Hams in Texas and Surrounding States Active as Ike Pounds Gulf Coast and Inland Areas
As Hurricane Ike weakened and became a tropical storm and then a tropical depression after slamming ashore near Galveston, Texas early Saturday morning, hams in several ARRL sections were supporting agencies with their communications needs. Although the final word on all the locations where ARES® was providing communications support has yet to be reported, it was clear that Amateur Radio played a part in the response to the massive storm.
In a conference call with ARRL Headquarters staff Sunday morning, ARRL section leadership reported that ARES was supporting Emergency Operations Centers throughout the region, and that equipment shipped to the Gulf Coast under the Ham Aid program was either being put to use or held for possible use as requests arrive.
South Texas Section Emergency Coordinator Mike Schwartz, KG5TL, whose section took the brunt of Ike's wind and rain, reported that he had spoken earlier to 9th District Emergency Coordinator Brian Cater, KC5YSM. Cater said his district, located to the east of Houston and Galveston, had lost power, but some food was available at hotels and other venues that were using backup generators. Electric utility poles were holding up well, since many had been replaced with newer ones after 2005's Hurricane Rita.
The Texas Emergency Net is still up and running. It is being staffed 24/7. The state EOC in Austin was reporting no need for supplemental Amateur Radio communications support at this time. The EchoLink system that ARRL West Gulf Division Vice Director David Woolweaver, K5RAV, set up "seems to be working; we're going to try to recruit others in Texas who can provide that kind of service." ARRL Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager Dennis Dura, K2DCD, commented: "That system has been the lifesaver for us here in the northeast," as it's allowed W1AW and other stations to monitor and take part in emergency nets that wouldn't have been supported by propagation.
Schwartz reported that ARRL North Texas Section Emergency Coordinator Bill Swan, K5MWC, sent two communications vehicles and a couple of ham radio operators from his section to the Orange area in South Texas. Although it was hit hard, "in the next few days we'll get the infrastructure up" in South Texas, he said.
Section Emergency Coordinator for the ARRL West Texas Section J. T. Caldwell, WA5ZFH, reported that severe flooding in Presidio County is forecast for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, as the remnants of a Pacific storm, Tropical Depression Lowell, dumped a large amount of rainfall on nearby areas of Mexico. The town of Presidio sits on the Rio Grande. On Monday morning, District Emergency Coordinator Bob Ward, WA5ROE, reported that low-lying areas of Presidio were evacuated on Sunday with the Rio Grande at the all-time high.
Late Sunday, the Texas State Operations Center released a Situation Report that included the following:
"Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES): State emergency communications operations began at 1800 Thursday, September 11, with the activation of the State RACES network. Operations consisted of monitoring joint emergency frequencies. These were operated by RACES and ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) and other civil/Amateur Radio Clubs.
"Military Affiliated Radio Service (MARS): Texas MARS operators activated AAN6ETX (Texas SOC MARS station) at 0800 local on September 13, 2008. AAN6ETX was put into 24/7 operation beginning at 1900 local on September 13. The MARS and RACES have been actively teaming together to solve problems and get information to the appropriate parties. Increased activity began on Saturday after the storm made landfall and damage assessments were in progress. Five reports were received from Houston Transtar, which had no other means of submission, other than Winlink. Messages and critical information regarding safe routes were relayed to a relief group heading into the Orange County area. At one point contact between the SOC and the City of Port Arthur was lost and the MARS station was able to connect them with a Navy MARS/ARES/RACES person in the area. The MARS is also supporting and monitoring Task Force IKE's recon team via AAR6NAC. As of Sunday, September 14, 2008, the combined RACES/ARES/MARS nets received and relayed multiple emergency communications reports to the SOC, and local jurisdictions."
From Louisiana, where residents are recovering from the effects of Hurricane Gustav, Section Manager Gary Stratton, K5GLS, reported to those on the conference call that Amateur Radio volunteers have had constant telephone communications through the Ike emergency, and there have been no problems at all with VoIP systems. There is supplemental sheltering for Hurricane Gustav and additional shelters for Ike. Most shelters are supported by local clubs and ARES groups around the state, working with EOCs. Section Emergency Coordinator Jim Coleman, AI5B, is participating in Louisiana VOAD conference calls.
From Arkansas, Section Manager David Norris, K5UZ, reported via e-mail that SKYWARN nets in the state were busy Saturday and Sunday. "Several tornados were spotted and tracked with some causing damage in Cabot and possibly Apin. There has been quite a bit of straight-line wind damage in the state, and as of 10 PM last night approximately 20,000 customers were without power. Many trees are down in my area and both of my 75/80 meter arrays have fallen victim to the storm. No tower collapses here, just a lot of mangled wire."
After the remnants of Lowell and Ike brought 9 inches of rain to the Chicago area, Illinois Section Manager Tom Ciciora, KA9QPN, reported Monday morning that "Grundy County ARES activated in support of county EMA efforts in flood control. One shelter is activated at this time. Additionally, both Kane and Kendall Counties have been especially hard hit with numerous road closures and evacuations. It was a real character-builder for Kane County, as their EOC also flooded yesterday."
ARRL Headquarters Maintaining Coordination Efforts
Following Sunday's conference call, the group of ARRL section leaders and Headquarters staff who had been participating in conference calls that spanned three major storms on three consecutive weekends agreed to suspend them. They can be reestablished on short notice, however. In addition, W1AW suspended its monitoring and coordinating operations as of 6 PM Eastern Time Sunday.
Coordination of Amateur Radio's response to the recent hurricanes continues, and ARRL Headquarters continues to participate in national conference calls coordinating the response efforts, as do volunteers in Texas and Louisiana.
Only today, Monday, are many of the VOAD and other supporting agency crews beginning to be able to move in to areas that have seen the most destruction. ARRL Headquarters will be receiving further reports of the exact contributions hams are making in the recovery effort, and we will share them as information arrives.