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Plane Crash Drill Turns to Major Fire Response


Over the course of a single day, ARES® Los Angeles (ARES LAX) Northwest District operators on July 8 pivoted from a plane crash mass-casualty drill to a real major fire response. With the area suffering under record 108° heat, the ARRL Los Angeles Section’s ARES Northwest District Emergency Coordinator Roozy Moabery, W1EH, had no idea that an actual emergency would erupt just 6 hours after his ARES team finished a full-scale mass casualty drill that morning.

The mass casualty drill scenario involved numerous hospitals and agencies responding to a private plane crash at a busy freeway junction in the Encino area. ARES LAX-Northwest members deployed to their assigned hospitals by 7 AM for the drill, prepared to handle back-up communication on hospital utilization and bed availability. Moabery said the drill provided an excellent example of how ARES interfaces with other disaster-focused Amateur Radio organizations.

The real emergency happened about 12 hours later — an explosion and fire at a City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power 230-kV receiving station in the San Fernando Valley’s Northridge area. While firefighters fought flames, electric power was cut for up to 11 hours to some 147,000 homes and businesses, already suffering from the searing heat.

Five hospitals ARES LAX-Northwest serves, including major trauma center Northridge Hospital Medical Center, switched to emergency back-up power. ARES LAX-Northwest quickly established a net, and Moabery immediately deployed to the 409-bed Northridge Hospital, remaining there until nearly 6 AM the next day. Assistant DEC Marty Woll, N6VI, served as net control while Assistant DEC Dean Cuadra, WA6P, and Emergency Coordinator David Goldenberg, W0DHG, kept in contact with other hospitals to determine their operational status.

Although ARES only physically deployed to Northridge Hospital, other ARES members were on standby throughout the incident. The reduced electric power available at Northridge Hospital combined with the extreme heat resulted in numerous patients being relocated to unaffected hospitals.

Moabery reviewed lessons learned from the drill and the emergency during his August ARES LAX-Northwest meeting. Among his points: Members can never have enough batteries; some ARES members were recharging depleted batteries following the morning hospital drill when the early evening power outage occurred. The hospital drill served as another reminder that repeaters cannot always be relied upon, and that a simplex back-up plan is essential. In extreme weather and heat situations, ARES members need to be prepared and bring their own food and water. Finally, ARES LAX-Northwest learned that hospitals may need up to 24 hours to fully recover from a lengthy power outage because of required post-outage procedures. — Thanks to ARRL Los Angeles Section Manager Diana Feinberg, AI6DF




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