Code Oscillator gifted to the CW Class

Our CW code class has been hard at work sorting out the “dits” from the “dahs” but we’re having fun.  The group met for the first time October 24th.  Using the Gordon West instructional CD’s we’ve begun the long process of learning all those letters, numbers and punctuation.

Now, down the road almost two weeks, I’m sure many are sick and tired of those practice CD’s.  Still, the Gordon West system is a fun and easy way to learn the code and working together as a class is an easier way to learn than by yourself.  At last night’s ARES training, team member and advisor Lyle Olmsted, KB7PI, gifted our code class with a sweet little MFJ-557 straight key code oscillator and speaker system.  This practice key will allow the group to put the code into practice so we can hear each and every mistake and success.  Learning the code by listening to instruction CD’s is only half the battle.  You can’t use the Morse Code unless you can both receive and send it.  Many of our group don’t currently have a way to practice sending the code so this gift will be fun to have.

Thanks to Lyle for his generous gift.

CW Classes Begin!

At last evening’s first Morse Code class, the question was asked: since the requirement to know CW in order to get your amateur radio license was cancelled in February 2007, why are you here?  Many said they had always wanted to learn code but just hadn’t had the opportunity or hadn’t taken the time to learn it.  For several years in a row at our annual Field Day, we all have watched Code Master Merle Olmsted rack up the numbers and several of the ARES team members said watching Merle was the inspiration to learn CW.  Whatever the reason, eleven Centralia ARES team members sat down last evening ready to begin an eight week Morse Code course.

They come from all levels of amateur radio.  The youngest, Andrew, is 12 years old and attending with his dad.  The oldest is… well, much older than Andrew but the desire to learn is still there.  A few have tried CW before and are trying to learn it again, hoping for better results this time.  The rest fall somewhere in between.

Last night’s class included a demonstration of the basic CW keys – straight key, bug and paddles.  We discussed ways to make the learning easier, how to practice, and some of the obstacles they will find along the way. Each session will include a review of the previous week’s code, general information about the world of CW, and the next set of letters.  We are using the Gordon West Morse Code learning course.  He makes the learning fun and enjoyable.

Learning the Morse Code is not for sissies.  It takes commitment and dedication and the journey is a personal one, but for those who stick with it and come out the other side, the joy of carrying on a CW conversation with another ham is magical.  So get ready world, we’re about to invade the airways with some brand new code operators!

Earthquake Disaster Field Exercise

It was 56 degrees, 11 mph winds and raining hard but two weeks after our ARES team designed a 6.0 earthquake it was time to put this disaster into play.  Since we do these types of exercises fairly often, we tend to use one of our two hour training nights rather than a full day scenario.  Not much time to get everything done, but it just makes us work faster.  10 minutes into the evening everyone had their scenario, action plan, safety briefing, tactical call signs, radio frequencies and assignments so out the door we went.

In this exercise, our Emergency Operations Center and much of the downtown area sustained damage, so command and control transferred to the Riverside Fire Authorities Emergency Coordination Center across town.  Power was out in some, but not all of the area.  A 48 car train carrying crude oil managed to stop when the earthquake hit, but two cars came off the tracks and tipped over.  The train cut the community in half.  Team members had to look up the emergency response guide placard “1267” and take precautions accordingly.  A fairly large portion of the area near the train derailment needed to evacuate so two of the team mapped out multiple evacuation routes.  A mutual aid request from the county sent us to the small town of Galvin and windshield surveys became widespread.  Creating a little “havoc” of our own, several team members made up insert scenarios ranging from traffic accidents, to fires to possible overpass failures.  On top of everything else, we had our communications vans spread out and were working on some HF radio tests using 6 and 10 meter ground wave.  It was a fun evening’s work keeping net control very busy.

There is no such thing as a “perfect” disaster exercise – at least for our team – but this one was close to perfect.  We need to slow down and control our communications – something we should be good at already.  It is difficult to always remember to say “exercise, exercise, exercise” but thankfully, net control did a great job of doing that.  We didn’t have quite enough people to get everything done that we had planned but what we did get done was completed safely and correctly.  We only train in the fire department’s ECC a couple of times per year but it is a beautiful facility with lots of maps and radio equipment.  It was a good learning experience for our net control and evacuation planners.

So what’s next?  We will debrief this exercise at our next meeting and fix a few bugs we found in one of the communications vans.  We hope to turn right around and design a flood disaster scenario since flood season is here in our area.  Maybe it is time to see how well one or more of the Assistant Emergency Coordinators can design a disaster scenario.  Hmmm……..