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Hams on Hand as Floods Sweep across Midwest US

06/13/2008

When severe thunderstorms started to threaten the Midwestern United States with tornadoes, hail, severe lightning and rain starting on June 4, state agencies were quick to call on Amateur Radio operators for assistance.

Indiana

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) activated ARES members to help out with communication efforts, providing radios for those amateurs who offered to help. ARRL Indiana Section Emergency Coordinator Tony Langer, W9AL, said hams were instrumental in many ways, including assisting in Emergency Operations Centers, sand bagging, helping out in shelters and even aiding in rescue efforts.

This storm brought 12 confirmed tornadoes to 11 Indiana counties, with some communities reporting up to 11 inches of water, Langer said; 20 counties were under a State of Emergency. On June 9, President Bush declared 29 counties in central Indiana a major disaster area, opening up the region to receive federal aid and FEMA assistance. Four people perished in the storms.

In a call put out to Amateur Radio operators on June 8, IDHS said, "The flood waters have impacted several counties here in Indiana severely. Ham Radio operators have been operating continuously since activated and are growing weary. Some counties do not have a vast amount of active hams to relieve these tired operators." Specific areas needing amateur assistance were overnight relief operators at the Bartholomew County EOC, as well as the EOC and three shelters in Columbus County.

Marion County (Indiana) Emergency Coordinator Mike Palmer, N9FEB, called on ARES members in his area to help out. "People might think, 'Why not just use telephones or cell phones?' Well, many phones are not working down there at this time. With the high waters, electric transformers are out all over; even those servicing cell towers are out. Even with today's technology, we find ourselves looking at ham radio to assist. If you can spare a few hours or an entire evening, please consider helping."

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels called in the United States Coast Guard to assist in evacuations and rescues. The Coast Guard responded by sending two helicopters to the state along with boats and personnel. The Indiana National Guard was called out to assist in evacuation and direct traffic and enforce road blocks on the many flooded roads.

Wisconsin

Torrents of rain also brought flooding to Wisconsin. On June 9, five counties -- Vernon, Columbia, Richland, Rock and Sauk Counties -- had requested aid from Amateur Radio operators, ranging from backup communications to disaster assessment and flooding communications. One county called on ARES members to provide patrols of the flooded areas overnight on Tuesday and Wednesday. Two counties, Vernon and Columbia, were the only two that have requested mutual aid at this point.

According to ARRL Wisconsin Section Emergency Coordinator Bill Niemuth, KB9ENO, approximately 90 ARES members responded to the call for assistance. “In Columbia County, ARES members provided dam monitoring communications early in the flooding. These communications gave critical information to public safety officials about two dams that were nearly compromised. Due to falling water levels, this activity has been discontinued, but hams remain on standby due to the threat of additional heavy rain,” Niemuth said.

Richland County ARES members remain activated, Niemuth said. “Hams are providing a variety of services, including fielding information calls in the County’s Emergency Operations Center and providing specialized communications for disaster assessment by hover craft and airplane. These communications are in addition to providing traditional ham radio communication links between the EOC and evacuation shelters.”

On Thursday, June 12, more rains inundated the state and more counties requested aid from area Amateur Radio operators. Niemuth said Winnebago County ARES members are providing damage assessment assistance in the county and in the City of Oshkosh, while hams in Fond du Lac are helping out with shelter communications. ARES teams in Marquette and Outagamie are providing back-up communications and flooding reports to their respective Emergency Operations Centers.  -- Information provided by ARRL Indiana Section Emergency Coordinator Tony Langer, W9AL, and ARRL Wisconsin Section Manager Don Michalsi, W9IXG



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