April 17th Training Exercise – Review

The registration team at work

During planning for the April 17th Disaster Shelter training exercise, we decided to throw in some much needed “realism”.  We did this for three reasons.  First was to allow the team to experience the “total scenario package”.  A disaster shelter isn’t just communications.  It also involves dealing with shelter clients, health & welfare messages, and even minor medical emergencies. We also wanted to introduce some “confusion and disorder” into the drill.  Finally, we wanted to ramp up the amount of communicators coming into and going out of the shelter.

Several team members were designated as a “registration team”.  Their job was to greet the shelter clients as they came in, register them, and give them a tour of the eating and sleeping areas, the bathrooms and the informal gathering spaces.  Our church sponsor, Pastor Bill, arranged for several church members to act the part of shelter clients and they really did a great job.

Next was the health & welfare message team.  These hams met with the shelter clients who wanted to send out H&W messages and helped to formulate the message onto the ARRL Radiogram form.  Once it was ready, they moved it on to the communications team.

Happy “Shelter Client” getting a Band-Aid

The communications team – containing a mix of newer hams and very experienced hams – were by far the busiest.  They had to set up a shelter communications system from our comms trailer equipment and make sure the external antennas worked.  This involved deciding not only where to place the trailer, but deciding on coax run and where inside the shelter might be the best location for the radios.  We wanted it near enough to the entrance to help monitor client intake but set back far enough to keep communications private.

Our Emergency Operations Center radio operator – placed for this exercise in our communications van out back in the parking lot – did a great job of keeping the comms team busy with simulated EOC to shelter traffic intermixed with health & welfare message traffic.

John and Paul working comms

In the middle of everything we threw in a couple of “unexpected scenarios” forcing the team to deal with dressing a minor cut on a shelter client’s hand from the first aid kits in their go-bags to helping a shelter client with breathing problems.

As always, we ended up with more questions than answers at the evening debriefing.  Many questions concerned shelter client information.  How much needs to be forwarded to the EOC, client confidentiality, and proper information logging.  We found that among the team groups, one would be busy while others sat idle for a few minutes.  We simply need to remind everyone a disaster shelter is a group effort.  When not busy with your primary assignment, help others accomplish theirs.  We clarified how and when to request trained medical staff for disaster client issues.  We might be able to apply a bandage but more serious issues require an aid car or ambulance.

This exercise lasted approximately 90 minutes.  A 30 minute debrief followed.  The comms team passed five formal messages and lots of tactical messages over multiple frequencies.  With more practice, we will all get faster with H&W messages but we must be sure to maintain accuracy and copy ability.

Our hard working “EOC Comms” coordinator

A special thanks go out to our volunteer shelter clients from the Mt. View Baptist Church.  These folks were great.  They played multiple parts – some bewildered and confused, some very upset and unhappy.  Everyone played their part perfectly.  I was very proud watching our registration team in particular, working quietly to calm the clients, recognizing those people would rather be somewhere else than a disaster shelter.

There were a couple of scenarios we simply didn’t get to exercise, but there will always be another time.  Good job everyone!

April 17th Training Exercise

Since January, the ARES team has (1) learned about our local Red Cross chapter volunteers and their shelter position in Lewis County, (2) evaluated two churches as potential shelters, (3) practiced creating ARRL Radiograms and ICS resource requests, (4) practiced setting up ARES comms in a shelter environment and (5) become familiar with the communications trailer, Comm III.

Our April 17th exercise will add some much needed realism to the overall emergency shelter picture.  The team will be dealing with “shelter clients” for the first time which will include getting them registered, answering questions and providing for their immediate care as necessary.  We will practice some of the more mundane  but none the less important chores such as ARES team scheduling to support the shelter 24 hours a day over a two or three day period and we will process initial resource requests and health and welfare message traffic.  As usual, there will be a few unexpected surprises as well.

To date, our practice communications between the shelter and the Emergency Operations Center have been short and mostly dealt with making sure the comms systems functioned correctly.  In an actual emergency or disaster, however, the radio traffic would be significant, sometimes confusing and would most likely expand over several designated frequencies.  This exercise will require a dedicated communications team working to monitor and handle a higher load of information to and from the EOC as well as from the field.

For this exercise, bring your HT and go-bags.  Be sure you have your field resource manual, writing materials and note taking paper.  An operations net will be established from the EOC at 6:00 pm and training will start at 6:30 pm.

Fire Department Amateur Radio Systems Testing

Riverside Fire hams and Centralia ARES team members will participate in another county wide test of the amateur radios installed in area fire departments.  On Saturday, April 29th from 9am – 10am, we will work with RFA hams to cover the Harrison Avenue fire station, the Lincoln Creek station and the downtown station.

During these tests, fire stations around the county that support amateur radio capabilities will check in, one at a time when called by net control.  In this way, stations can determine who they can hear and who they can’t hear for future reference.

This is an especially good opportunity for new team members to see and work the equipment located inside these fire stations and meet a few of the great Riverside Fire hams.  Bring paper and pens with you so you can log which stations across the county you could hear as we move through the roll call.  Be on site a few minutes before 9:00 am.  If you are interested in participating, let me know and I will assign you to a station.

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