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ARES Volunteers Support Major Flood Responses

01/27/2016

Amateur Radio operators put their skills to work during flooding in the Centralia area of Southwest Washington and historic flooding in the Greater St Louis area in December and January. In Missouri ARES® volunteers from three counties pitched in. According to Bill Grimsbo, N0PNP, District C Emergency Coordinator, Amateur Radio volunteers contributed more than 170 hours of service just in his district, working with responding agencies.

“These people commit their personal time as well as working regular hours at jobs that represent a cross section of America’s workforce for the greater good of the community,” he pointed out.

Prolonged rainfall occurred December 26-28, with the heaviest rainfall in a 50 to 75 mile wide swath from Southwest Missouri through the St Louis Metropolitan area and into Central Illinois. The total 6 to 12 inches of rainfall led to life-threatening flash flooding and historic river flooding, capping off the wettest year on record for St Louis at 61.24 inches.

More than 26 radio amateurs from St Louis Metro ARES, St Charles County ARES, Illinois Section ARES, and St Louis and suburban radio club members worked with the American Red Cross in serving some 19,400 meals and coordinating more than 640 overnight stays for those displaced by flooding. ARES and club operators were asked to help coordinate communications among shelters in four counties and Red Cross headquarters. On average, volunteers worked 6 to 8 hour shifts, employing repeaters maintained by area radio clubs.

“The Amateur Radio operators in the greater St Louis area have knowledge and equipment to connect any agency to another when in times of need,” St Louis Metro ARES Emergency Coordinator Steve Wooten, KC0QMU, said. “We can set up and be connected within an hour of responding to the call for assistance.”

St Charles County Division of Emergency Management also called on ARES to execute road closure reconnaissance for emergency services. Volunteers also performed “windshield” damage assessments, where they drove by hundreds of homes to survey them for any damage.

St Francois and Ste Genevieve County ARES worked together to assist Ste Genevieve County emergency managers with 24 hour walks to assess the condition of the critical levees that protect lives and property in that county.

More than 20 people died in the historic flooding. Hundreds were displaced from their homes as rivers, streams and lakes overflowed banks and levees. Wastewater treatment facilities were overwhelmed, and some drinking water treatment facilities were shut down. President Barack Obama issued a Federal Disaster Declaration and the Federal Highway Administration pledged $1 million for emergency highway repairs.

In the Pacific Northwest, the Centralia area of Southwest Washington again found itself on Mother Nature's target list for December rain and local flooding, and Amateur Radio volunteers were called in to help. The region saw nearly continuous rain during the first week in December, with especially heavy rainfall on December 7. As a result, three major rivers — the Chehalis, the Skookumchuck and the Newaukum — quickly reached flood stage. The City of Centralia opened its emergency operations center (EOC) on December 9, to get ahead of the potentially devastating flood waters, and the Centralia ARES team activated on a 24-hour basis on December 8. Working after dark, team members monitored EOC Amateur Radio systems and helped set up the remainder of the EOC for a full-scale response by the next morning.

On December 9, two local creeks — China and Salzer — overflowed their banks and inundated Centralia’s downtown district, before the major rivers had reached flood stage. Following the Incident Action Plan issued on December 9, ARES team members began a second response phase, performing “windshield surveys” to determine the extent and depth of water in each residential area in the city. Team members also monitored selected high-water points to provide “eyes-on-the-scene” observations on how rapidly flood waters were rising. Throughout the day, hams reported conditions block by block, response area by response area to the EOC and incident commanders.

The area caught a break later that day, when the rains abated and stopped. By late on December 8, even though rivers were still reaching flood stage, emergency managers could breathe a sigh of relief, as it became clear that the local flooding was not going to be on the order of an earlier disaster that closed Interstate 5 for several days. Several dangerous landslides did occur, though, and Highway 12 over White Pass to Eastern Washington was closed due to washouts and could remain closed for some time, as snow on the pass hinders roadway repairs.

The ARES team deployed 75 members, who put in slightly more than 70 volunteer hours. Centralia ARES has worked through four major floods since 2007, with localized flooding almost every November or December. — Thanks to Janelle Haible, N0MTI, St Louis (Missouri) Metro ARES Public Information Officer, and to Bob Willey, KD7OWN, Emergency Coordinator, Centralia Amateur Radio Emergency Service 



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