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Ohio ARES Provides “Situational Awareness” During January Blizzard

03/21/2019

Ohio ARES members stared down “Snowmageddon” 2019, the mid-January blizzard that blanketed the lower Great Lakes region. Based on ominous forecasts and discussion with Assistant SECs across the state, Section Manager Scott Yonally, N8SY, and the Ohio Watch Office, SEC Stan Broadway, N8BHL, asked ARES operators to provide observations and reports to assist decision makers at the Ohio Emergency Operations Center and county emergency management agency centers.

“We could do this safely from our homes, and integrate our reports (remotely) into the state’s WebEOC management system, which could be read by the Ohio Watch Office and any other emergency official around the state,” Broadway said. “We had never tried this, and it seemed like a great way to promote the Amateur Service’s ability to provide situational awareness on a wide scale.” Broadway said conditions generated by the storm “could have resulted in an emergency” and warranted a statewide ARES response.

A statewide net was convened on Saturday, January 9, as conditions deteriorated. Amateurs quickly began checking in and reporting their local conditions with specific details. The reports were compiled by Ohio’s AuxComm Team station W8SGT, which was operated from Broadway’s residence on 80 meters, and the VHF/UHF Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) network (the Ohio Talk group), simultaneously.

By nightfall, storm conditions had stabilized, and reporting slowed to the point that the statewide net could be closed. Many county-level nets were also in operation.

The Ohio “Snow Net” received 131 reports from 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties, split evenly between HF and DMR. The short-notice net was entered into the ARES Connect system and more than 50 amateurs signed up for the net event. Several other local snow nets entered for county events also. The statewide reports were logged and submitted every few hours to the state Homeland Security/Emergency Management Agency Watch Desk through WebEOC.

Broadway said emergency managers around the state were impressed that Amateur Radio could furnish reports with such detailed information. He said HF capability to reach across the state was a proven asset, with effective communication in all directions. The DMR system functioned much like Ohio’s public safety radio system, connecting nearly 80 repeaters across the state through the internet. This service had been untested and this event created the perfect proving ground, Broadway said. “We needed dependable statewide communication where all stations would benefit by hearing reports as they were filed,” he pointed out. “The Ohio Talk Group was used with great success, with no known problems with dropout or system faults. Communication proved reliable even with the severe weather threatening power loss and antenna corruption.”

Ohio ARES operators provided a broad range of information including snow depths, wind speeds, and “Level 3” declarations, closed airports and more. Under Level 3 in Ohio, non-essential motorists on roadways are subject to arrest.

Broadway conceded that more aggressive alerting of District and county Emergency Coordinators would have given them more time to prepare. More guidance for local nets might have contributed to more realistic expectations and efficient operation — the specific weather information sought and time frame of operation anticipated, he added.

“Winter storms are part of the Ohio landscape, and we don’t propose ramping up a net for every snowfall. But when the forecasts call for extreme conditions, ARES operators have now proven we can be a true asset for our served partner agencies. — Ohio Section Emergency Coordinator Stan Broadway, N8BHL



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