Amateur Radio Volunteers Provide Critical Support for 30th Challenge Cup Relay
Amateur Radio volunteers were key to maintaining safety and security for the thousands of law enforcement personnel who took part in the Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay (B2V) race on March 22. This year marked the 30th anniversary of the event, sometimes called “The world’s longest police foot pursuit.” The relay event covers some 120 miles of remote territory, from the Mojave Desert near Baker, California — the gateway to Death Valley — to Las Vegas, Nevada.
“This year we started 261 teams over a span of 9 hours,” B2V Communications Director Joy Matlack, KD6FJV, told ARRL. “All of the teams that started the race finished, which sometimes is not the case. We had a minimal level of injuries this year — only five airlifts — so that made this year’s race all the better.”
The grueling route tests human endurance in an environment where rattlesnakes thrive and the temperature has topped 130° F. The race course winds through the Mojave Desert, crosses the Spring Mountains at Mountain Springs Pass (elevation 5530 feet) and descends into Las Vegas. The terrain and race logistics also challenge the communication system, which needs to cover some 8100 square miles. Given a lack of conventional telecommunication services, the vast impromptu telecommunication infrastructure incorporates ham radio as well as business band, aeronautical, and public safety systems.
“We have multiple layers of communications, and most are tied into an integrated ham radio network,” Matlack explained. Many teams bring along their own ham radio teams to provide logistical support for their runners, she added.
Matlack said the B2V starts out with some 325 or so volunteers, who support communication with and for the race director and other officials as well as provide information to and from each of the 22 baton exchange points. She said individual teams that use ham radio bring out another 325 hams along the course. Frequencies are assigned in advance, to avoid on-air chaos. Radio amateurs set up and staff portable repeater systems and the links needed by the crews that respond to medical emergencies and evacuations.
Race participants have faced life-threatening situations during past events, and support personnel following in vehicles do not always notice when a runner is getting into trouble. The primary mission of the Amateur Radio volunteers is the protection and safety of runners and their support-vehicle staff members.
To keep a close eye on the early part of the course, where runners face the most severe conditions, Matlack dispatches a smaller Safety Patrol consisting of a coordinator and trained radio amateurs. The Safety Patrol checks the condition of each runner, while keeping in contact with race officials and medical personnel as necessary. The Safety Patrol may remove a runner from the course, call in the medics, and enforce the rules.
A team of highly trained radio amateurs on motorcycles — known as “Motors” — patrols the entire race course. Most of the hams are active or retired police officers, and their job is to look for hazards, rules violations, and runners in need.
A team of APRS specialists coordinates real-time position reporting activities of the various team follow vehicles.
The race takes place in 20 stages, where the teams change runners. Amateur Radio operators serve as the race staff at these stages, provide scoring and timing functions, handle the PA system, call in the medics if necessary, and handle all routine and emergency event radio traffic. Adding to the dangers of extreme heat and high altitudes is highway and street traffic along the route. Roadways remain open to motor vehicles during the event, and in some places, things can get very congested.
The B2V is sponsored by the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club, which has limited the number of entries to 270 teams. With family, friends and onlookers the crowd can grow to more than 10,000 people. — Thanks to Joy Matlack, KD6FJV; John Bigley, N7UR, Nevada Amateur Radio Newswire