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Oklahoma Amateur Radio Volunteers Rally as Severe Weather Strikes

05/13/2015

As storms swept into Central Oklahoma on May 6, radio amateurs — in their role as SKYWARN storms spotters — got busy, confirming observations and reporting the effects of the damaging weather. Oklahoma Section Emergency Coordinator Mark Conklin, N7XYO, reports that the Grady County bedroom community of Bridge Creek — some 30 miles south-southwest of Oklahoma City — took a direct hit, and ham radio volunteers have been on the job ever since, providing needed communication. Tornado victims have only been able to assess property damage in the past few days, and residents now are working to clean up. The storm destroyed many homes, and a volunteer center has been set up at the local elementary school.

 

In addition to causing structural damage, the dangerous storms also took out portions of the power grid. The Bridge Creek Volunteer Fire Department was among those losing power, and a back-up generator failed. Matt Garcia, N5PTV, arrived with a generator and got the department’s repeater and base station gear up and running again, so that firefighters were able to respond to calls, Conklin said.

Mike Rockey, KE5EQC, vice president of the Aeronautical Center Amateur Radio Club, alerted Conklin that the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief had requested Amateur Radio assistance to help support the Bridge Creek communications effort. Conklin sent word out to all ARES-OK-registered radio operators to help fill this communication need.

For the past week radio amateurs have been busy supporting communication between the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief’s chain saw and damage assessment teams. Stan Bradley, KS5B, a Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief chaplain, reported that cell phone coverage has been spotty, and using Amateur Radio has been very helpful. A few disaster relief teams also include radio amateurs as members.

As of May 12, amateurs were operating from a repurposed travel trailer in a working partnership with the Grady County Sheriff's Department and Aeronautical Center Amateur Radio Club. The trailer is equipped with two VHF/UHF mobiles, a multiband HF transceiver, and emergency power. It also can be set up with public safety radios for use by law enforcement.

Bradley added that hams have been working in pairs at the net control point, handling 4-hours shift during daylight hours since the day after the storms hit Bridge Creek. The balance of the ham radio volunteers have been shadowing disaster relief teams to assist with their communications needs.

Rockey said he expected the need for Amateur Radio assistance to continue through this weekend.

Oklahoma Gov Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for 12 counties affected b y tornadoes and flash flooding.

Bridge Creek was one of several communities hardest hit by an F5 tornado in a deadly May 3, 1999, tornado outbreak. — Thanks to Mark Conklin, N7XYO, Oklahoma Section Emergency Coordinator

 



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