As Weather Clears in Southeast, Hams Continue to Provide Support
Even though the storms that raged through the Southeast have long gone, the damage and heartache they left in their wake are still present. In Alabama, the state that felt the biggest brunt of the storms, hams made their way to fire stations, emergency operations centers and shelters -- anywhere they were told that they were needed.
The ARRL -- through its Ham Aid program -- shipped five cases full of Amateur Radio gear to Alabama. Three cases held 2 meter, 440 MHz and HF radios, while two cases were packed with handheld transceivers with batteries. According to ARRL Chief Development Officer Mary Hobart, K1MMH, hams in that state requested radios and antennas, since cell tower sites and repeaters have been damaged and are not yet back up. “We anticipate the demand for equipment may continue from Alabama and possibly from neighboring states,” she said.
One of the ARRL Ham Aid kits was sent to Huntsville, in the northern part of the state. “It is nice to have a complete radio set in a durable watertight case ready to go for use in and around the disaster area,” said ARRL Southeastern Division Director Greg Sarratt, W4OZK. “Even after 10 days. ARES® is still supporting the Huntsville Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross and VOAD. Amateurs went out with six teams on May 5 and six teams on May 6 to provide communications and support volunteer clean-up, chainsaw assistance and food deliveries in the EF5 tornado disaster area. Amateur Radio is expected to support 10 or more teams May 7 and through the weekend.”
Sarratt said that members of the Huntsville ARES® group have been active since the first of the storms came through on April 27. “They staffed the Huntsville Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross and a medical clinic located adjacent to the disaster area, setting up in an elementary school’s Amateur Radio station, only leaving on May 5. ARES® continues to staff a large VOAD in-processing center that processes hundreds of volunteers each day. Just this past Saturday, April 30, they processed 2200 volunteers. They are also active at a Southern Baptist Kitchen site and at two on-site volunteer coordination/processing centers. This is in addition to the multiple teams that are going out in the disaster area daily.”
Calling it his first experience with an EF-5 tornado, Sarratt said that the devastation is “mind-boggling! ARES® successfully provided a massive amount of critical communications, got repeaters back on the air, with no utility power. It took five days before significant utility power was restored; my power was restored on the evening of Day Six. ARES® has gone above and beyond in supporting multiple government and not-government organizations and conducting many other tasks, all at once. ARES® works!”
ARRL Alabama Section Emergency Coordinator Greg Gross, K4GR, told the ARRL that he received antennas for 440 MHz on May 5, provided through the League’s Ham Aid program. “I will be using them to maintain the 440 links between the field operations and the Emergency Management Agency in Tuscaloosa,” he explained. “The radio equipment is being used to support different mobile and fixed operations on a daily basis in Jefferson and Walker Counties, located in the northwest part of the state.”
Gross recalled that when the Tuscaloosa Emergency Management Agency was ravaged by the tornado, it became necessary to relocate to the EOC to Bryant Denny Stadium, home of the University of Alabama’s football team. “Because of the building materials in the EMA building, it was impossible for VHF transmissions to get out and reach the repeaters,” he explained. “But at the stadium, 440 MHz easily penetrated through, providing a vital link between the hams at the stadium and personnel at the EOC. Even when the EOC relocated to Shelton State Community College, also in Tuscaloosa, we continued to use the 440 MHz link to avoid having the EOC listen to the higher traffic volume on the main Tuscaloosa 2 meter repeater. Without 440 MHz, Amateur Radio would have been significantly handicapped in its ability to respond to this disaster and support our served agencies. Thanks again to the ARRL and the Ham Aid program for your help and support.”