In our county in Western Washington everything is green as spring has arrived in full force, yet the Lewis County Fire Marshal has enacted an outdoor burning ban for all of unincorporated Lewis County, after a week of higher than normal temperatures. We tend to think of Western Washington as humid and wet. Our “normal” fire danger period usually doesn’t raise its ugly head until August – and then for just a month or so. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to create a fire danger once a week or so of warm weather arrives.
Lucky for us, a rain pattern is predicted for later this week. Even so, the burn ban is expected to last until Friday, April 23rd. Please do your part to keep everyone safe. Burn bans are not issued lightly. Much thought goes into that decision prior to issuing it to the public. Let’s all help keep Washington Green!
Covid-19 has caused many changes within our ARES training program and while Zoom meetings keep us connected, it was time for a social distancing field exercise on Monday, January 18th. The exercise scenario was created around the Christmas Day Nashville, Tennessee bombing which destroyed an AT&T exchange. Could an incident like that happen here?
The build up to the exercise began with deconstructing the actual event. The real incident was a powerful bomb placed in an RV in downtown Nashville. An audible warning coming from the RV gave police time to evacuate most of the homeless and apartment dwellers before the explosion, but the devastation caused by the explosion scattered debris and evidence all over the area. While we certainly were not going to recreate the bombing, we were going to practice the ARES response. Both the Police Chief and Fire Chief were contacted as we explained our plan. Both summarized what their real response would be like. In our scenario, the explosion would go off at noon in the downtown area next to a small telephone exchange. We consulted an ATF chart and computed the total blast area as well as the minimum evacuation distances.
The ARES response would include: help in setting up an exclusionary zone using barricades, cones and/or vehicles to keep the public out; setting up amateur radio mobile comms (Comm II and III) in case of possible disruption to the 911 system; establish two medical helicopter landing zones for possible mass casualty scenarios; activate the Mt. View Baptist Church shelter and set up comms there; and put in place a net control from the Riverside Fire Authority’s Emergency Coordination Center (ECC).
With a Incident Action Plan and a safety briefing given, team members were given assignments and radio frequencies before being deployed. To make the exercise more interesting, we decided to use only our simplex frequencies. We did keep a repeated frequency available as a safety channel. Using simplex would possibly require one or more relay stations. Our goal was solid simplex comms from the 911 center to the downtown city areas. During almost a three hour exercise, team members were able to set up comms at the shelter site, establish two landing zones and work through the comms associated with those sites, and practice simplex communications all around Centralia and Chehalis. All simplex comms were successful with only a few relays required when using our HT’s. The comm vans were also able to test 6 meter simplex operations as well. We learned valuable lessons when using the HT’s with a far better understanding of where they can be useful and what buildings and hills can disrupt their use.
Overall, we knew going into this exercise that we didn’t have enough ARES personnel to cover all barricade sites for what could be multiple days as evidence technicians logged and tagged every piece of debris in a wide area. We discussed using ARES mutual aid and other volunteer resources. This exercise, on a cold, windy January day, went well and as usual during this type of training, we learned what worked and what didn’t. Thanks to our served agencies, Centralia Police and Riverside Fire Authority for their support and thanks to our great volunteers for a great training exercise.
It is winter in our ARES response area and that season means heavy, often difficult rain systems that can easily bring flooding to our community. We barely missed reaching flood stage two weeks ago and now are faced with even higher river levels over the next few days.
Current river level predictions show the Chehalis River at Mellen Street may be near or actually reach minimum flood stage during the day on Wednesday. While local rain is expected to taper off Wednesday, the river will continue to rise as rainfall over the last few days hits the river.
Our ARES team members should prepare to conduct some river level checks on the Chehalis River, Skookumchuck river and China Creek during the daytime hours tomorrow. This may also involve Emergency Response Division checks in various neighborhoods. At this time, this is not a flood deployment, merely a pre-flood monitoring of the rivers listed above. Monitor the K7CEM repeater Wednesday and be prepared to be assigned areas to check. Don’t forget to make your go-bags ready and drive with ARES stickers on your vehicles.