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Boston Marathon Amateur Radio Support Adjusts to a “New Normal”


More than 250 Amateur Radio communication volunteers participated on Patriots Day (April 20) in the 119th running of the Boston Marathon, sponsored by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA). This event was the second since the bombings that tragically marred the 2013 race. Amateur Radio volunteers have supported Boston Marathon communication for decades. Starting with the 2015 event, a Communications Committee the BAA, formed last year, established a “new normal” for marathon support by integrating Amateur Radio, public safety, and commercial radio providers into a single team. In step with the BAA’s mandate to “review the entire communications program,” the seven-member Amateur Radio management team raised the level of training to a professional caliber and developed better documentation for volunteers. Tight coordination with the BAA as both leader and “client” of the Amateur Radio communication support “led to further advancement in overall effectiveness as evidenced by a very successful outcome despite difficult weather,” the Amateur Radio team said in a media release.

“Development of detailed communications plans for each race segment was at the heart of the Committee’s work,” the Amateur Radio team said. “We expect this arrangement to continue, along with an increasing emphasis upon further training and standards, all intended to enhance the work of Amateur Radio public service, and to raise confidence in our capabilities to integrate with other organizations as effective team players.”

Cool, damp weather made the volunteers’ role more difficult, but execution of communications tasks in accordance with the 2015 plan went smoothly. “Many Boston Marathon race officials favorably commented on the advancement in communications provided by Amateur Radio and other entities both in the planning stage and on event day,” the Amateur Radio team said.

“Through all the meetings, conference calls, and documents produced, I would say we all fulfilled what we set out to accomplish and more,” said Chris Troyanos, Medical Coordinator for the Boston Marathon. “From the public safety side, to all involved with the BAA, our communications program set new heights of excellence.” Organizers from the Red Cross also expressed satisfaction with 2015 Boston Marathon communications.

Event logistics were coordinated more tightly. Added to Amateur Radio’s tasks this year was reporting of hourly medical statistics from each of the 26 medical field units, and a new medical re-supply system, both relying on Amateur Radio communication. The ham radio volunteers also were able to offer situational awareness regarding rain and wind conditions along the route. The cooler weather meant fewer heat-related medical emergencies, but from mile 12 onward, many runners suffered chills and had to stop and medical stations to warm up before moving on.

Efforts were organized in segments that included start, course, transportation, and finish. A back-up medical dispatch communication plan, included in the public safety matrix, was among the many operational plans in place. Amateur Radio volunteers shadowed key race officials at the start and finish line, augmenting commercial radio services. They also staffed medical and hydration stations along the course; vans that travelled the course transported runners unable to complete the race to the finish line. Amateur Radio volunteers also were stationed at the Massachusetts Emergency Operations Center (WC1MA) as well as at the Amateur Radio Station at the National Weather Service-Taunton (WX1BOX), given the concern with the potential for heavy rain and strong winds to affect the marathon.

Volunteer Steve Ostrovitz, KB1OCI, was among those recognizing the efforts of the Amateur Radio leadership at the 2015 Boston Marathon. “You all brought the level of organizational professionalism to our roles to a new level that I think most had never contemplated as being possible,” he said after the race. “This was not just ‘upping our game’ but really a whole new way of approaching what we do and how we do it.” — Thanks to Rob Macedo, KD1CY, Mark Richards, K1MGY, and the Boston Marathon Amateur Radio team





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