May 7th Flood Disaster Field Training Exercise

Comm II being set up in the field

Celebrating the completion of our newest communication van, Comm III, the ARES team conducted a full scale flood disaster field exercise during our May 7th training night.  Centralia’s emergency response plan divides the community into four Emergency Response Divisions because, during heavy flood events, each emergency division can and often is cut off from support due to high water across roadways.  Placing a communication van in as many response divisions as possible assures a capable communications hub in those areas.

AEC Lyle Olmsted and visitor Jay Boiselle go over radio placement

We began the evening with a short orientation in the Centralia Emergency Operations Center (EOC) followed by a realistic situation report, safety briefing and assignments.  Other team leaders were busy placing our two communications vans being used this evening in response division #3 and #4.  AEC Bill Knepper, N7GWK, opened up our emergency shelter at the Mt. View Baptist Church as well.  Assignments sent team members to Comm II, Comm III or to Shelter #1.  Using the primary repeater, those going to either of the comm vans had to make contact with the van, receiving directions to wherever it was located.  Once on scene, each van and the shelter switched to separate simplex frequencies for operations.  Overseeing it all, the Emergency Operations Center remained active and on the air.

This was an evening to practice comm van operations and windshield survey work which was new to some of our recent team members.  Team members spread out into the smaller neighborhoods looking for windshield survey information which was then relayed back to the comm vans.  The more important items needing additional support were sent on to the EOC.

Plans called for a couple of surprise scenarios as well.  Shelter #1 was notified that the small neighboring community of Galvin was receiving the worst of the localized flooding and to expect four families who were evacuating.  In a related part of the scenario, teams were notified that Riverside Fire Authority was on the scene of a near drowning in the Galvin area and were requesting the ARES team to set up an emergency medical helicopter landing zone for immediate transport to a nearby hospital.  Within minutes, hams were on site of one of our predetermined landing zone sites and were setting up the 100 x 100 foot LZ complete with orange cones and flashing lights.

Skip Kingman, K1HEK, doing radio checks

At 8:15pm, we closed the exercise and went to the Mt. View Baptist Church for debriefing.  As the exercise was in the planning stages, we intentionally required the shelter to create a communications system so they could talk to the EOC but how they set up that system was up to them.  Those working the shelter arrived with only their HT’s (not allowed to use any mobile in their vehicles as the comms system had to be set up inside the shelter).  While the HT’s worked on the simplex frequencies, they were weak. No problem!  Micah, KF7GKZ, came prepared with a complete 50 watt radio and power supply in his go-bag.  Within minutes, they  had solid communications into the EOC.

Lyle goes over Emergency Response Division parameters with Skip Kingman. Visitor Jay Boiselle (right) listens in.

As always, we discovered some things that we could do better. For example, halfway through the event, we remembered we had headphones for the EOC which made the confusion less of a problem.  We need to adjust how we use the simplex frequencies to avoid confusion amid heavy radio traffic.  All in all, however, this exercise was another tremendous success.  While training nights sometimes require sitting in a classroom, by far our team enjoys a fast paced field exercise more.

This exercise brought a visitor as well.  Jay Boiselle, KI7WLI, stopped by to see what was going on.  A recent graduate of the Centralia Citizens Academy, Jay had heard our ARES presentation as part of the academy, upgraded his license, and came to play.  Hopefully, we will be able to talk him into becoming the newest Centralia ARES team member.

Thanks To TwinStar Credit Union

Major Funding Provided By TwinStar Credit Union

The team managed to get everything done on our newest communications van, Comm III, in order to take both vans to the April Communications Academy in Seattle but, as always seems the case, there is still more to do before it is ready for deployment so work continues.  One of the items we’ve looked forward to completing on this project is the placing of our sponsor decal and now it too can be checked off the list.

Several years ago, the Centralia Amateur Radio Emergency Service team built its first communications van using only volunteer time and volunteer money.  It was a slow process because we built and installed as funds allowed.  With our newest communications van project, we asked for financial help and found it in TwinStar Credit Union here in Centralia.  Jon Brein, the Branch Manager, listened to our needs and said he could help.  Amazingly, what was initially a request for $1,500 turned into TwinStar’s approval to fund the entire project.  Near Christmas, we were given a check for $6,350.

These last few months have been amazingly busy but we’ve had a wonderful time transforming a simple ex-military box van into a sophisticated all-purpose communications vehicle.  Next week, our newest van, along with our first van, will be deployed into the community on its first disaster communications exercise.  There are still a few things on the punch list to be completed but it is almost time to roll her out.

TwinStar Credit Union has been an amazing partner to work with.  They have been supportive and helpful with a “can do” attitude that makes things happen.  Our thanks, once again, go out to Jon Brein and the entire TwinStar Credit Union team for being so willing to help and support volunteer efforts in our community.

Shelter Evaluation At Cooks Hill Community Church

The ARES team walks through Cooks Hill Community Church during the evaluation process.

As part of our training exercise for this evening’s ARES session, the team performed an evaluation of the Cooks Hill Community Church as a possible emergency sheltering site after a local or regional disaster.  Many circumstances might result in the need to shelter local residents such as floods, fire, earthquake, natural gas leaks or even emergencies involving railroad equipment which travels daily through the downtown Centralia area.

Deciding which entrance to use and where to set up a communications team requires some discussion.

While other agencies are very good at providing more long term sheltering lasting several weeks, there simply is no system in place to house multiple victims, short term, lasting perhaps 24-36 hours.  Local churches, who often are willing to take on such work, have congregations and facilities capable of this support and can be set up and ready to take evacuees often within an hour or two.  The ARES team trains to support those churches with volunteers and, more importantly, communications back to an Emergency Operations Center or the police & fire first responders who may have requested the assistance.

When evaluating a church we have visited before, the team is tasked with walking through the facility looking for some specific areas such as the best entry and registration point for evacuees, sleeping and eating areas, a large meeting room where evacuees can be given information and where questions may be answered.  There needs to be room and services available for preparing food and a location is chosen where a communications system can be temporally set up.

After the walk through, the team takes time to talk through all the possible scenarios and is asked to come up with a shelter plan.  Tonight, we were hosted by the Cooks Hill Community Church.  We wish to thank Terry of the church staff, who patiently walked us through the building and took part in the shelter planning process.  We never know if a particular church might be used as a shelter but preparing ahead of time for that possibility is wise and provides a great training exercise as well.

1 2 3 4 5 6 74