April 15, 2009Editor: Rick Palm, K1CE
The View From Flagler County
The days are long gone when the EOC was found in a dusty back room of the county police or fire station. See the Flagler County EOC Web site and take the tour. While you are at it, check out all of the safety tips, and ancillary support functions that make up today's modern emergency management structure at the county level. It's not your father's EOC any more.
Speaking of good Web sites, look at the latest items on the excellent ARES/EmComm site run by San Joaquin County (CA) EC David Coursey, N5FDL: http://www.n5fdl.com. Bookmark it.
Red River Rising -- Since March 22, a group of ops have been providing communications during the Red River flood emergency that threatened Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota and surrounding areas. Amateurs from those cities and areas manned hospitals, EOCs and Salvation Army shelters. Mark Johnson, KC0SHM, President of the Red River Radio Amateurs (RRRA), reported that operations have wound down as water levels continue to recede. As of April 3, the Red River was at 35.4 feet in Fargo. Flood stage is 18 feet. - ARRL Letter
Ferry County, Washington SAR - On March 22, CM Sam Jenkins, KE7OIA, EC Ferry County, Washington, received a call from the SAR Unit to standby for a mission, while the new Matt Lane Memorial, N7XAY, repeater on 145.19 MHz was up and ready to serve as platform for its first net operation. The NCS function was transferred to Edison Shaw, N7GCW, as Jenkins prepared his kit for deployment to find a young man lost in the snow. Ferry CARES was placed on standby status.
SAR members were dispatched with snow machines to Gold Creek Road, about 20 miles south of Republic off of Highway 21. It was reported that a young caregiver had gotten stuck in the snow somewhere west of the highway on Road 64. Jenkins was stationed on Cemetery Hill just above Republic in order to hear all repeaters. ARES officials Dave Klimas, N7DRK, Loren Holthaus, WZ7T, and Gordon Grove, WA7LNC, Eastern Washington SEC were all notified that Ferry CARES was on standby. At 2030, a Republic Police unit arrived to Jenkins' position, as Denny Hughes, KE7TUQ, transmitted his assessment that he could help the mission by searching in from the west side in Okanagan County, since his home is not far from where a Forest Service road intersects with Gold Creek road. After consultation, Hughes proceeded with his spouse Jeannie Hughes, KE7TUP, who is also an EMT. Navigation and map support was provided by Shawn Dunbar, KB7UZB, over the Matt Lane repeater. En route, Hughes ran out of plowed roadway and continued in 4-WD mode onto one foot of snow on an unplowed, badly rutted road, checking for tracks. He switched to the Tunk Mountain 145.45 MHz repeater. Just after 2200, Hughes reported that he had discovered a car stuck in the snow, lights still on, with a 70 year old female occupant suffering from hypothermia and stranded. She had been waiting for her caregiver, the lost young man to come back with help. She had been in the car since 1400 with the back window broken out.
The young man was found by Ferry County SAR to the east just before Hughes found the woman. Hughes called Jeannie to get the ambulance on its way from Tonasket while he placed the woman into his truck and started warming her up. She was dehydrated, so Hughes gave her water to drink on the ride. He then had to back up the same road for a mile before he could find a place to safely turn around. At 2250, the ambulance met them near Aeneas Valley road and transported her in fair condition to the Tonasket Hospital. Ten Ferry CARES members on the Matt Lane repeater, who had relayed traffic for, and coordinated with, the Ferry County Sheriff's Office, happily stood down at 2300.
Matt Lane, N7XAY gave his life in May, 2003, on an SAR mission. The new Matt Lane Memorial repeater, N7XAY, saved a life in its first SAR operation and net. Ferry CARES thanked Steven County ARES members for standing by and the Okanagan County ARES for their action. - report by CM Sam Jenkins, KE7OIA, Ferry County EC, forwarded by Mark Tharp, KB7HDX
San Joaquin County (CA) SAR, March 28 -- Amateur Radio's slogan, "When all else fails," does not mean everything has to fail for hams to contribute. Just a single failure is enough to create an impressive success for Amateur Radio in the eyes of served agencies and the public.
