Operation Propagation

Washington Park in downtown Centralia

Centralia is located in the northern part of Lewis County, Washington.  Other than the I-5 corridor that runs through our community, the terrain is never flat.  Four hundred foot hills covered in large fir trees radiate in every direction.  When roads were laid more than a century ago, those constructing the roads looked for the natural ravines between the hills.  Around here, roads were not built on the hilltops instead opting for the easier construction sites found near the creeks and rivers that occupy most if not all the valleys in the area.

Over a decade ago, we installed our K7CEM repeater at a Riverside Fire Station on top of Cooks Hill.  Examining a propagation map of the site showed a beautiful 360 degree circle out around the repeater.  As we have learned since that time however is that propagation at ground level in and among the valleys and ravines that surround Centralia is not that simple or easy.  Transmitting from one of the country roads in our service area means about 50% copy depending where you are at at the time you press the tx button.  Basically, in many cases, it depends on your location along that road.  Hit and miss just isn’t good enough so this fall we set out to map, as exactly as possible, where we could and could not be heard along the 15-20 roads disappearing out into the country.

First, we designed a field exercise sending team members out in every direction and asking them to transmit from identifiable locations such as intersections and small, adjoining communities.  This gave us a baseline to begin filling out propagation map.  The shape certainly was not a perfect circle.  It was more like a large “K” shape. Hmmmm..

Next we came up with a different and fun way to do our propagation tests.  We call it “Operation Propagation”.  We identified 19 state, county and city parks within Centralia, Chehalis and the adjoining County area.  We added three historical markers and two volunteer fire stations to round out the list.  We then made it into a contest.  Check into one or both of our two repeaters and contact another ARES team member and you get between one and four points.  One point for the each repeater on your mobile rig and one point for each repeater on your HT.  Make all four contacts and you get four points.  By logging this information, we get some great propagation data which is then inserted into the map.  To make it more fun, if you make a contact with our Emergency Coordinator, you will receive a special one of a kind Operation Propagation QSL card in the mail.  Make even one contact and you receive a certificate.  Special endorsements include making at least one contact on your HT, making contacts while bicycle mobile, contacts on multiple repeaters and finally a park to park contact will also get you an endorsement as well.

Operation Propagation will run through the end of the year.  When 2021 rolls around we will declare some winners and issue the certificates.  Win or lose, this contest brings accurate data to our propagation map.  It requires team members to locate each park, historical marker or fire station helping them become more familiar with their response area and has generated a large increase in the use of our repeaters as we chat back and forth while travelling to the different sites.  I think our propagation map will be substantially more accurate when 2020 closes.  Look for a report on the results in January.

Happy Thanksgiving

Amid all the issues that Covid-19 has brought to our Amateur Radio Emergency Service family this year, we continue to be grateful for all we have.  While our meetings have become Zoom meetings, we have been able to conduct several field exercises where everyone stays in their own vehicle.  Our Monday and Thursday coffee meetings were closed down last week as Washington State clamped down on inside restaurant use and it is just too cold to be outdoors even with a warm cup of coffee so we will be switching to a Monday morning Zoom “coffee meeting” as well.

Until the world works its way back to some form of normalcy, we will continue to do what we can to support our served agencies and to remain a ready source for emergency communications.  Thank you to our volunteers and supporters for all they do.  You are amazing people!

Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.

Missing Person Search

Incident Commander Sergeant Croy

On the morning of July7th, the ARES team was contacted by Centralia Police Department and asked to assist them and Riverside Fire Authority in a ground search & communications link for a missing 93 year old male.  The Alertsense call up notification was sent out and team members were asked to meet at a grange hall in north Centralia that was being used as a temporary command post.  As the team was assembling, we learned that our missing person was last seen the day before but had not returned home overnight.  Suffering from dementia and seizures and walking with a cane, the family was obviously very concerned for his safety.

Incident Commander, Sgt. Croy, brief everyone prior to beginning the search.  He then divided searchers into seven teams, each team comprised of a fire or police volunteer and one ARES team member.  All teams were to use amateur radio to communicate with Incident Command.  Each team was given a residential area to search, going door to door, showing the photo of the missing person and asking permission to look through back yards and in outbuildings.  The ARES team set up one of our communication vans and acted as a “filter” between the search teams and Incident Command.  These kinds of searches contain lots of low level communications traffic that the Incident Commander simply doesn’t need to listen to.  He trusts that we will immediately pass along important information to him directly over the CPD radio frequencies.  As each team completed their assigned search area, they returned to the command post for a new search assignment.  This allowed each team to take a quick break, get some water and provided an opportunity for the Incident Commander to look them in the eye while giving them new search grids just to be sure they understood what was needed.   Several drones were put up to search nearby rivers and waterways but these were short term at best due to battery life and heavy rain.

Map briefing at Command Post

As with any missing person search, once the information and description was given to the public, the Incident Commander starts to receive “I saw him there” reports which all have to be checked out.  Search teams continued their assignments while patrol officers check on these reports.  As the day wore on, and all obvious areas to search were covered, the teams moved to search the most likely of the “I saw him there” reports but after by the time darkness arrived, our missing person still had not been found.  The Incident Commander debriefed all teams and thanked everyone  prior to being sent home around 10pm.

While a long day for our ARES team members, almost everything went right from our ARES point of view.  The notification system worked well and our response was very good.  The communications system worked well with only one hitch.  Originally placed in the grange hall with its metal roof, we were unable to send or receive good enough inside the building to perform our duties.  Once we brought in our own communications van, all worked well being outside and using 50 watts of power.  Our radios, being installed close together, allowed us to monitor the police frequencies, fire frequencies as well as amateur radio.  This made receiving a report via amateur radio and passing it along to the Incident Commander quick and easy.  Inside the van, we used a radio operator, while another ham continuously logged the status of search teams  and still had room for our ARES coordinator.

Inside the ARES Comm Van

This was our first opportunity in several years to be a part of a missing person search.  While a tremendous burden on the family, it allowed our ARES team to test out what we have trained for.  Once in place, our ARES communications system worked flawlessly and it is always a pleasure to work with our served agencies.