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Hams Provide Communications Support As Ice Storms Sweep Across US

01/29/2009

With as much as 2 inches of crippling ice accumulation over parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and West Virginia and as much as 6 inches of sleet in Missouri and Indiana, many area residents are without power. The storm that began on Tuesday, January 27 not only brought up to 16 inches of snow in some regions, it also brought hams to local Emergency Operations Centers, shelters and area Nets as they were activated to service by their served agencies.

Based upon requests submitted by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, President Barack Obama declared those states federal disaster areas. Utility officials estimated that more than 1.3 million homes and businesses across the wide swath of states were without power early Thursday, and they warned that it could be mid-February before some customers had power. The storm has been blamed for at least 23 deaths.

Kentucky

According to ARRL Kentucky Section Manager Jim Brooks, KY4Z, his state was hard hit by the ice storm, with the western portion taking the brunt of the storm. "Communications by landline and cell phone has been non-existent or spotty at best. I'm hearing reports that Amateurs are using local VHF repeaters to assist in their communities. My most reliable contact in Western Kentucky so far is John Hudson, KO4XJ, president of the Paducah Amateur Radio Association. He and I have been communicating via his Facebook Mobile account. He is on generator power from his home."

According to Brooks, the Kentucky Emergency Operations Center, KY4EOC, is currently monitoring 3960 kHz LSB, as well as the Brooks, Kentucky 146.70 repeater (tone 79.7). "They are seeking information from affected areas, including shelters, fuel supplies and other needs critical to these areas," Brooks said. "Several stations are also monitoring 3960 kHz for relays as needed."

Brooks told the ARRL that the Kentucky Office of Emergency Management's EOC has been operating on 3960 kHz since 1400 EST on Wednesday, January 27; they are also working VHF FM. "Here in Nelson County in Central Kentucky," Brooks said, "members of the Nelson County ARES have been active at the county EOC. My power was restored late yesterday, and I have been standing by on HF and VHF as liaison between local EM and the state EOC if needed. The duty officer at the state EOC reported this morning that healthcare facilities without power in Western Kentucky are evacuating their residents and patients to locations out of state. The Kentucky National Guard has been deployed in many communities, including my own."

"I received word from the local American Red Cross disaster coordinator that Amateur Radio communications support was needed", said Kentucky ARES District 4 Public Information Officer Chris Shaw, W4BGN. "There was only one cellular carrier in the area that was working and the local land lines were also down. The Red Cross needed communications for the three shelters they were setting up," he said.

Shaw said that there was a lot of support from the local hams: "We set up temporary antennas and coordinated regular traffic handling Nets on local repeaters. A lot of people had no electricity due to the power outages and came to the Red Cross shelters to stay warm and get a hot meal."

Saying that he had not seen a comparable storm, Shaw thanked all the hams and repeater owners who helped out. "Most of the hams were members of the Kentucky Colonels Amateur Radio Club in Bowling Green," he said. "This goes to show just how helpful and willing the local ham radio community is during times in need. The traffic nets continue as of Thursday afternoon."

More than 1000 members of the Kentucky National Guard have been activated to support relief efforts in the wake of the storm. Soldiers are currently in 27 counties across Kentucky, supporting Department of Transportation personnel and utility companies in clearing debris from roadways and power lines. In addition, troops are helping transport critical personnel, equipment and supplies where travel conditions are hazardous, including transporting kidney dialysis patients to treatment centers.

Arkansas

Delta Division Assistant Director Howard Runions, W4HLR, called it a "bad situation" in his state of Arkansas: "Most people are without power and phones at the present. I am south of the freeze line. I just took the first piece of traffic out of the affected area. ARES member Chris Edmaiston, KI4TRM, from Fulton County, Kentucky just came on the WA4YGM repeater; he was looking for someone to pass info from the Emergency Management Office in Hickman, Kentucky to the US Army. He passed several pages of traffic for the EOC in Hickman."

Runions said that "Communications is out of the question unless you have Amateur Radio. The town of Hickman just announced they are in need of a water purification system -- they have only 16 hours of water." Runions said that traffic is being handled by ARES personnel: "These ARES members train regularly through the Area Wide ARES Net, sponsored by the Reelfoot Amateur Radio Club in Union City, Tennessee and the big footprint of the WA4YGM repeater, also located in Union City."

Arkansas Section Emergency Coordinator John Nordlund, AD5FU, said that there have been no official requests for activation, outside of local county operations: "We currently have disaster declarations from Stone, Randolph, Boone, Sharp and Clay Counties. Piggot Community Hospital is without power, so they are transferring patients to another hospital in Paragould. Lawrence Memorial Hospital reported that they are without Internet service and are on generator power; they are opening a community shelter on their campus. Shelters are also opening in Marmaduke, Paragould and Yellville."

ARRL will update this report as more information becomes available.



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