Georgia Hams Hasten to Help During Storms
Hams in Paulding County -- located in Georgia’s northwestern corner -- activated for the tornadoes and thunderstorms that swept through the South last week. According to Paulding County ARES® Public Information Officer Lee McDaniel WB4QOJ, the County’s Emergency Management Agency invited ARES® members to gather at the county’s Emergency Operations Center on the evening of April 26 to help provide communications support.
Lee Gordy, KJ4KUT, was one of the hams who reported to the EOC. “When I arrived at the staging room, it was a buzz of activity, with approximately 16 county personnel, including Fire Chief Michael Earwood and five EMA specialists, Paulding County Sheriff Gary Gulledge and two of his deputies, a Paulding DOT agent and several 911 ops,” he told the ARRL. “At one point, Corporal Brandon Gurley talked directly on-air with Glenn Burns, the meteorologist on a local television station. Glenn praised Paulding’s ham radio operators on the air.
Hams at the EOC began a net at 8 PM that evening. But with the high amount of activity at the EOC, the net control was off site. McDaniel told the ARRL that this was a good thing, as it cut down on any confusion and background noise at the EOC. “With a total of 11 roving and stationary stations reporting in to the net, it was all quick and concise,” he said. “Several stations were watching the RADAR ECHO via the Internet and the EMWIN downlink via satellite.”
Gordy explained that the real work for ARES® was in the field: “It was just like we had practiced. With only a couple of exceptions, there were very few glitches. Net control duties were handed off flawlessly, and reports in the field -- especially from Paulding ARES® member Derek Shelnutt, KJ4LZV (a sergeant in the Hiram (Georgia) Police Department, who was on patrol that night) -- were informative and very helpful. Sean Sparks, W4JFL, in Hiram, monitored WX4PTC, the ham station at the National Weather Service Office in Peachtree City.” ARRL Paulding/Douglas County Emergency Coordinator Dave Fuller, K4DMF, along with many of the ARES® check-ins, gave Gordy a crucial overview that he could relay to the team at the Paulding County EOC.
“The ARES® members in the field cannot be over-praised or under-estimated,” Gordy told the ARRL. “Due to the intense activity in the EOC, it was too difficult to run the net from there. But on many occasions I was able to deliver very important info to the Paulding EOC team concerning conditions, before their sources informed them, sometimes as much as 5 to 10 minutes in advance. Under these extreme conditions, a few seconds could mean the difference.”
Throughout the storms, Paulding and Douglas County ARES® members monitored the various repeaters in near and adjacent counties, making real-time weather observations, Gordy explained. Also, Jim Millsap, WB4NWS, and his team were reporting directly from the Cherokee EOC; maybe a first for ARES® in this area.” Cherokee County is directly northeast of Paulding County. “All the input from these ARES® sources was put together to give a heads-up, more accurate observation from the Northwest Georgia area to our 911/EOC team.”
Shortly after midnight, Chief Earwood announced that he was securing the EOC. “A little more than four hours of excellent team work by Paulding’s finest, including ARES®,” McDaniel told the ARRL. “One lesson that we can take from the performance of ARES® during this event: Even though we were on the 146.955 repeater, we had several backup frequencies staged -- and ready if needed -- if our main ARES® VHF system failed. We are a valuable asset to government agencies in times of urgent and emergency conditions.”