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Colorado ARES Teams Transition to Flood Damage Assessment

09/18/2013

Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) volunteers in flood-stricken communities in Colorado are shifting to damage assessment duty. Boulder County ARES plans to shoot video of the devastation as teams move into the field — a job Boulder County ARES Assistant Emergency Coordinator George Weber, KA0BSA, says is “something new” for his team. Damage assessment follows on the heels of an extended activation to help rescue, evacuate, and shelter flood victims.

“Boy, have we been busy!” he told BCARES members in announcing the callout. “This is even more than anyone ever planned for. I heard the term ‘500-year flood’ being used.”

Seven damage assessment volunteers will be riding along in county vehicles, equipped with mobile ham radio gear set up to work through several area repeaters. Plans call for using APRS as well. “You will have to be self-sufficient for food and water, as you might be out all day,” Weber cautioned. He expected the activation to last “a few days.”

On September 16, Colorado Section Emergency Coordinator Robert Wareham, NØESQ, represented ARES as Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D), FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, KK4INZ, US Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Michael Bennett (D-CO), US Representative Cory Gardner (R-4), Mike Coffman (R-6), and Ed Perlmutter (D-7) visited the state emergency operations center. Wareham said that he and Emit Hurdelbrink, WØUAW — an regional emergency coordinator — spoke briefly with Hickenlooper “who thanked us for our service,” Wareham said. He added that Fugate also spoke with him about the ARES post-flood activities. Wareham reported in a post to the ARRL Colorado Section Facebook page that ARES volunteers have been putting in 12 hour or longer days since the flooding started.

A Mountain Emergency Radio Network (MERN) repeater in Allenspark was instrumental in a medical rescue that involved a recently licensed ham. A ham in Nebraska, via an EchoLink repeater in Colorado, advised Robert McDonald, KDØSCC, of Allenspark, who drove 3 miles to alert fire dispatch. Estes Park ARES had set up in the fire station’s emergency communications site.

Colorado Section Manager Jack Ciaccia, WMØG, said ham radio received kudos from the Allenspark Fire Chief, who attributed lives saved directly to ARES efforts. “The ability to get, fast, accurate info to their residents as it was being disseminated was critical to their rescue and evacuation efforts,” Ciaccia said.

The flash flooding in Colorado has claimed at least eight lives, hundreds remain unaccounted for, untold numbers of homes and highways have been destroyed, and many residents still await evacuation, according to media accounts.

“Hams continue to staff evacuation shelters throughout the region and emergency operations centers (EOCs) for the state and multiple counties and municipalities,” Wareham said over the weekend. The National Guard has been mobilized to help with evacuations and rescue operations. Wareham said that hams not directly involved in the disaster response served as storm spotters for the National Weather Service, providing reports on rainfall, creek and river levels. 



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