Centralia ARES Training In April 2018 QST

April 2018 QST

If you are a current ARRL member, you probably received your April 2018 issue of QST by now.  Included in this month’s issue is an article in the Public Service section, written by EC Bob Willey, about our August helicopter landing zone training exercise.  In fact, if you participated in that exercise, you are probably in the group photo next the Airlift Northwest helicopter.

The article encourages ARES teams to train on helicopter landing zone operations and describes how Centralia ARES went about doing exactly that.  All too often, ARES teams seem to restrict their training and exercises to simple and somewhat boring radio operations.  In a community like Centralia, our ARES team supports the City of Centralia’s Emergency Management Team as well as the Centralia Police Department and Riverside Fire Authority.  While we may not conduct helicopter operations on a regular basis, training ahead of time to conduct those operations seems important and prudent.  As the article goes on to say, even if teams are never asked to set up a landing zone or talk a helicopter onto the ground, the training alone is valuable to team spirit and radio familiarization.

Our thanks to Airlift Northwest and Riverside Fire Authority for their help and support during the training exercise outlines in this article.  Thanks too, to the ARRL staff that did a great job.

March 19th ARES Training

Our March 19th ARES training was directed at our newer team members.  Over the past few months, we have benefited from several new members, the majority of which have Technician Class licenses.  We certainly appreciate the new blood within our group but each new member brings training challenges.  The PowerPoint presentation by EC Bob Willey this evening specifically covered our team’s formation following the devastating 2007 100-year flood event.  Pointing out that annual flooding incidents threaten our community each and every year, mistakes learned the hard way from previous floods have been the basis for our group’s formation and the foundation of our training.

Much of 2017’s ARES training was spent on shelter operations and medivac helicopter landing zone operations.  During an earlier flood incident, police and fire were forced to evacuate a local nursing home when rising waters in the middle of the night threatened the facility.  Approximately 30 residents, some in wheelchairs or bedridden, were evacuated before the flood waters stopped coming up.  Those evacuees were housed in a local school.  Red Cross was called but our need was immediate and before Red Cross could set up a shelter, the flood was over and the evacuees returned to their nursing home.  Since that time, Centralia ARES has asked several local churches to become short term emergency shelters should this type of event occur again.  2017’s training moved the team through how to evaluate a local church to be sure it can meet the needs of a 3-4 day flood event.  Training also included registering evacuees, establishing sleeping areas, eating areas, social areas and a separate communications area which allows the team direct contact with the Centralia EOC.  We developed a small communications trailer that can be placed outside a local church and which is able to provide detachable radio boxes that can be taken into the church.  With a small VHF antenna on the trailer, direct communications by repeater or simplex with the EOC is possible.  While church members are responsible for the largest part of any shelter operations, the ARES team is trained to quickly establish the shelter and shelter comms, then man the shelter until such time as church membership can take over.  Once that happens, only a small communications team need stay.

Last night’s training also talked about our served agencies, Centralia’s emergency management system as well as the police department and Riverside Fire Authority.  As we strive to provide support to these first responders, we practice and train for everything from lost child searches to helicopter landing procedures for medivac purposes.  Within a small community, the first responder numbers are also small.  Faced with a major flood or disaster, they will need all the support they can find.  We train to be ready to fill that need.  We will certainly be ready for “when all else fails”, but until needed for that purpose we want to be able to support our community in every way possible.

Interoperabillity Training Exercise

Micah Goo, discussing the Washington State Guard ARES Mission.

Thirty six hams – a mixture of Washington State Guard, Thurston County ARES, Yelm Amateur Radio Group, Lacey ARES and Centralia Amateur Radio Emergency Service team members –  gathered today at the Mt. View Baptist Church in Centralia for our very first Interoperability Training Exercise.  Hosted by Centralia ARES, this was an opportunity to meet and get to know hams from our neighboring county who could be called on to provide manpower assistance after a disaster.

Today’s training centered around Centralia’s use of local churches as short term shelters and about the team’s use of mobile communications vans.  After a PowerPoint presentation on why local churches might be a viable option for shelters, the group toured Mt. View Baptist Church with Pastor Bill Knepper, N7GWK, and then met to discuss how the church would fair as a shelter.  Discussions involved reception areas, cooking facilities, sleeping spaces and communications placement among other topics.  One by one, the group discussed options and solutions coming away with a positive evaluation of the facility.

36 hams from across the region at the first Interoperability Exercise

The second half of today’s presentation was another PowerPoint covering Centralia’s use of mobile communications vans.  EC Bob Willey led the group through the history of active flooding within the region and talked about our use of mobile communications vans as everything from information distribution hubs to mobile EOC operations.  After explaining how the team acquired our vehicles and how they were outfitted, we ended the day with a detailed tour of Comm II, our main communications vehicle.

Pastor Bill Knepper, N7GWK, leads the assessment team on a tour of Mt. View Baptist Church.

What a great experience it was to have so many hams from different agencies and to be able to talk about our successes and failures.  We thank the Washington State Guard, Thurston County ARES, Yelm Amateur Radio Group, Lacey ARES and of course our own amazing Centralia volunteers who did it all today.  I hope this is just the start of a great multi-agency partnership.

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