Saturday ended up being cloudy with a few sprinkles and a cold light wind, typical for May in beautiful Lewis County, Washington. Today, we would help provide checkpoint communications along with the Lewis County Amateur Radio Emergency Service team. The Lewis County Historical Bike Ride provides several routes in varying lengths of 12, 40, 68, and 100 miles. Along each routes are checkpoints where ham radio operators monitor riders just to make sure all are safe, hydrated and informed about the bike routes. Checking off rider numbers between checkpoints and sweeping the routes with a support and gear (SAG) vehicle, ensures any rider with a flat tire or broken piece of equipment is never left behind on the route.
For the first time, Centralia’s ARES team was divided between two checkpoints. Traditionally, we place one of our communications vans at the northern most turn around point on the 68 / 100 mile routes. This year we were also tasked with an additional checkpoint at the Historic Claquato Church. Ride Base, located at the south end of the county kept in touch with everyone using the local BawFaw repeater with each checkpoint being assigned a tactical callsign. By 8am, both Claquato Church and our Mellen Street locations were ready to receive riders.
For our team, this event is a little of everything. We enjoy the comradery, the boxes of donuts and hot coffee and after 2020, an opportunity to be doing ham radio in the field once again. It is also a training time as we reacquaint ourselves with our van’s communications equipment and have an opportunity to train new team members as well. The Lewis County Historical Bike Ride is often considered a run up to the much larger Seattle To Portland (STP) 200 mile bike ride usually held in July each year, however this year Covid-19 issues are still present and that ride has already been postponed until 2022. With fewer riders needing to prepare for STP this year, fewer riders took advantage of the Lewis County Bike Ride. Over an eight hour event, approximately 50 riders passed through our checkpoints, but this gave us the opportunity to offer water and chat with the riders. Many others chose a shorter ride route. Wind and rain showers made those routes more popular.
It is interesting to note that throughout the day, everyone from the riders to support teams all had smiles on their faces. The riders were surely tired but they were happy to be doing what they enjoyed… and we were happy to be doing the same.
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.
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Centralia Emergency Operations Center Callsign: K7CEM
Contact information: EC Bob Willey, KD7OWN at firstname.lastname@example.org