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Alabama Hams Assist During Statewide Emergency Drill

06/08/2009

During the week of May 4-8, emergency responders and support personnel gathered in Robertsdale, Alabama for a communications interoperability training and full-scale exercise, sponsored by the Alabama Department of Homeland Security (ADHS). Gathering in a field near the Baldwin County Emergency Operations Center, responders came together to test the quality and effectiveness of communications between various State agencies and support personnel. The exercise simulated a Category 5 hurricane that entered Mobile Bay, causing damage throughout the state.

According to ARRL Alabama Section Manager Jay Isbell, KA4KUN, the Alabama DHS has come to recognize the role that Amateur Radio operators play in emergencies and natural disasters; based on this, the Alabama DHS chose to include Amateur Radio in the exercise. "During Hurricane Katrina, Amateur Radio volunteers played a key part in making sure that communications between agency personnel continued uninterrupted and the public received the help and the timely response needed in this type of catastrophic event," Isbell explained. ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARESĀ®) operators from SEMA Region 1 and other regions throughout Alabama were on site to support communications.

The Alabama Emergency Management, the Alabama National Guard, the Alabama Department of Public Safety, Region IV of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, Virtual Alabama, Alabama Civil Air Patrol, local sheriffs' office, as well as eight Alabama Regional Communication vehicles also participated in the exercise.

ARRL Southeastern Division Director Greg Sarratt, W4OZK, together with Alabama Region 1 District Emergency Coordinator Patti Link, KI4JEO, worked diligently with both amateur volunteers and professional partner agencies to coordinate and facilitate the role of Amateur Radio during the exercise. According to Isbell, Sarratt was the liaison at the Incident Command Point, while Link -- working in the Baldwin County EOC -- coordinated amateurs throughout the area, dispatching them with Alabama DHS Regional Communication vehicles and to other locations in the nine-county affected area. Isbell was dispatched to a mock reception center site 60 miles north of the incident, and Section Emergency Coordinator Les Rayburn, N1LF, manned the radio at the State Emergency Operations Center.

"Since the major hurricanes of recent years, the State of Alabama and the Southeast Region of FEMA have really accepted Amateur Radio as a prime player in any major disaster," Isbell told the ARRL. "SEC Les Rayburn has grown Alabama ARES from several independent groups into a well-organized first responder team. Amateur Radio is being accepted as a critical tool during times that the daily manpower and technical resources are stretched beyond their design."

Sarratt said that the Amateur Radio participants learned a lot during the week-long exercise: "This was a good test of the ARES processes and improvements in a full-scale exercise with other agencies since Katrina. Everyone shared and learned about each other's communications capabilities. The relationships built and lessons learned here are invaluable to the Amateur Radio Service."



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