Centralia ARES Communications Vehicles

All Three Communications Vehicles

The large Command Van, designated “Comm I” by the Amateur Radio Emergency Services team, is primarily used by police and fire as an on scene command vehicle when staff need a place out of the rain to conduct business.  It includes four independent seating areas with computer plug ins and law/fire radios.  One VHF amateur radio is located in the first seat by the printer.  This vehicle was a former tool truck converted with a drug seizure grant.

Communications Van “Comm I”

“Comm II” shown here with it tow behind trailer “Comm III”

The blue communications vehicle, designated “Comm II” is assigned to the Amateur Radio Emergency Services team.  It was a military flight line

equipment truck in a former life until ownership changed to the City of Centralia.  ARES volunteers spent their own money and time to convert the vehicle for emergency communications use.  Currently, it has more communications capability than any other vehicle in Lewis County.  Designed with three operating positions (plus two in the cab if needed), it carries VHF, UHF, HF, digital, Fire / Law radio systems and a CB radio.  Comm II is used as a primary command and control vehicle for the ARES team and could function, if necessary, as a mobile Emergency Operations Center (EOC) capable of establishing a communications link with the Washington State ECO at Camp Murray.

Comm III’s radio equipment box

The small communications trailer, designed “Comm III” was constructed by the ARES team.  A stand alone communications vehicle in its own right, this trailer has a full array of comms gear which includes UHF, VHF, HF and Law/fire radios.  Powered by shore power, battery, generator or solar systems, it was designed to provide emergency communications at a shelter or disaster scene.  A 10′ x 10′ tent provides shelter when necessary.  The vehicles communication box also contains a removable VHF/UHF radio system that can be taken into a shelter to establish a communications link with the Centralia Emergency Operations Center or the Riverside Fire Authority Emergency Coordination Center (ECC).

The City of Centralia, though small by many city standards, has experienced just about every disaster short of a full blown Tornado.  During floods and after a large earthquake, the community may become four independent response areas as damaged bridges or demolished overpasses block normal transportation routes.  The three communications vehicles shown here, then become vital as independent “command and control” centers in isolated districts.


Field Testing Comm II’s HF Radio Systems

Untangling the Dipole Antenna

Tuesday was a very nice day in the Pacific Northwest considering it is still winter and snow blanketed the area only a week or so ago.  With the sun out and temps in the 50’s, the ARES team conducted field tests of Comm II, our communications van, to see how the HF radio system functions.

The vehicle was set up at the Centralia-Chehalis Airport on a large gravel area designed for parking aircraft when annual floods threaten the normal plane storage areas.  The airport represents an important disaster response location since any supplies or equipment coming into the region after a full scale disaster would most likely arrive at one of the two small airports located in Lewis County. The team has conducted several communications tests from the Centralia – Chehalis Airport to the Toledo Airport to be sure we can establish comms if necessary using both repeated and simplex frequencies.  Making sure we can effectively use the on board HF systems, as well, from the airport may become critical during a deployment.

Both antenna poles are up

Comm II carries two different wire type dipole antennas:  a G5RV and a CCD (Controlled Current Distribution) multi band antenna.  The van uses two different ways to erect these antennas as well.  Using a system of fiberglass military antenna sections, the G5RV had an overall height of about 25 feet whereas the CCD antenna was mounted on a 22 foot fiberglass extendable pole. Explaining antenna configuration and setting up the antenna systems was perhaps the best part of the morning as it allowed everyone to get plenty of “hands on” training in setting up the antennas properly.  Unfortunately, we had forgotten the antenna analyzer so could not demonstrate how to effectively check the antennas for SWR.

The HF radio assigned to Comm II is a Kenwood TS-440S which has a built in antenna tuner.  This system has been tested before and has always performed well even when running on generator power.  This time, however, we ran into difficulties with the radio which we will need to check out prior to rerunning the test.  We could hear our target station but could barely communicate. Bench tests should discover any problems and, if necessary, we can replace the radio for future tests.

Testing the HF radio system

The exercise covered a two and a half hour period and it was great to have the extra hands helping to disassemble and stow equipment.  Comm II was back in it’s bay at the fire station shortly after 1 pm.  As usual, any tests we conduct during exercises or field drills throw a few curves at us but we know it is better to find these issues while conducting a test rather than during a disaster.  We will streamline placement of equipment such as guy rope and stakes, store the dipoles differently perhaps and will figure out what issues are present with the radio before trying it all again.

As they say, “Amateur Radio is a hobby…. Amateur Radio Emergency Services is a commitment!”

A Peek Inside Merle Olmsted’s Ham Shack

Operating Position for AA4QE

Team adviser and Member At Large Merle Olmsted, AA4QE, has been kind enough to give us a peek into his home ham shack.  Set ups like this don’t happen overnight.  Years of accumulating equipment and lots of planning have gone into what you see here.  Items inside the shack include (from left):

DCU2 Antenna controller, satellite antenna controllers and computer.  On the upper desk shelf are an Icom 701 power supply, computer speakers, displays with computer interface underneath and a MFJ auto antenna tuner.  On the desk can be seen the Icom 701 HF radio, radio speaker, Kenwood TS-2000 HF radio, CW keys and an AL-80A Amplifier.

Merle’s back yard host a 40 foot Rohn 25 antenna supporting a Cushcraft A4s beam with a 40 meter add on plus a 6 meter dipole mounted on the driven element.  Also seen, lower to the ground, is a cross polarized yagi antenna for satellite work.  It isn’t all about a tower and beam either as Merle uses a simple G5RV HF wire antenna for much of his work.

Merle and Lyle working CW in Comm II

Lyle and Merle were licensed at Novices in 1955.  Their uncle was their Elmer and mentor. Merle now lives in Walton, Kentucky.  If you have been to our Field Day event in the last few years, you have probably seen Merle working the CW key.  He will often fly in to visit with Lyle and participate in our FD event as well.

As seen on the wall above Merle’s operating position, is his DXCC Honor Roll plaque.  There are 339 recognized DX entities in the world.  Merle has confirmed contacts by amateur radio with 334, needing only Scarborough Reef, Glorioso Island, Crozet Island, N. Korea and Syria to have worked them all.  Another award seen in the photo is his 5BWAS (worked all fifty states on five different bands).

Merle works all bands from 160 to 70 cm except for 222 Mhz and 60 meters using CW, Single Side Band (SSB), High Frequency (HF), AM, JT63, JT9, SSTV, PSK, RTTY, 2 meter FM and 6 meter FM and has accumulated 23 different operating awards.

Starting in the 1970’s he has also been interested in working satellites and now has several hundred contacts in the log and has the ARRL VUCC Satellite award with 170 confirmed maidenhead grids.

Many hams today feel amateur radio begins and ends with their Technician Class privileges.  The General and Extra class licenses are where amateur radio really gets fun.  Volunteer Examiner testing is done locally every month or two.  If you have the desire to expand your amateur radio horizons, check the cvars.org website for testing dates and start studying.  There is a whole world (and beyond) out there yet to contact.

My thanks to Merle Olmsted for the photos and information and, of course, for mentoring and advising our ARES team.  If you have a question, contact Merle at mlolmsted@twc.com.





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