Amateur Radio Volunteers Staffing Shelters, EOC in Washington Landslide Response
Amateur Radio volunteers are on hand at the county Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and supporting communication with American Red Cross shelters set up in the wake of the disastrous landslide on March 22 in Snohomish County, Washington. Snohomish County Auxiliary Communications Service (Snohomish ACS — formerly RACES) Radio Officer Scott Honaker, N7SS, reported late Monday that his organization was active “but at a fairly low level.”
“Because of the danger, only fire and search and rescue (SAR) are on scene, and only during the day,” he reported. Honaker said that even SAR teams were pulled back from the debris field earlier on March 24, after some movement of the remaining hillside had been detected. The response remains in rescue mode, and sheriff’s helicopters have been crisscrossing the area searching for any signs of life. Authorities were telling area residents to stay away.
The slide swept an avalanche of trees, wet soil, rocks, and debris across the rural Northwest Washington communities of Oso and Darrington. The slide leveled about two dozen houses and blocked a mile-wide stretch of State Route 530. The governor’s office has declared a state of emergency in Snohomish County. The landslide also blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River near Oso, raising the threat of localized flooding and the potential for downstream flooding should the blockage let go.
Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management Director John Pennington confirmed Monday evening that the number of people unaccounted for was approaching 180. He stressed, however, that the number only represents the number of names reported by family and friends. The number of confirmed deaths remains at 14.
Honaker said some communication infrastructure was damaged, and fire and law enforcement personnel have been using cell phones to keep in touch, with SAR and air operations utilizing VHF radios.
ARRL Western Washington Section Manager Monte Simpson, K2MLS, said Monday evening that crews were working to restore the fiber optic cable in the area of the mudslide. “When that's completed, communications will be back on line,” he said. “That will be a relief for the emergency responders in the area.”
Honaker said ACS volunteers have been coordinating their activities on the Granite Falls 146.92 MHz repeater and on cell phones. “Emergency Services Coordinating Agency (ESCA) RACES is active staffing the Red Cross shelters, and they are using our UHF ham repeater near Arlington (444.200 MHz),” he added. “We have been hearing good communications between the shelters.” The ARC has established two shelters for displaced residents — in Arlington and in Darrington.
“Snohomish ACS is staffing the EOC around the clock in Everett, and we have one member who lives in Darrington supporting the county command vehicle there,” Honaker added. “With the loss of phone lines to Darrington, there are no functional landlines or Internet access.” He said the Darrington police and fire departments were using their command vehicle as an EOC, because it has working telephones as well as Internet service and computer-aided dispatch capability.
“The Incident Management Team in Arlington is using the other command vehicle to provide communication support for the staff in the City Council chambers,” he said.
Honaker said he appreciates the many offers of support from hams within and outside the area — more help than is needed at present. “It is good to see the community rally during these types of events,” he said.
Recent heavy rainfall is being blamed for the slide. “This is not a good situation,” ARRL Northwestern Division Director Jim Pace, K7CEX, told ARRL Headquarters earlier this week. “Our ground out here is so saturated, it is a miracle that we haven’t had more landslides.” He anticipated that ARES/RACES activity could increase as the operation moves into the recovery phase.
“The Mount Index area of Snohomish County is experiencing a large, slow-moving landslide that is disrupting power, local roads, and access for emergency response,” the governor’s emergency declaration stated. “Local evacuations have been ordered by Snohomish County for specific areas the landslide has impacted and which are threatened by potential flooding.”