That is what members of San Joaquin County ARES discovered during the second weekend of the search for Sandra Cantu. The Tracy second-grader was reported missing on March 27. Tracy is a city of 84,000, located in the San Joaquin Valley, about 60 miles east of San Francisco. The search marked the first time San Joaquin County ARES had been activated for an emergency since its formation two years ago. It was also the first callout for Tracy's CERT team, which includes several amateurs.
Both CERT and ARES were activated on Saturday, March 28, to coordinate teams of emergent volunteers going door to door with flyers seeking any witnesses. ARES provided the CERT communications backbone throughout the weekend, linking field teams, CERT headquarters, and Incident Command.
The next day and on the following Saturday, professional search and
Following a communications failure, ARES was then asked to immediately establish communication between the Incident Command Post and four Division Command Posts located in rural areas up to eight miles away.
Repeater coverage was a potential problem, as the search area was far enough from the AB6CR repeater at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that signal strength back into the machine was a concern. Fortunately, John Pimlott, AF6JP, had taken a 40-mile bicycle ride through the search area just the day before, checking signal strength and braving strong headwinds to map the signal coverage area. Thanks to his reconnaissance, operators could be sent into the field with hand-helds and no signal problems were noted.
More than a dozen amateurs went into the field, working at command posts, as members of search teams, and at CERT headquarters, where the public picked up missing person flyers that were distributed throughout the community and across Northern California.
When a law enforcement communications bus was unable to get on the air, Jeff DuPont, KI6KBQ, and Steggy Stegmeier, WY6E, quickly installed a talkie, power supply, and externally mounted wire J-pole antenna. This allowed Linda Kruse, KZ6Y, to contact the Incident Command Post via radio, which was not possible previously during the incident.
Throughout the day, EC David Coursey, N5FDL, operated as a mobile net control, solving problems in the field as they occurred. AF6JP operated from the Incident Command Post.
The Incident Operations Chief was pleased with ARES' ability to get into the field quickly and relay needed data back to the Command Post. Law enforcement officials were impressed by the hams' ability to communicate when there was no one trained to operate the computer-based dispatch console in their command vehicle.
Over two weekends, some two-dozen amateurs participated in the search, along with more than 300 SAR team members, dozens of CERT members, and many hundreds of community volunteers. Sadly, the young girl's body was later discovered stuffed into a suitcase that had been dumped into an irrigation pond. Amateurs and CERT members, including ARES liaison Kenn Silligman, KS5ONE, were among the hundreds who attended a memorial service for Sandra, held on April 16. An arrest has been made in the case. Despite the tragic outcome, amateurs were able to use their communications skills to improve the quality of the search for the missing girl. - San Joaquin County (CA) EC David Coursey, N5FDL
Connecticut ARES Ops Meet with EM/Homeland Security
Amateur Radio emergency communicators from across the state gathered in Southbury, Connecticut, on March 28, to participate in a day of radio technology training at the Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Region 5 Headquarters. The event, sponsored by ARES in western Connecticut Region 5 District, drew from experts both locally and from across the country to present an update on emergency planning and review new technologies for use in Amateur Radio. This "Spring Training" event was made possible through the support of the Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, the ARRL, and other emergency organizations in the area.
Eight topics were presented during the day, including Data Communications, Near Vertical Incident Skywave (NVIS) transmission, the State Tactical On-scene Communications Systems,
D-Star digital radio technology, Propagation and Space Weather, Emergency Power, APRS(r) (Automatic Packet Reporting System) and WiFi technology, and Radio Frequency Safety. Several mobile emergency communications vehicles were on-hand for participants to explore between presentations. Another highlight of the event was the "Go-Kit" competition, where attendees displayed and presented their rapid-deployment emergency communication equipment.
