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.
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.
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Centralia Emergency Operations Center Callsign: K7CEM
Contact information: EC Bob Willey at email@example.com