More Than 300 Amateur Radio Volunteers Support 2014 Boston Marathon
On a beautiful New England spring day, yet under an umbrella of heightened security, more than 300 Amateur Radio volunteers provided communication support on April 21 for the 118th running of the Boston Marathon — a 26.2-mile race from Hopkinton to Boston, Massachusetts. In a show of solidarity following last year’s tragic bombings close to the finish line, a near record numbers of runners — upward of 36,000 — turned out for the Patriot’s Day event along with a huge outpouring of spectators. The Boston Marathon is a major public service event for the region’s Amateur Radio volunteers.
“We received a fantastic showing of volunteer support across the start, course, and finish line from the Amateur Radio community in the wake of the 2013 bombings,” said Steve Schwarm, W3EVE, Boston Marathon Course Coordinator. The level of ham radio support for the 2014 event demonstrated that “Boston Strong” remains a rallying cry in the wake of last year's tragedy, he said.
Amateur Radio communication support became critical in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, when conventional telecommunications systems, such as cellular telephone, quickly became overloaded and confusion reigned.
The Minuteman Repeater Association coordinates Marathon Amateur Radio Communication, with assistance from the Framingham Amateur Radio Association, the Mohawk Amateur Radio Club, and the Montachusett Amateur Radio Association. The race is sponsored by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA).
Amateur Radio had a stronger presence this year at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC), where a multi-agency coordination center was set up for the race. The SEOC worked closely with the Boston Marathon Amateur Net Control Center, the BAA Operations Center at Boston Public Library, and the Red Cross Disaster Operations Center in Cambridge.
ARRL Eastern Massachusetts ARES Section Emergency Coordinator Rob Macedo, KD1CY, has served in various capacities over the years as part of the Boston Marathon ham radio contingent. “This year, I was at the SEOC multi-agency coordination center with MEMA Region 1 Communications Officer Terry Stader, KA8SCP, where we provided assistance for the Amateur Radio operation and situational awareness and an alternate communication path to the marathon for MEMA Headquarters,” he said.
Schwarm said that one unsung hero of the Boston Marathon Amateur Radio Communications Team is Bob DeMattia, K1IW, whom he called “the mastermind behind an elaborate net control setup” just off the race route with a line-of-sight shot to Boston. “Through a combiner and utilization of various frequencies across 2 meters, 1.25 meters, and 70 centimeters, up to 10 Amateur Radio setups were provided at the net control location with multiple antenna configurations,” Schwarm explained. “Bob has done this set-up work for many years.”
This year one of the 2 meter repeaters for the race course operation went down less than 24 hours before the start of the Boston Marathon. “Bob responded to the situation…and had the repeater back in operation just as the marathon was starting,” Schwarm said.
Schwarm also expressed his appreciation to his assistant, Jim Palmer, KB1KQW, for his support as an assistant course coordinator, as well as to Paul Topolski, W1SEX, who handled finish-line operations, and to Kevin Paetzold, K1KWP for supporting starting-line operations. Paetzold echoed Schwarm’s praise of DeMattia. “It is immense; it has been happening for many years and seems mostly invisible,” he said.
Paetzold said there were four ham radio teams — 34 volunteers in all — at the starting line. His primary assistant, Dave Wolfe, KG1H, oversaw the South Street parking operation, while Jonathan Allen, K2KKH, was responsible for the Hopkinton State Park parking operation, while Pi Pugh, K1RV, handled the Athlete’s Village operation — jobs both have handled for many years.
Topolski said hams anticipated security issues, but none arose. “Nobody had a hassle,” he told ARRL. A new twist this year was that the operation went from the separate command trailers used in past races to an indoor command center. “I think the operations center is a definite plus, and I think we’re going to go with that in the future,” he said.
All public safety agencies were represented in the command center, and the net control received any ambulance calls — about 70, in part owing to warmer weather this year, Topolski said. This year Amateur Radio volunteers relayed ambulance requests to the state EOC using a commercial UHF digital radio system, and hams spoke directly with MEMA dispatchers. Hams on the course were issued UHF digital radios to request police, fire, and EMS. “It was an additional resource,” he said. “That worked out well.” Macedo said Amateur Radio operators very quickly had to learn the new UHF commercial system.
At the height of the Marathon, Macedo said, the finish line medical tents were near 80 percent capacity. Amateur Radio also backed up the commercial network for ambulance requests, he said, and volunteers continued to handle logistical supply and medical bus transports via Amateur Radio.
Topolski said ham radio came in handy after the Boston Fire Department was called to Boylston Street in downtown Boston following a report of a possible natural gas leak. “At almost the same time, one of the hams on the street was smelling natural gas coming from a manhole,” he said. “The fire department was looking in one place, while the ham down the street was actually at the site of the leak.”
All marathon operations secured by about 8 PM, as the last course first aid and finish-line operations closed down.