Today we spent some time at the Cooks Hill Fire Station conducting team orientation on our Amateur Radio Emergency Service communications vans. These are complicated vehicles and we just want to be sure everyone is familiar with them – inside and out. It starts with knowing where the vehicles are stored and how to get into the fire station. Everyone must know how to open the garage bay doors, unplug from shore power and operate the vehicle.
Once inside the communications van, it becomes much more complicated as the vehicle is filled with multiple VHF, UHF, and HF radios. If its not the same radio you have in your personal vehicle, there is always going to be a learning curve when it comes to operating different radios. Add the high frequency radios and it gets much more complicated. But that’s not all that is in the vans. There is a CB radio, scanner, police and fire radios (mobile and HTs) and computers. There are backup antenna systems, lighting for a rural helicopter landing zone, maps, tools and even survival equipment.
So why do we have all this stuff? If our team members have a mobile radio in their vehicles and perhaps an HT as a
backup, isn’t that enough? The answer is “I don’t know”, and that’s the problem. An Amateur Radio Emergency Response is a funny thing. Months or even years may go by without anyone needing our special talents. Unfortunately, “our special talents” are most helpful after catastrophic events such as a devastating earthquake. Can we be of use if we only have an HT or a mobile radio? Can we be more helpful with a complete communications van? Only if you know how to use all the equipment in the van. It would be silly for a fire truck to leave the station without the fire hoses. It would be even worse if the fireman had the truck, the hoses and water but didn’t know how to use them to put out the fire.
When thinking about flexibility within our own community, these vans with all their equipment become even more important. Our city’s Emergency Operations Center is located on the second floor of a brick building built in the early 20th century. While it has been structurally improved, no one knows if it will remain standing after a large earthquake. Our area has experienced several 100 year flood events. These floods can and do cut our community into sections when the rivers and creeks swell and overflow their banks. The city has designated four “Emergency Response Divisions” – basically areas that become islands when large floods occur. The plan is to place emergency response equipment, including mobile communication vans, in these areas before a flood occurs. With the equipment in place, first responders can respond to help neighborhoods even if cut off from the rest of the community. Who operates these communication vans? Yup, amateur radio operators.
Our Amateur Radio Emergency Service team has spent years creating a small fleet of communications vehicles. We’re proud of them and they certainly look professional but the real test comes when they are needed after an disaster or during a flood. Can we use all that equipment to do the job we are asked to do? That takes training and commitment and that’s the reason for today’s orientation. You know what they say…. “Amateur Radio is a hobby… Amateur Radio Emergency Service is a commitment”.