300 Feet of Cooperation
By Lynn Bianco, KN4YZ
A positive approach earns Georgia hams some state owned tower space.
June 1, 2009 marked the culmination of a project that had begun over 2 years earlier. In a truly impressive display of cooperation between federal, state, commercial and ham radio organizations the means to provide timely communication from trained weather spotters in the field back to the NWS in Peachtree City, Georgia has been restored.
Over 3 years ago, the Fayette County Amateur Radio Club (FCARC) learned they would lose the use of their 190 foot tower, which stood on private property. The tower supported the FCARC flagship repeater and the hub repeater for the Peachtree City NWS SKYWARN linked repeater system. Numerous hours were spent scouting viable sites to relocate these critical repeaters. The hard work of David Benoist, AG4ZR, Fayette-Coweta County Emergency Coordinator (EC); Robert Burton, KD4YDC, District EC, NWS, Peachtree City, Georgia, and Captain Pete Nelms, Fayette County Emergency Management Coordinator, paid off.\
Location, Authorization and Capitalization
A site was found on Ellis Road just north of the previous location and would provide the necessary coverage for the NWS. Initial efforts to put private Amateur Radio equipment on a state owned tower met with resistance due to the unprecedented nature of the request. To get the project rolling, Lans Rothfusz, KD5EJN, Meteorologist in Charge (MIC) of the Peachtree City office of the NWS, reframed the request as a collaboration between the federal (NWS) and state (Georgia Technology Agency, GTA) entities. That request was approved and, working closely with Jim Mollohan and Ralph Bevins of GTA, we were successful in obtaining permission to put SKYWARN and ARES® repeaters on a 300+ foot state tower.
Having secured permission, we now had to find a way of financing this project. At the suggestion of Captain Nelms, Assistant EC Lynn Bianco, KN4YZ, wrote a grant request for $10,000. We secured letters of support from the federal level (Lans Rothfusz), state level (Charlie Dawson, Director of Operations, Georgia Emergency Management Agency) and the county level (Captain Nelms). Our first try met with failure. A little disappointed, we tried again. This time, we were successful. The Coweta-Fayette EMC Trust came through for the full amount requested.
The next step was actually planning what hardware to install, where on the tower and what incidentals would be necessary. A planning committee was formed consisting of David, AG4ZR; Robert, KD4YDC; Lynn, KN4YZ; Huey Kenmar, KI4NGD; Assistant DEC Jim Burchfield, W4JB; RF Spectrum Engineer Jim Burchfield, W4JB; Brian Haren, FCARC President, and Chuck Federonis, KD4VW, our tower expert. After much discussion and careful planning by Chuck a formal plan was developed. Since it was a state tower, a professional crew was hired for the job. We now have a total of six antennas located at the 200, 250 and 300 foot levels.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened the new site on June 1, 2009 was attended by many of the individuals who made this all possible. These new repeaters and associated hardware provide the necessary communication for numerous activities. Most important is the hub repeater for the SKYWARN program. This repeater links 22 other Amateur Radio repeaters to provide storm spotter reports from north and central Georgia to the NWS. These repeaters also support numerous local events, including The March of Dimes Walk America, Peachtree International Triathlon, Tri-PTC Triathlon, American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure and the Peachtree City Classic Road Race.
Service to the community does not end there. SKYWARN and ARES members stand ready to provide backup communication under the direction of the Emergency Management Agency (EMA). We used part of the SKYWARN network to provide emergency communications in 2008 for the American Red Cross (ARC) during the Hurricane Gustav evacuation by linking their Atlanta headquarters with shelters in LaGrange and Gwinnett counties and welfare centers on I-20 and I-85. Locally, we have Amateur Radio backup in the Emergency Operations Center, 911 Center and Piedmont Fayette Hospital.
“SKYWARN is a vital component of the severe weather operations for the National Weather Service,” said NWS Meteorologist in Charge Lans Rothfusz “and this repeater will extend our effective reach throughout the state, helping us keep more citizens better protected from the ravages of severe weather. I commend all the partners for realizing this and working together to make Georgia a safer place.”
Lynn Bianco, KN4YZ, an ARRL member, was originally licensed in 1970 and currently holds an Amateur Extra class license. He has been a pilot for 35 years and is presently a captain with Delta Air Lines. In addition to flying, he is a Certified Emergency Manager in Georgia and volunteers his time with various public safety organizations. An active member of ARES, he serves as an Assistant SEC and Assistant EC. Lynn can be reached at 513 Haddington Ln, Peachtreee City, GA 30269.