices of ARES®. Testing of antennas and practice nets have been conducted at several Orange County medical facilities. Recreating a system like HDSCS that was thirty-eight years in development is a daunting task.
Due to the distribution of medical facilities throughout the county and the area Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) units, OCHEART evolved into an ARES/ARRL sponsored research, training, and advisory organization for local units of these RACES units. It made sense because the county and city emergency plans indicate that the cities having the primary responsibility for hospital emergency communications and most of these cities have active RACES units.
In this capacity, OCHEART assists in developing practices and procedures for RACES Hospital Disaster Response Teams, an Operational Area frequency plan, interoperability standards, medical facility communications, hospital focused communication training, individual communicator performance standards, countywide exercises, and Amateur Radio based digital networks including WinLink and AREDN/MESH. All Orange County RACES units are encouraged to participate in OCHEART weekly nets, monthly ZOOM meetings, semi-annual workshops and exercises.
If you are interested in volunteering your time and energy to support the Orange County hospital facilities in times of emergency, please check this out.