When communications are needed the most desperately and most urgently, the difficulty of effecting the desired communications increases exponentially. Recent natural disasters in different parts of the world have provided eloquent testament to this. The history of disaster or emergency communications can provide us with a foundation for understanding the problems encountered today, and can offer us insight into how we might improve the systems and processes for communications. The first applications of communication technology that allowed messages to be sent more rapidly than the fastest form of transportation were mainly military in origin. This review takes us from the days of optical or visual telegraphy, through the early development of mobile and radio communications, and up to the current sophisticated technologies. We pay particular attention to the use of amateur radio operators in times of emergency, and relate their activities to those of the most effective military communications. The germane assumption made in this discussion is that any emergency or disaster communications would necessarily be involved in response and resolution of medical aspects of those emergencies.
Critical Care 2006, 10:207 doi:10.1186/cc3944