May 21st Communications Van Orientation

Comm I, CPD/RFA Command Vehicle

At last evening’s ARES training, the team conducted an orientation on three of our communications vehicles.  These included Comm I, the Centralia Police Department’s Command vehicle.  Comm I is a large vehicle, separated into four office cubicles each with its own computer and radios.  With a large, hydraulic lift platform on the rear of the vehicle it is even wheelchair accessible.  This type of vehicle is used by Centralia Police and Riverside Fire Authority for on scene command and control of large scale fires, officer involved shootings, hostage negotiations or even bank robberies in progress.  It is equipped with amateur radio and law/fire radios.  Centralia ARES is often asked to deploy Comm I to parades and special events and we use it each year as part of our Field Day event.

Comm II, Centralia ARES Van

Comm II, is one of two Amateur Radio Emergency Service communications vans.  This vehicle is much smaller than Comm I and easily deployable by any team member.  The vans contain multiple communications systems including, several dual band vhf/uhf radios, HF and digital availability, law/fire radios, HT’s, and a Citizen’s Band radio.  There are currently 23 systems on board Comm II that each team member should be familiar with so regular orientation if important.  With several alternate power systems such as shore power, large internal storage batteries, generators and the normal vehicle power, these vans can be used in almost any disaster response role.

Comm IV, tow behind small communications trailer for shelter deployment

Comm IV is a small, tow behind, communications trailer specifically designed to provide “drop off” communications to emergency shelter locations such as a local church.  The vehicle has on board generators and a solar system and can be also run off shore power.  Containing an HF radio, Vhf/Uhf dual bands, a fire/law radio and a “radio in a box” that can be removed from the trailer and taken into a shelter, this small trailer is packed with disaster communications equipment.

When the team finished its orientation of the communications vehicles, we worked through a PowerPoint presentation on communications failure possibilities at the local level.  What happens if the Emergency Operations Center, currently housed in a two story brick building built in 1921, collapses?  What’s the back up plan when the backup generators fail?  How does Centralia ARES best use its communications equipment to meet the mission?  Finally, is it possible for us as a team to fail?  Lack of training, lack of preparation and inability to think outside of the box after a disaster can easily make any amateur radio operator part of the problem and not part of the solution.

We were happy to welcome new team member Jay Boiselle, KI7WLI, and prospective team member John Villarreal, KI7YEF, to the training last evening.  Hopefully we will hear more from them in the near future.

ARES Participates In Centralia Police Department Open House

Part of the vehicle display for the CPD Open House

Saturday, May 19th was a busy day for the Centralia Police Department as they opened the doors to their downtown facility and invited the public to come on in.  Centralia Amateur Radio Emergency Service was also asked to be a part of the event so at 9am Saturday Comm I, the large Centralia Police Department and Riverside Fire Authority command van, and our own ARES Comm III rolled out of the Cooks Hill Fire Station and headed for the event location.  On display throughout the day were a Riverside Fire engine and safety display trailer, a large former military armored vehicle now used by the police department, a patrol car, police motorcycle, and the two communication vehicles.  After a little time jockeying vehicles around in the narrow confines of Maple Street, everything finally found its own display location.  Chuck, W5KAV, Skip, K1HEK, Frank, KF7RSI, Paul, KE7PCB, John, AD6KT, Bill, N7GWK, and Kevin, KI7KKS all helped with the vehicle display, giving tours of the vehicles  to adults and kids as they arrived.

SWAT takedown

Centralia ARES’ second assignment, handled by Lyle, KB7PI and Bob, KD7OWN, was to oversee tours of the Emergency Operations Center and talk about its purpose to groups as they worked their way through the building.  With the amateur radio station located in the Emergency Operations Center, it was the perfect venue to talk about emergency communications.

Throughout the day, those attending the event were treated to hotdogs and other goodies while they watched a K-9 demonstration by Centralia Police Officer Ruben Ramirez along with his amazingly talented dog Pax, and an up close and realistic SWAT take down and arrest involving a very loud diversionary device, better known as a “Flash Bang”.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the open house event.  A great day to share with the Centralia Police Department and a fun day for Amateur Radio Emergency Service team members.

May 18th: 38th Anniversary of the Mt. St. Helens Eruption

May 18th is the 38 year anniversary of the Mt. St. Helens eruption. For those of us that lived and worked here, it was an amazing time. For some, when Mt. St. Helens erupted at 8:32am, time had run out.

Did you know that in addition to Dr. Dave Johnston who worked for the USGS – Johnston Ridge is named for him – there were also two ham radio operators on the mountain and lost their lives that morning? On a ridge two miles behind Dr. Johnston, Jerry Martin, W6TQF was also sitting watching the mountain for the Washington State Emergency Services. Jerry was a ARES/RACES officer and the state had asked for amateur radio volunteers. Also present on the mountain was Reid Blackburn, KA7AMF. Jerry and Reid went into the field to help the U.S. Geological Service and the National Geographic Society set up remote cameras in order to make scientific observations.

On May 18, 1980, Sunday, 8:32am, Mt. St. Helens erupted. Jerry was at his post 10 miles from the volcano using the tactical callsign “Coldwater 2”. He radioed in the emergency that the volcano had erupted. Jerry witnessed the devastation overwhelm Dave Johnston’s position and quickly radioed in the information. Jerry’s last words were “Gentlemen, the camper and car sitting to the south of me is covered. It’s gonna get me too. I can’t get out of here.” There was probably more but Jerry’s radio went dead at that moment.

Reid was a few miles closer to Mt. St. Helens than Jerry. No signal was ever received from him. Later that afternoon a helicopter found his car burning in several feet of smoldering volcanic ash. It was not safe to recover his body for three days.

With Jerry and Reid’s death, however, hams were not done. Dr. Johnston’s famous last words “Vancouver, Vancouver… This is it!” were never heard in Vancouver. Instead a ham radio operator monitoring the frequency recorded those last words. By the end of the operations hams had passed over 3,000 messages.

We do not normally think of ham radio as something one can die from. Jerry and Reid made the ultimate sacrifice by using ham radio to help. Let’s remember Jerry and Reid as we also remember the others who were lost when Mt. St. Helens erupted that day 38 years ago.