Every one of our ARES team members owns one or more, often many more, amateur radios. When you attend training or exercises, we assume you always come prepared to use your personal radios but that may not be enough. During our last exercise we needed to use our HF radio systems and our digital systems to talk with the State Emergency Operations Center. Unfortunately, most arrived with only VHF radio capability, usually a mobile radio in their personal vehicles.
With only one ARES communications van deployed and one team member available with mobile HF capability, this severely limited our ability to perform the mission To make matters worse, the only team member with HF capability was soon attached to the van cutting our HF capabilities in half. With the added assignment to quickly set up a helicopter landing zone, requiring our van which carried the LZ equipment, our ability to do both HF contacts with the State EOC AND deal with landing zone preparations created more than we could handle. Thankfully, we had one team member at his home with both HF and digital capabilities who could assist.
While our team does a great job of prioritizing mission needs in our training scenarios, we need to maximize our communications capability among each and every team member. With the vast majority of our ARES personnel either Extra or General class hams, meeting the licensing requirements for HF work is not a problem. For some, adding HF to their vehicles is a cash flow issue, while others struggle with installing HF equipment in their vehicles and making it all work. Still, even one or two additional mobiles with HF capability greatly expands our capabilities.
Have you been thinking of adding an HF radio to your vehicle? Every additional HF radio available on scene during a disaster or even an exercise makes a huge difference in what we can accomplish. The team has several knowledgeable people capable of helping you install and set up a multi-functional communications system. Even if adding an HF radio to your vehicle is not possible at this time, there are other options. Take the time to learn about how to operate the HF (and digital) systems in both Comm Vans. The option of taking you out of your own car that has only VHF capability and placing you in the vans as a primary HF operator is significant. As ARRL Chief Executive Officer Howard Michel reported in this month’s QST magazine, “Hobbies are undertaken in one’s leisure time for pleasure. Services activities (ARES) helps someone else”. Being an Amateur Radio Emergency Service team member means stepping up your game. Have you done everything possible to maximize your ability to serve our community and our first responders?
Our Centralia Amateur Radio Emergency Service team conducts field exercises about five or six times each year. It is always interesting to see where we do well and to discover those areas where more training is required. We would probably do more field exercises but each one we do seems to lead to lots of indoor training trying to perfect our skills. No exercise is 100% successful but they are never a complete failure either, and I like that.
Our most recent field exercise, held the last weekend in December, was designed around an “almost” real disaster. On a winter Saturday morning, a two inch gas pipe ruptured. In our exercise, it also caused an explosion knocking out communications systems and the power grid. It also damaged our city Emergency Operations Center. Only two weeks before, a real gas pipe ruptured in the downtown area causing evacuations before the system was shut down. No fire or explosion but the threat was very real. This is one busy scenario. The ARES deployment notification went out, a net control was established and command & control was set up inside the main Riverside Fire Authority building. We deployed one of our two ARES comm vans as well and requested they attempt to set up HF communications with the Washington State EOC.
Over the next couple of hours, the team was asked to perform windshield surveys to determine the scope of the power and communications outages. We also began the process of setting up our church emergency evacuation shelter and one medivac helicopter landing zone near the disaster site. After about three hours, we stopped the exercise and held a short debrief.
One valuable lesson all first responders learn is to determine priorities in any major event. Find the most serious problem facing you and deal with it first. Everything else is also prioritized and manpower is assigned as available. In a major disaster, there are never enough people to go around and some assignments must be handled later if at all. This bothers first responders and volunteers. We want to help. We want to do it all.
At our next regular training date, the team received a PowerPoint presentation about setting priorities. As I looked across the room, I realized this was the first time many of our ARES volunteers had been asked to set priorities during a disaster, and I also realized I had failed to correctly train them how to set these same priorities. In the weeks to come, we will fix the problem as best we can and move on. As I said earlier, I like training exercises that show where we need improvement. We will be better prepared for the next exercise… or the next real disaster.
The days of sitting for your amateur radio license in front of a FCC examiner are long gone and most would agree that is a good thing. The method currently used seems to produce more new hams with the least number of study hours. Unfortunately, that isn’t the whole picture. Those of us who spent weeks if not months attending a licensing class in the past often feel we were better prepared after receiving that all important license.
After a recent and successful licensing class sponsored by the Chehalis Valley Amateur Radio Society, we thought we would try something different and initiated a basic “Repeater 101” presentation at our Ham Lab. Our idea was to take questions from those who had been recently licensed and determine where they felt they needed more in depth training. We began wit the Repeater 101 class because almost all new hams have their first experiences on a local repeater. While they quickly understand how to use a repeater, they often don’t
know how a repeater functions. Scott Dakers, W7SGD, a Centralia ARES team member and the Radio Room Manager at the Washington State EOC gave the class and targeted the repeater ‘s basic parts and how these parts come together to create a repeater. He also explained how propagation works and gave some fun ideas on what other ways an HT can be used. Scott brought two different portable VHF repeaters for “show and tell” which really helped as those present could physically put their finger on each part and ask questions.
This didn’t turn out to be a giant class but there were hams there from three different local groups which was nice to see. One difficulty for us is targeting the local Fire Hams – those Riverside Fire personnel who are also amateur radio operators but who hold their regular drill night on the same nights we train. Working to find the best training day for both groups could be difficult but is important. The Repeater 101 class was but a small attempt to educate our local ham population on the basics that are sometimes passed by when working toward their licenses but we hope it helps as many as possible to have a better understanding of our fascinating hobby.
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Centralia Emergency Operations Center Callsign: K7CEM
Contact information: EC Bob Willey at firstname.lastname@example.org