Lessons Learned From Training Exercises

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.

Repeaters 101 Class

Scott Dakers, W7SGD

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

Viewing one of the portable repeaters

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.

Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade

ARES Comm II On Station

Who wants to come out on a cold, dark December evening and stand around for two hours or more watching some vehicles – of which only a few are actually tractors – covered in Christmas lights drive down the street?  Well, apparently everyone in and around beautiful, historic downtown Centralia does!  The Centralia Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade has been around for a few years now and it just gets bigger and bigger every year.  The number of parade entries last year was around 56 but this year it topped 90.

And this isn’t one of those quiet parade.  Oh, no, its a Christmas party on wheels with singing, bands playing, Christmas music on every float and dancing in the streets.  Yup, when it comes to a lighted tractor parade, we know how to party!  This year Centralia ARES had 10 volunteers and two communications vans working the parade.  CPD had 9 officers,sergeants, and two command staff doing walking patrols, on bicycles or in patrol cars.  Riverside Fire Chief Mike Kytta redirected a couple of his aid crews around the parade route and had his small, quick response vehicle in the downtown area as well.

With 10 volunteers, the ARES team was spread out to cover about every other intersection.  The first intersection required two volunteers and two police officers working crowd control to keep the kids back and out from under the floats but even that wasn’t enough.  One ARES communications van held the net control and the other van, set up on the

One of 90+ parade entries

far side of the parade monitored a safety channel just in case one of the volunteers needed help.  We were also responsible for delivering and setting up the police department’s communication and command van.  This year, however, it was never used as the Sergeant Patty Finch, the officer in charge of the parade, spent much of her time monitoring the event from inside our ARES van as we had a nice heater going.  Unfortunately for her, when things started to get hectic, out she went into the cold.

Thankfully, just as planned, the parade ended without any major problems or incidents.  It was evident that everyone had a good time.  By 9pm, Centralia ARES had all the vans back in their facilities and all team members accounted for and

Pollice Chief Carl Nielsen

heading home.  Centralia holds two major parades each year, the other being the July 4th Summerfest parade but for us, the Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade is the most fun.  From the looks of it, all those folks standing out in the cold appreciated it as well.  Must be the Christmas season.