January Comm Van Orientation and Certification Training

External HF antenna checks

The Centralia ARES team maintains and operates two mobile communication vans.  The vans are maintained, fueled, insured and repaired when needed, by the Centralia Police Department.  Several years ago, the ARES team received the vans as empty shells and team members turned them into the best communication vans in the region by far.

January is the month we dedicate to making sure each and every team member not only knows how to safely drive the vans but, just as importantly, knows how to operate and use every radio and piece of equipment inside and outside as well.  This includes light switches, power systems, VHF, UHF, HF, Police, Fire and even CB radios.  Items used less often such as the helicopter landing zone kit, the backup antenna systems and even the anemometers are also important. Crime scene tape, equipment manuals, map books and field resource manuals, often tucked away, must be checked.  Centralia ARES uses three different power sources to operate the vans in the field – shore power, generators and an on-board battery system – and every team member must know

Radios and switches orientation

how to operate these systems.

While the communication vans are easy to drive, we prepare our volunteers to respond to the fire department where the equipment is stored, and know how to enter the building, check and start the vans, raise the bay doors and safely transport the vans to where they are needed.  Even when training or a real situation has concluded, the vans must be returned to the station and backed into their parking spaces safely and January is the month to perform this training.

Thankfully, both communication vans are almost identical and a couple of hours of refresher training is all that is needed.  This training becomes vital in an emergency.  In December, when activated for an evidence search after an ATM bombing at a local bank early on a Sunday morning, our Emergency Coordinator, while scrambling to initiate a deployment message, reached out to a team member and asked him to take the necessary equipment, including a communications van, to the scene.  His only question was “what equipment do you need and where do you want it?”.  Within minutes, he had one of our comm vans on scene and up and running.  THAT is why we train.



STARLINK Supports ARES Flood Response

STARLINK satellite dish atop Paul Barwick’s Chevy Bolt next to Comm II

Most folks who sign up for Elon Musk’s STARLINK satellite system use it to provide reliable internet to their homes, especially in areas not otherwise reachable by traditional internet providers.  Friday, January 7th, the Centralia Amateur Radio Emergency Service team found another use for this service as flood waters engulfed the region cutting off transportation routes and closing Interstate 5 along a 20-mile stretch.  With the complete system  easily transportable and quickly deployable, team member Paul Barwick, KE7PCB, had the equipment running in his Chevy Bolt and the satellite dish mounted on the car’s roof in close to five minutes.  With this setup parked next to our communications van at Riverside Fire Station #5, team members were able to monitor sites reporting water levels and road closures throughout the area, as well as passing messages via email and monitoring satellite TV stations for news reports and weather forecasts.  The system worked flawlessly throughout the entire day and greatly enhanced our team’s situational awareness capabilities.  Between heavy snowfall throughout our area, closing all passes over the Cascades and major flooding as well, I have a feeling we may be using this system more than once this season.

Centralia ARES Responds To Major Flooding

Interstate 5 threatened by flood waters

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service team has, over the years, been involved with several major flood events in Lewis County.  Each one is different.  There have been some “100-year floods” and many, many lesser floods – all needing attention in one form or another from the Centralia Emergency Management.

The waters that visited our community January 6-8th, were different yet again.  While Centralia has three waterways that can and do flood – the Chehalis River, the Skookumchuck River and China Creek – it is usually the Chehalis River that causes the most problems.  This time it was the Skookumchuck that grew from a Western Washington snow event and a river of rain that visited the area.  Once the flooding began, it grew quickly into a very dangerous situation.  The Skookumchuck River is held in its riverbanks by levies on both sides of the river.  In normal years, this holds flood waters and safely moves them through the city.  The flood waters of 2022 were so large they threatened to burst the levies.

Thursday afternoon, January 6th, localized flooding caused the city to place sandbag stations out for business and homeowners.  By early evening, most of the downtown streets were flooding and the street department was trying to stay ahead by placing cones and barricades to keep motorists out of the deep water.  By 8pm, the Centralia emergency management had opened and staffed the Emergency Operations Center.  Late in the evening, well after dark, the threat of a levy break forced the city to issue voluntary evacuation notifications.  While most people stayed in their homes, the threat was very real.  By Friday morning, widespread flooding caused the closure of Interstate 5.  Interstate traffic came to a halt as any and all secondary roads around flooded areas were also closed.  This also forced many motorists into the smaller communities where they were confronted with closed streets and water over the roadways.  Centralia ARES worked from Thursday night to Friday evening in the EOC working both amateur radio and law enforcement comms.  Our communications vans were activated as well, using one for command and control for our ARES volunteers and the other for barricade duty and traffic control.  Thankfully, our wonderful ARES volunteers were there to help as well directing motorists around localized flood issues and monitoring river levels around the community.  By Friday afternoon, the waters began to recede and Interstate 5 was reopened.  Our ARES team was able to stand down.  It is never a question “if” flooding will occur each year.  Instead, it is a question of “how bad” will it be.  By late October, our ARES team is training for flood issues.  Large or small, our volunteers are there to assist our community.  Thanks to all the volunteers that answered the call.