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Missouri Hams Help Out When 911 Service Goes Down

09/14/2011

It doesn’t take a major disaster for Amateur Radio to step in and save the day. Around 9 PM on September 5, a cable cut completely isolated the Johnson County 911 Center in Warrensburg, Missouri, impacting landline, Internet and cellular service. Johnson County -- home to Whiteman Air Force Base -- is located just east of the Kansas City metro area.

Johnson County’s emergency plan called for the telephone company to transfer all 911 calls to the Henry County 911 facility in Clinton, Missouri; Henry County is the next county south of Johnson County. But an equipment problem at Henry County’s center prevented the transfer from completing successfully. Calls were then routed to the Benton County 911 Center in Warsaw, Missouri; Benton County is the next county west of Henry County. This transfer was successful and calls started coming in to Warsaw. Unfortunately, Warsaw is more than 40 miles from Warrensburg, and the two centers were unable to establish communication using the county VHF radio facilities.

It was then that radio amateurs were brought in to provide communications support. Johnson County Emergency Management Director Gloria Michalski, KC0TPB, activated the Johnson County ARES® group, while Benton County Emergency Management Director Gary England, KC0ZYL, activated the Benton County ARES® group. Amateur Radio operators from both groups reported to their respective Emergency Operations Centers, and using the VHF repeater facility operated by the Warrensburg Area Amateur Radio Club, quickly established reliable communications. Hams relayed the 911 calls between the two centers, with the hams in Benton County handing the calls off to Warrensburg officials for dispatch.

“Many people think a major disaster is the only time ARES® members may be called into action,” said ARRL Missouri Section Emergency Coordinator Kenneth Baremore, W0KRB. “This type of real-life example helps to point out why we need to have good relationships with our served agencies, as well as being prepared to respond at a moment’s notice. We know about severe storms as they come into the area, be it tornadoes or ice storms. But we can’t be aware of when a backhoe is going astray.”

According to Michalski, radio amateurs remained at both sites until the local telephone company fixed the problem at 9:30 AM the next day. While only about 15 calls were transferred, she said that amateurs handled at least one life-critical call.

Calling Amateur Radio operators “awesome!” she said that the service that both ARES® groups provided during the 911 outage was “invaluable. I assure you that this office has a healthy working relationship with our ARES® group. They are always there for us and the community. I use every opportunity to promote the group publicly and support their Amateur Radio classes.”  -- Thanks to Rick Harkins, W0YGH, of Benton County ARES® for some information



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