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Hams Still Active as Red River Flood Threat Lessens

04/06/2009

As reported last week, hams have been providing communications during the Red River flood emergency that continues to threaten Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota and surrounding areas. Mark Johnson, KC0SHM, President of the Red River Radio Amateurs (RRRA), along with a number of other area hams, has been in the thick of things since March 22, when government officials first requested assistance from ham radio operators. On April 2, Johnson reported that although operations were winding down, the threat remains, as dikes could still be breached, threatening populated areas.

On-Scene Reports from KC0SHM

March 28, 2009

We have roughly 10 VHF/UHF positions being manned 24/7 at this point -- there are zero intentions for an HF net at this time as there is substantial area outside of the immediate hot zone that will not be affected. It is unlikely that we will lose phones -- even if we did, we can reach other communities that will not lose phones via VHF/UHF.

As far as numbers of hams necessary…our needs are being met at the moment. We may run thinner next week. However, we have a long list of names of volunteers on call that can be in the area on short notice. The volunteer support has been enormous from the ham community and I am doubtful we will need to have assistance from hams outside of ND, MN and SD.

March 29

Forgive me if my typing or spelling gets sloppy, but I am pulling a grave yard shift tonight now in my 19th hour of radio work today.

Tonight's task is at the ER of one of the local hospitals….basically here to alert the ER staff of any inbound Coast Guard helicopters should they have need to make a drop here.

Rough idea -- 25-30 local hams…30 more from out of the Fargo-Moorhead area…obviously we have been rotating people through as schedules allow and to maintain a 24 hour watch of a number of locations and allowing for our local people to deal with their homes and families when needed.

Hotline Set Up for Donations and Volunteers

State emergency management officials say the outpouring of support and offers of help coming in to Fargo and the state is inspiring. They have established a hotline (211) to capture offers of help -- both donations and unaffiliated volunteers. Individuals and organizations not currently affiliated with volunteer response organizations should call 211 or their nation-wide toll free number 1-877-422-0062. 211 is an information and referral number with Call Center staff who will gather names, contact information and donation offers and convey information to appropriate entities.

While all donations are appreciated, financial contributions are preferred. This allows relief organizations to purchase exactly what items are needed to assist in the response and recovery efforts. Using the 211 system will help ensure appropriate use of donations, better management of volunteer resources and will free up voluntary organizations’ phone lines to deal with health and safety issues. -- North Dakota Department of Public Services

Our involvement has mostly been keeping 7-10 static stations up -- most 24/7 including two county EOCs, two hospitals (until one was evacuated as a precautionary measure).

Additionally have been manning stations at the Red Cross operations room, as well as the one shelter 20 miles out of town (our new linked repeater to that area has been great!). The West Fargo PD has been staffed along with the Coast Guard in order to provide the link necessary to relay chopper info to the hospital where I am at now.

We have been a substantial help with the Salvation Army helping coordinate food requests for those that wouldn't have otherwise been able to get food.

The bulk of our traffic has been requests pertaining to food relief efforts and all that supports it during such an event. Helping the agencies like the Salvation Army find routes that aren't flooded or passing information between agencies like the SA and Red Cross. We have also coordinated some sand bag and sand deliveries to a number volunteer filling locations on the Moorhead side of the river. We had 6 hams involved with the evacuation of Merit Care Hospital the other night.

There are over 1800 guardsman in town helping fight the flood. Short term…we are manning a handful of stations, currently with low traffic counts.

This weekend we are pretty well staffed. I understand that we have a lengthy list of volunteers that are on standby for next week and this is being coordinated by our three ECs in town.

The area (non ham but emergency management arena) is well prepared for about every scenario including mass evacuations. I am impressed with how things are going...

The good thing is that the bulk of the locations that are highest risk of a dike breach are already mostly evacuated. The call list we have will probably suffice unless this turns ugly and we need another two weeks of manning radios. Then we might need to advertise a little for more hams -- but the need will be minimal -- probably under 20 people.