Connecticut SM Betsey Doane, K1EIC, commented: "The event was fantastic. Each participant received a binder with the proceedings of the workshop. It was executed in a professional manner. All the ops were glad to see each other but that was not their focus on that day, which was to participate in active learning." -- Dana A. Borgman, KA1WPM, ARRL Public Information Officer, Connecticut Section
Hurricane Watch Net Looking To Grow
Los Lunas, New Mexico -- Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) Manager Dave Lefavour, W7GOX, announced that the HWN is looking to increase its membership. Lefavour explains, "The Hurricane Watch Net relies on volunteer operators, our members, who serve as our net control stations. HWN members are hams who have above average stations, are capable of effectively conducting HF net operations, and are willing to commit their time to operating in support of the HWN's mission during net activations. The net sessions can be long, and, in the recent absence of sunspots, pretty grueling."
Lefavour says that the HWN is looking for new members with stations that can effectively communicate with Central America and the Caribbean, Mexico and south Texas on 20 meters. "With the low solar activity, our Assistant Net Manager, Brad Pioveson, W9FX, is very interested in finding more members that can help with net control station duties on the low ends of the 40 and 80 meter phone bands, as we're having to broaden our focus from only operating on 14.325 MHz. After the sun went down during 2008's hurricanes, 20 meters died. We no longer had the ability to effectively communicate with reporting stations - or, the National Hurricane Center. So, in preparation for the 2009 season, we're open to applications from qualified amateurs who are located anywhere within North America or the Caribbean. With propagation having been so unpredictable in the past couple of years, you never know who's going to be able to hear the hurricane-affected area."
"Bilingual hams are especially welcome," said Lefavour. "We recognize that some Latin American operators hesitate to check in and send reports to us if they aren't fluent in English, so, we're also interested in hearing from hams that are fluent in both Spanish and English. When we're working storms that are either affecting or threatening areas where Spanish is the language of choice, we always try to have one or more bilingual HWN members on hand to help with reporting."
Lefavour closed by saying, "Those who have previously applied for HWN membership are encouraged to submit new applications. Those with an interest in joining the HWN can find more information about and membership applications on the HWN Web site." The Hurricane Watch Net is, generally, activated when a named Atlantic basin storm is within 300 miles of landfall. The 2009 hurricane season officially begins June 1.
"EMCOMM East" Slated for October
EmComm East is an ARRL-sanctioned Amateur Radio emergency communications conference, where operators involved in EmComm can attend training sessions on technical topics, learn from served agencies, obtain VE testing for license upgrades, and interact with other EmComm operators from all over the area.
EmComm East will be held on October 3, 2009, in Rochester, New York. Sign up for e-mail announcements or subscribe to the RSS feed, and keep informed of new developments in this exciting opportunity.
Dayton Amateur of the Year an EMCOMM Ham
Amateur of the Year Wade D. "Danny" Hampton Jr., K4ITL, of Raleigh, North Carolina, is the architect of the Piedmont Coastal Repeater Network, established in the early 1970s, which today sports more than 40 machines in North Carolina. The system is heavily used for public service work. Hampton has enhanced the network's utility with custom audio processing boards and RF components. The North Carolina Office of Emergency Management and SKYWARN have recognized the network's vital role in emergency communication. Recently, Hampton helped coordinate the development of a local hospital-based Amateur Radio emergency repeater system that ties 10 facilities together.
A ham since 1958, Hampton is Southeastern Repeater Association (SERA) technical committee chairman as well as ARRL North Carolina Section Technical Coordinator. "Danny's extensive knowledge of the two-way and broadcast radio industries in this state has enabled him to assist many repeater owners," said North Carolina SM John Covington, W4CC. "His advice in resolving RFI problems between repeater and commercial services, and other technical matters, has been extremely valuable to the Section." - Dayton Amateur Radio Association
Young Alabama Ham Active in ARES
Jacob Romine, KJ4HJO, is a 12 year old that has been active in the Limestone County (Alabama) ARES group since getting his ham license in October as an 11 year old. Jacob is eager to serve as the net control for the weekly net. He has also helped provide communications in the annual Athens-Limestone Christmas Parade.
Jacob is the son of Darrin and Beverly Romine and the grandson of Felix Birdwell, KD4NTK. Felix is the AEC for Limestone ARES. Jacob is working on his dad to get his license. He is already talking about upgrading to General this summer after school.
