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Mississippi Hams Prepare for Gustav

09/03/2008

Larry Wagoner, N5WLW, Public Information Coordinator, ARRL Mississippi Section, filed this report August 31:

PICAYUNE, Mississippi -- Along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana, where the memory of storms with names like Katrina, Rita and Camille still sear, few things cause as much anxiety as the word hurricane. As Hurricane Gustav makes its way across the Gulf of Mexico, worried people are keeping their attention focused on every new rumor and word about the approaching storm.

At the same time, Amateur Radio operators in the area are preparing for yet another test of their ability to maintain emergency communications in the face of nature's worst. Across the coastal region, hams were preparing for the storm, testing equipment and preparing to man Emergency Operations Centers and shelters to help handle emergency radio traffic.

Tom Hammack, Jr., District Emergency Coordinator for the Gulf Coast District and Emergency Coordinator for Harrison County, said plans on the coast were to bring EOCs online at about 8 AM Sunday. "We will have three or four in the EOC to start with, as well as one at the ambulance service and one at the Biloxi Police Department of the EOC working with the Emergency Management Agency Manager (Rupert Lacy)," said Hammack.

In Pearl River County, the Emergency Operations Center was preparing to activate on Sunday, August 30, a day before the monster storm's expected landfall in southeast Louisiana. David Moore and Larry Wagoner tested radios at the Picayune and Poplarville EOCs.

At the same time, hams are having to deal with personal issues. "Right now, we're trying to get my house boarded up just in case," said Hammack. "My wife Merle was supposed to be in the hospital for in-patient rehabilitation, but the hospitals quit taking people this week" he added. Instead, she will be manning a radio at the EOC. The local ambulance service will provide a ride for the wheelchair-bound amateur to the EOC so she can help take care of others.

In Pearl River County, plans were to provide the shelters with handheld radios to facilitate communications with the EOCs.

Following a Mississippi Hospitals Association program to provide financial grants to area hospitals to install Amateur Radio gear earlier this year, all the area hospitals have Amateur Radios and trained and licensed hams on staff.

Area EOCs plan to operate on VHF and HF frequencies, and according to Hammack, coast operators will also have D-STAR service available. A linked system of repeaters will permit communications from the coast all the way to Jackson on 2-meter amateur frequencies.

The West Gulf Health and Welfare traffic net will operate on 7.290 MHz during the day and 3.935 MHz at night, according to Richard Webb, Emergency Coordinator for Tennessee.

As for differences between the run-up to Gustav and Katrina, Hammack noted that many more people are evacuating the area this time -- including many hams. The number of people evacuating was clear in the area of Picayune -- where I-59 was packed with northbound traffic streaming out of the area. "A lot more people are taking it seriously," said Hammack.

Even with the evacuations, a core of radio operators plan to remain to assist with communications. "We have enough to cover what we've got to cover, then we will build up more afterwards," said Hammack.

In Stone County, Tim Purvis, Emergency Coordinator for the county and Assistant District Emergency Coordinator was preparing for the approaching storm as well.

"We have a lot to do," said Purvis, "but we expect to be ready in time."



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