March 30

At this time we have been relieved of duty at the Coast Guard (West Fargo PD) and the Innovis Hospital. It appears they now have a direct link and we are not necessary. I believe that this now leaves us only needing to staff 4 locations -- Cass and Clay County EOCs, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. We are being told that the Salvation Army is moving to 12 hour days soon. Radio traffic is continues to be light…probably less than 8 pieces of real traffic since I got up this morning. This is excellent news for our weary hams, as it will allow us considerable wiggle room when trying to staff the locations.

It should be noted, however, that any levy breach that involves flooding in the larger areas of town will change the situation instantly and dramatically -- so we need to be on guard for that should it occur.

The feeling in town is good -- the river continues to recede -- but the community cannot let its guard down until the river gets to a manageable 34-36 foot level, which is forecasted to be sometime this weekend.

I just heard over the repeater that a fresh batch of out of town hams arrived in town…just in time before the 8-16 inches of additional snow expected tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday. The new snow will not immediately affect the river levels -- but it will slow down the response times of people protecting the dikes.

March 31

More snow today…we have received another 7 or so inches with another 5-12 inches forecasted through tonight….Early predictions for the river are suggesting a second 41 foot crest in two weeks.

To this point all dikes will remain in place, with the exception of a few openings that may be made to allow some traffic in and out of neighborhoods currently cut off -- but that will be minimal and they can plug them back up quickly when necessary.

This break will allow the engineers to spend additional time reinforcing current dikes if they can get decent enough access to them in the snow.

Radio traffic on the net continues to be slow; we are still running 24 hours in places. Some of our out of town volunteers this week did make it in before the inclement weather. So far so good…I think we are in good shape for now and I don't expect things to change much.

The river is currently at 38.22 feet; I heard on the city commission meeting this morning that this figure is allowing the city to relax just a little bit, but they are still on extreme guard.

We received a request from the Coast Guard auxiliary for several mobile stations. (This just came over the repeater from the Clay County EOC as I was typing). Depending on what they need, it may put a little strain on us.

I am greatly impressed with everyone's cooperation, dedication and volunteerism this last week. Numerous random acts of kindness between fellow hams at every level are occurring daily like offering shelter to our impressive amateur guests, to food for a hungry ham, and even a gentle "How are you holding up?" to those that are tired.

Our selfless giving of substantial time and talent to the greater cause of the community; at the same time as dealing with our own homes and families defines our character and ethics.

April 1

Well, it's starting to look really good for the area.

The cooler temperatures have had a major impact on the river levels by reducing the inflow from runoff and lowering the river levels -- this has all but eliminated the imminent risk to the cities of Fargo and Moorhead. There are other cities to the north of us that will still have some struggles though.

Since this event started…we have received almost 26 inches of snow -- this snow combined with the remaining runoff that hasn't made it to Fargo yet still poses a problem -- but every day we move forward the river drops, adding additional capacity to the river to accommodate it.

There is discussion of a second crest once this warms up, so unfortunately we are going go to through this one more time in a couple weeks or so. Initial forecasts for the second crest was in the neighborhood of 40-41 feet which is about where we crested last Saturday -- but the NWS has since downgraded that forecast to something commensurate to what we are experiencing today at 37 feet.

Yesterday afternoon late we moved the net to roughly 12 hour days, and dropped to only five locations. This is a huge help for staffing and we have begun turning volunteers away -- but asking that they consider being available in a couple weeks when the river starts its climb again should we start back up (which I doubt will happen).

I would like to specifically acknowledge the Minnesota area hams as well as the ND hams. The Red River is a border between ND and MN -- 50% of the area having problems was also in Minnesota, and we had a substantial number of volunteers and club members on the Minnesota side that worked just as hard.

When the flooding situation began we temporarily dissolved any separation of Fargo/Moorhead and ND/MN…operating as unified command for the community not for state or town. This allowed the flexibility to tap into radio resources from both states. During much of the event, Fargo people manned stations in Moorhead and Minnesota people manned stations in Fargo -- we really just operated as if we were one town -- going where and when we were needed.

April 2

We are officially stopping operations tonight. The word is that a second crest, potentially commensurate to what we just had, may force us to start up the net again. Initial forecasts alluded to 40-43 feet which of course can be devastating…other forecasts suggest 37 feet, which is manageable.

The city is leaving the sandbag dikes in place, the EOC is being left "as is," including our area until there is a better grasp of the river forecast.



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