New FEMA EMI IS Programs Offered
The EMI Independent Study Program is pleased to announce the launch of three new courses. These courses are:
* IS-197.EM: Special Needs Planning Considerations for Emergency Management
* IS-26: Guide to Points of Distribution
* IS-836: Nuclear/Radiological Incident Annex
To complete these courses, go to http://training.fema.gov and click on 'FEMA Independent Study' in the green bar. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see all of the new courses or click on 'ISP Course List' in the red box to see all courses that are available. If you have any questions, please contact the Independent Study Office via email at Independent.Study@DHS.gov or by phone at (301) 447-1200 during normal business hours of 7:30AM-7:30PM ET Monday through Friday, excluding federal holidays. -- Dennis C. Dura, K2DCD, Manager, Emergency Preparedness and Response, ARRL
New ARRL Advanced Emergency Communications Course In the Works
Over the past several months, ARRL staff have been reviewing the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications online course program and have decided to combine two of the three Emergency Communications courses. According to ARRL Education Services Manager Debra Johnson, K1DMJ, the review included a critical examination of the course content, as well as methods of course delivery and interrelationships with government organizations. Johnson said that the decision was made to revise the Level 3 course to become a new Advanced Emergency Communications Course; this, she said, will replace both the current Level 2 and Level 3 courses. The new advanced course is set to be released during the last quarter of 2009.
"Our aim is to develop professional level courses which are widely accepted by other organizations for the emergency communication component of Amateur Radio," she said. "We are investigating requirements that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is currently putting in place for approved courses, as well as other possibilities to develop emergency communications training that meets the emerging training needs surrounding emergency communications."
Students who have previously taken the Level 2 course will need to have the new advanced course to complete the current Amateur Radio Emergency Communications training program, Johnson explained. "Those who have completed the Level 1 course may progress directly to the advanced course when it is made available; this new course contains content formerly included in the former Level 2 and 3 courses."
Johnson said that there are no current plans to change the Basic Level 1 course and that that course will continue to be offered in its current format. With the combining of the Level 2 and 3 courses, Johnson said that anyone who had signed up for the Level 2 course set to begin April 17 may apply for a refund. Any scheduled field instruction of the Level 2 content, as well as Level 2 exam sessions, will also be suspended. "We will honor exam sessions that have been previously scheduled and award Level 2 certificates for any exams successfully completed up to May 31," she said. "Our training program mandate is to provide the training that ham radio communicators need to be prepared to serve our communities in time of communications emergencies," Johnson explained. "This consolidation of program content will streamline the delivery of the training and apply volunteer and administrative support resources more effectively."
N3KN For A Final
[The following is a summary and perspective of two vital ARES issues--training and recruitment--provided in the landmark report of the ARRL National Emergency Response Planning Committee of two years ago, which continues to resonate today. Principal author is Kay Craigie, N3KN, chairman of the committee and currently the ARRL's First VP. -- K1CE]
For many years, Amateur Radio has longed to be taken seriously by governmental authorities as a professional-quality resource in disaster response. Although there are areas of the country where achieving and maintaining emergency management agencies' respect is still a struggle, Amateur Radio's service during 9/11 and the major hurricane disasters of the 21st century has brought us a new level of respect and new opportunities at the national level.
Being taken seriously as a resource comes with a price, however. It is a price that must be paid by individual volunteers, not in dollars but in precious personal time. When the federal government instituted the National Incident Management System (NIMS), it imposed a set of requirements on state and local emergency management agencies and their personnel. Affected personnel include not only paid employees of emergency management and related agencies but also volunteers such as those in volunteer fire companies, ARES, and RACES. If the emergency management agencies are to continue receiving federal funds, personnel must complete a number of FEMA training courses having to do with the Incident Command System (ICS) and NIMS. Individuals who do not complete the training will not be allowed to participate, even as volunteers.
These FEMA courses are free of charge, available on line or sometimes in person at emergency management offices, and not particularly difficult. The courses are useful in familiarizing volunteers with the specialized vocabulary and principles of the Incident Command System and showing where communications fits into the ICS structure. This is valuable knowledge, because if Amateurs - particularly those in leadership positions - cannot "talk the talk" then authorities may well assume that we cannot "walk the walk."
