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Hams Stand By to Help as New England Recovers from Ice Storm and Prepares for More

12/19/2008

The major ice storm that hit New England December 11 has pretty much gone away, but with forecasters calling for more winter weather in the next few days, hams are still on the job. During the storm, Amateur Radio operators from all over the area responded to calls for assistance from various served agencies, and local leadership does not expect the need for the hams lessen anytime soon.

According to Eastern Massachusetts ARESĀ® Section Emergency Coordinator Rob Macedo, KD1CY, almost 400,000 customers in Massachusetts lost power at the height of the storm. Phone service, particularly landline service, was disrupted in some areas. Crews have been working hard to restore power to residents, Macedo said: "As of late Sunday evening, almost 140,000 were without power in Massachusetts with over double that number in New Hampshire. On Wednesday, the number of homes without power had dropped to 45,000-50,000 in both states." Southern New England received 2-4 inches of rainfall; isolated higher amounts caused river, stream and urban flooding. Strong winds in the region resulted in tree and wire damage, as well as coastal flooding along the shoreline.

In Western Massachusetts, Section Emergency Coordinator John Ruggerio, N2YHK, reported that ARES units in his Section responded to calls for assistance from local EOCs. "EOC operations in Worcester were secured on Monday evening, as the shelters were closed and power was restored to most areas at that time," Ruggerio said.

"Amateur Radio operators from the North and South Shore of Eastern Massachusetts assisted with operations in Western Massachusetts, fulfilling needs from Saturday night into Monday morning," Ruggerio recounted. "ARES units in the Western Massachusetts Section provided support during the day on Monday for the town of Gardner in Franklin County. An additional team from Eastern Massachusetts -- including one ham from the Rhode Island/Massachusetts border -- came in on Monday evening. That team helped out in Gardiner until 12:30 Tuesday afternoon when the shelters and communications for the local hospital were no longer required, as power was restored to much of the area."

Ruggerio said that the local hospital in Gardner lost phone service for much of the day starting Monday morning. "They got service back later that evening, but until then, Amateur Radio was the only means of two-way communications between the hospital and EOC." Message traffic on prescription fills and other priority, but non-emergency traffic, were fulfilled during that timeframe, he said.

"The Gardiner operation was the largest ARESMAT that Eastern Massachusetts ARES has supplied since the September 11 terrorist attacks," Macedo said. "Including the one amateur provided for the Worcester EOC, a total of 16 hams assisted for all the ARESMAT needs in Western Massachusetts."

Macedo said the ARES unit in Franklin County completed its support in the town of Heath on early Monday Morning: "Many of the Franklin County ARES team also assisted with Gardner, providing an additional seven hams to the operation. More than 200 man-hours were logged just in the Gardner ARESMAT alone -- this does not include State Emergency Operations Center operations or the National Weather Service response phase operations."

Support for the Massachusetts State Emergency Operations Center also continues, Macedo said. "Massachusetts State RACES Radio Officer Tom Kinahan, N1CPE, told us that support was required at least through Wednesday evening for the aftermath of the storm. We will continue to provide support for as long as requested to support the State EOC." Eastern Massachusetts ARES supplied three Amateur Radio operators to support the state EOC during the storm.

Throughout the storm, Section leadership from across the region met in twice-daily conference calls with ARRL Emergency and Preparedness Response Manager Dennis Dura, K2DCD. In a call on Tuesday, New Hampshire Assistant Section Emergency Coordinator David Colter, WA1ZCN, told Dura he had just got his power back early that morning. "I spoke to the ECs for Hillsborough and West Rockingham Counties last night," Colter said, "and they continue to staff two shelters and EOCs. Apparently, neither site has an available landline. There is cell service in the area, but it's spotty. The Milford animal shelter folks have been using ham radio for coordination in a limited way for several days as they retrieve chilly animals. The temporary animal shelter is co-located at the Milford people shelter."

According to American Red Cross Communications Volunteer Tom Carrigan, NE1R, the Disaster Operations Center (DOC) at the Central Massachusetts Chapter of the American Red Cross is a "beehive of activity trying to cover all the demands for services from the many towns still operating shelters and for mobile feeding operations throughout the affected area. We are still sending cots and blankets, as well as water, heater meals and snacks to New Braintree, and other towns. Nearly every Worcester County town north of Worcester and west of the Wachusett Reservoir has received services from the ARC. Mobile feeding has continued in Worcester, Paxton, Rutland, Gardner, Leominster and many other communities where utility workers and public safety workers have been working long hours outdoors. Several shelters have been supported by Red Cross volunteers during the over-nights, as well as days, and Red Cross volunteers from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have joined the effort."

Carrigan said that as "thousands of people remain without electric power as the weather turns colder and messier, we expect that some who have been toughing it out at home may give in and come to a shelter."

Macedo noted that the bad weather is just beginning for New England, as the active storm pattern shows no signs of abating: "Another major winter storm is expected on Friday that could dump a significant snowfall on the region. Another major storm is also possible Sunday night into Monday. "We have been advised that the State EOC could be back in operation on Friday and we are preparing staffing for those needs. We will leave ARES on standby status through Monday, pending the impact of these storms on our region, as well as the weakened infrastructure that remains from the impact of the ice storm."



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