EmComm Workshops at 2009 National Hurricane Conference Focus on Amateur Radio
On April 6-10, Amateur Radio had its largest presence ever at the 2009 National Hurricane Conference in Austin, Texas. Representatives from the ARRL, WX4NHC, the Amateur Radio Station at the National Hurricane Center (NHC), the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) and VoIP Hurricane Net (VoIPWXNet) completed several presentations at the conference as well as a presentation at the local Austin Amateur Radio Club. According to ARRL Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager Dennis Dura, K2DCD, the workshops were very well attended with more than triple the participation of prior conferences.
"The Austin Amateur Radio Club, along with ARRL Field Organization Section and Division officials did an outstanding job of promoting the various presentations at the conference," Dura said. "It is these coordinated efforts at the local club and ARRL Section, Division and National levels that will allow us to propel forward with our efforts in emergency communications and train people, allowing us to become a more valuable asset to served agencies."
Assistant WX4NHC Amateur Radio Coordinator Julio Ripoll, WD4R, thanked everyone who participated in the meeting "for making our NHC 2009 presentations and experience so successful and enjoyable. We had one of the largest attendances for the Amateur Radio workshop that I can remember."
Nearly 60 people attended the Amateur Radio Disaster Communications Workshop on the afternoon of April 7. WX4NHC Amateur Radio Coordinator John McHugh, K4AG, and Ripoll made the first presentation of the workshop. Explaining the 29 year history of their work at the NHC and the importance of measured surface data and damage reports, the pair told how this knowledge allows hurricane specialists to make better forecasts. They also told several stories and showed videos from several of the most critical activations over the past several years and the importance of the reporting from all stations, stressing that they will take reports by any means in support of the mission to help save lives.
Director of Operations of the VoIP Hurricane Net Rob Macedo, KD1CY, gave a presentation on the VoIP Hurricane Net and the role it plays in gathering data for WX4NHC. He also explained how it also can be used to connect various National Weather Service forecast offices, as well as local and regional Emergency Operation Centers during hurricanes. Macedo also explained how the net is looking for more contacts within the affected area to connect to the net and more amateurs to relay data from local and regional nets in the affected area of hurricanes. "The VoIP Hurricane Net relays info to WX4NHC using any and all means of reliable information from all sources to give WX4NHC the most information possible from the surface during a hurricane," Macedo explained.
Macedo also presented a session on the International Radio Emergency Support Coalition (IRESC) and its role in providing translators and additional contacts in the affected area during hurricanes and other disasters. "This includes monitoring and translation of international media broadcasts and press releases that the NHC may not normally receive," he said. "The IRESC EchoLink conference is often connected to the VoIP Hurricane Net during hurricanes to support both the net and listen-only activity for stations outside of the affected area that want to monitor the VoIP Hurricane Net during hurricanes."
Assistant Net Manager of the Hurricane Watch Net Brad Pioveson, W9FX, gave a presentation on the HWN's 44 year history. Explaining that the HWN has been around longer than operations at WX4NHC, Pioveson described how in the days before WX4NHC, HWN ham radio operators -- using phones and faxes -- passed information on tropical advisories to the NHC. He also detailed some potential changes at the HWN that will include not just the monitoring of their traditional 14.325 MHz frequency, but also branching out onto other bands.
"Given the extremely poor propagation that we've seen lately," Pioveson said, "we see the need for the HWN to expand its reach to other HF bands. The Maximum Usable Frequency simply doesn't allow for 20 meters to propagate as it has in the past. We need to scale our operations to other HF bands when propagation is poor so we can support stations in the affected area of a hurricane."
ARRL Southeastern Division Director Greg Sarratt, W4OZK, explained how the Alabama section is preparing for an upcoming hurricane interoperability exercise, giving a breakdown of the Alabama Section by region. Sarratt explained that the focus of the exercise is a "worst case scenario hurricane" with cell phones rendered unusable during the hurricane exercise. He also gave a breakdown of the ARRL HQ disaster response mechanism, saying that all ARES® members and leadership should recognize and observe the ARES Field Organization structure.
On the evening of April 7, the same presenters gave similar presentations to the Austin Amateur Radio Club meeting after a BBQ put on by the local club. West Gulf Division Director Dr David Woolweaver, K5RAV, was present for all the Tuesday workshops and the local club meeting. At the meeting, Woolweaver thanked everyone for their support of the conference workshops and for attending the club meeting. He also took the opportunity to announce that he was appointing Lee Cooper, W5LHC, president of the Austin Amateur Radio Club (AARC), as Assistant Director for Emergency Communications in the West Gulf Division. "This is a necessary appointment in our Division to address the importance of emergency communications," Woolweaver told the group.
On April 8, Dura and Macedo gave a workshop to emergency management officials and representatives of government agencies. The workshop focused on situational awareness and disaster intelligence, stressing its importance to Emergency Management and how it creates more opportunities to utilize Amateur Radio. The presentation was followed by a question-and-answer session relating to Amateur Radio Emergency Communications. "Collecting and gathering data and sharing information and reporting during disasters is another way Amateur Radio can assist beyond the typical message handling," Dura said. "Monitoring critical infrastructure -- such as in the case of the Red River in North Dakota -- is an example, and these examples can be applied to hurricanes."
Macedo gave the audience several disaster intelligence examples used during hurricanes, as well as from his ARES and SKYWARN work in the ARRL's Eastern Massachusetts section: "On several occasions, SKYWARN spotters gave information to emergency management. This information, along with other data, helped emergency management officials to escalate their response in several recent disaster-related incidents. This model can also be utilized during hurricanes."
During the closing session, Director of Safety Operations and Emergency Management for the City of Houston Arcadio Avalos asked several questions, starting a discussion on coordination and credentialing. "Based upon his experiences from Hurricane Ike last year, he said he understood the importance of Amateur Radio and wanted to assist in easing logistical issues for the next time this work is needed in his area," Dura said. "He will be assisting to ease those issues on the public safety side of things. He also took copious notes on how he could improve things on the Amateur Radio side. He mentioned that he viewed Amateur Radio as a 'huge asset' in this task and wanted to ensure that no coordination issues arise for next time so Amateur Radio support can be utilized even further and more efficiently."
All sessions were videotaped through the efforts of professional videographer and VoIP Hurricane Net Control Scheduler Jim Palmer, KB1KQW. Macedo said that the videos should be available the first part of May on the North Shore Radio Association (NSRA) Web site.
The 2010 National Hurricane Conference is scheduled for March 29-April 2 in Orlando, Florida.