However, the required courses have little or nothing to do with the specific duties performed by Amateur Radio emergency communicators and may be time-consuming for the volunteer to complete. Just as many volunteer firefighters who have been on the job for decades resent being forced to take courses that they perceive as unrelated to their competency in fighting fires, many experienced ARES communicators have objected to being required to pass a set of government courses that they consider irrelevant and a waste of time.
The obligation to pass a list of FEMA courses in order to be allowed to participate with an ARES group that serves emergency management is making it harder for ARES groups to recruit and retain volunteers. For amateurs whose participation in emergency communications is the main thing or the only thing in their Amateur Radio lives, taking these courses is not perceived as an imposition. But what about Amateurs with a less-fierce personal devotion to emergency communications? Most ARES volunteers and prospective ARES volunteers also have various other interests in Amateur Radio. Their desire to take part in emergency communications, no matter how sincere, exists in some kind of balance with their other interests.
Being told they must spend part of the limited personal time they have to devote to their Amateur Radio avocation in taking jargon-laden courses could be the last words they hear on their way out the door.
Like it or not, these formal requirements are here to stay and more may follow. At the national level, Amateur Radio has earned the respect we always wanted, bringing us closer to the emergency management establishment. The challenge now is persuading both casual ARES volunteers and experienced volunteers to meet the requirements that follow from being part of the system. This will not be easy. The national-level ARRL must be aware of that and develop ways to help local and Section ARES officials bring their volunteers, both old-timers and newcomers, into the new era.
Another challenge following from being more a part of the establishment is ensuring that Amateur Radio does not lose that famous ability to improvise and innovate which permits us to accomplish supposedly-impossible tasks. Bureaucracies are by nature inflexible, and disaster plans run to thousands of pages of dense language in small print. A major asset that Amateur Radio brings to any disaster is our ability to decide on the fly when to go by the book and when to close the book and just go. If Amateurs give up the "McGyver" component of our character in order to fit into the establishment whose respect we desire, then we will have been absorbed into the "all else" that typically fails. As a national organization, the ARRL needs the wisdom to help ARES organizations achieve the best balance between being "cowboys" and being "suits."
Given the challenges of recruiting and retaining ARES volunteers in the present emergency management environment, the ARRL should improve resources available for outreach to amateurs who are not now involved in and knowledgeable about emergency communications.
Amateur Radio's value as an emergency resource is the first item listed in Part 97's statement of the basis and purpose of the Amateur Radio Service. Everyone with a United States Amateur Radio license should feel some duty to be prepared to provide communications in an emergency. Our common experience, however, is that the majority of licensees may give lip service to emergency communications - especially when they want to persuade neighbors to accept their antenna installations - but are not active in ARES, RACES, SKYWARN, SATERN, or similar organizations even in the immediate aftermath of the disasters we have observed over the past five years. The reality is that too few will prepare, even in the highest-threat areas.
How do we reach more Amateurs nationwide with the message about emergency communications? If we cannot get uninvolved Amateurs to come to an ARES meeting, then we must go to where those Amateurs congregate. Amateurs with expertise in both teaching and emergency communications are able and willing to develop lively in-person introductory presentations that catch people's interest through hands-on experience with radio equipment, messaging, and so on. These presentations could be distributed by the ARRL and would be suitable for club meetings and conventions. This is not intended to replace or undercut the ARRL's on-line emergency courses but rather to stimulate interest in emergency communications among Amateurs who have never heard of the on-line courses or never considered taking them.
An ARRL video showing what ARES communicators actually do both in preparing for and serving in disasters, with examples from many parts of the USA, would also be useful in catching the interest of the uninvolved. The League should pursue the cost effective development of such a video.
It is possible that these presentations, whether videos or in-person seminars, may not yield a huge number of new ARES volunteers. However, if we always do what we always did, then we will always get what we always got. Today, "what we always got" is not sufficient to live up to our self-promotion and our growing obligations to government and charitable agencies.
The ARRL should begin developing effective universal emergency communications training materials aimed specifically at the Amateur Radio operator who is not already active in emergency communications, to be delivered through ARRL-affiliated clubs and ARRL convention programs.