Designing A Disaster

As October arrives, our ARES team once again ramps up for the “Mother Nature Picks On The Pacific Northwest” season.  Training is switching from the wildfire preparations of summer to our fall flood response activities.  It has been awhile since we’ve worked a good disaster exercise, so we decided to create one. During our October 7th training night, the team chose to design a 6.0 earthquake from a series of nine disaster scenarios that included floods, wildfires, wind storms and even a hurricane.  The plan is to design a disaster selected by group consensus and then put that plan to the test during a field exercise on our October 21st training.  We’ll debrief the exercise at our first November meeting and then create a better disaster.

After deciding on an earthquake disaster, the next step was to list what kind of communications support would be required. The list of those we potentially needed to talk to included: police / fire department response teams, the Emergency Coordination Center (ECC), the State EOC, adjoining Lewis County ARES team and perhaps regions outside the disaster area via HF communications. Next the team determined possible support functions during and after an earthquake.  These included: ARES Command, possible shelter comms, staffing the ECC, windshield survey teams, evacuation support and creating helicopter landing zones.

A general list of required response equipment was next.  This included:  personal HT’s and mobile radios, go-bags and safety equipment, both ARES communications vans, helicopter LZ equipment bags, map books, a portable generator and even making sure our hazardous material identification app was up to date on cell phones.  A list of assignments included: radio operators, LZ teams, evacuation planning personnel, ARES communication van staff, including scribes, windshield survey teams, net control operators and an ARES command officer.

Finally, the team included a couple of possible “inserts” to be added if time allows.  These would include 10 meter / 6 meter ground wave communication tests, UHF/VHF crossband tests on our local repeater, simplex relays using HT’s and even a minor medical response for an injured ARES team member.  The ARES staff will refine this disaster scenario at our coffee meetings over the next two weeks and we should be ready to deal with a short – two hour – disaster exercise at our next meeting.

Our next ARES training session will be Monday, October 21st.  We’ll begin the exercise with a “tone out” using our Telegram alert system.  Team members will check into the net control and will be sent to the deployment area at the Mt. View Baptist Church.  There, everyone will receive a short safety briefing, an incident action plan summary, and frequency / personnel assignments.  We will check all our equipment and see if we can help save our community from this disaster.  Even though this is a short field exercise, it will allow us to test critical response systems and short of a torrential downpour that evening, it should be fun.  But perhaps our team member John, AD6KT, is right.  His motto is “If it ain’t raining, it ain’t training”.


Do We Have Hurricanes In the Pacific Northwest? Yes We Do!

By the time people in the Pacific Northwest woke up on Friday, October 12, 1962, “Freda” had been on the move for some time.  She formed as a typhoon 500 miles west of Wake Island in the central Pacific Ocean a week earlier.  As she moved north into colder waters  and interacted with the jet stream, Freda became an extratropical cyclone.  Freda arrived in Northern California as winds pushed her ashore, delaying some games in the 1962 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees.

Freda officially became “Hurricane Freda” when she touched landfall in the United States.  Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are basically the same types of storms, often labelled differently by their windspeed .  Storms in the Atlantic Ocean are usually identified as hurricanes with the storms in the Pacific Ocean called typhoons or cyclones

Now on land, Hurricane Freda hooked straight north as she moved into southwest Oregon, bringing a pressure which would be equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale.  As Friday, October 12th dawned, few in the Pacific Northwest were aware of what the day would bring.  Oregon’s Cape Blanco soon measured wind gusts at 145 miles per hour while the Naselle Radar Station in the Willapa Hills of southwest Washington logged winds of 160 miles per hour.  Wind gusts in Portland, Oregon reached 116 mph, while Olympia officially measured 88mph.

Those living in eastern Washington experienced damaging high winds as well.  When the roof blew off a neighbor’s house where I lived in the town of Sunnyside in the Yakima Valley, my mother hustled me into a basement room with no windows for the next few hour.  Damaging winds reached as far inland as Spokane.

At lease 46 fatalities were attributed to Freda, more than for any other Pacific Northwest weather event.  Injuries went into the hundreds.  In less than 12 hours, more than 11 billion board feet of timber was blown down in northern California, Oregon and Washington.  Estimates put the dollar damage at over $2 Billion in today’s dollars.  The Metropolitan Life Insurance company named the Columbus Day Storm the nation’s worst natural disaster of 1962 as Hurricane Freda was labelled as the “most powerful extratropical cyclone recorded in the U.S in the 20th century.”

Few places in the United States are immune to natural disasters and the Pacific Northwest is no exception.  While wildfires, floods and earthquakes occur more often, we manage to get a volcanic eruption and even the occasional hurricane from time to time.  The next time someone tells you we don’t get hurricanes in the Pacific Northwest, relate the story of Hurricane Freda.  For a little kid hustled into the basement after witnessing the neighbor’s roof blown off their house, it was an experience never to be forgotten.

Washington State “Salmon Run” Contest

John, AD6KT, working the Washington State Salmon Run contest

Amateur radio is a diverse and interesting hobby.  After all, we’re called “Hams” for a reason.  Some amateur radio operators simply love to chat with other like minded individuals across town on a simple hand held radio.  Others enjoy public service and join Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) teams and support their communities.  And then there are the hundreds of special events and contests on the air waves seemingly every weekend.

One type of contest that has many followers are the State QSO Parties.  Each state holds their particular QSO party on some weekend in the year and the object is to contact as many hams from that particular state as possible and/or contact as many counties as are available within each state.  Washington State named its QSO party “Salmon Run” just because we’re a little different.

Centralia ARES, as a group, has not participated in any state QSO parties in the past, just concentrating on the training and exercises we need to support emergency services in the area, but this year was different.  About one third of our ARES team is new to amateur radio and simply don’t have the experience necessary to feel comfortable giving a contest a try.  They are, however, interested in learning all about HF communications.  We decided to use the Washington Salmon Run to let these team members get a little experience using our on board HF system in our two communication vans.  This system uses an Icom IC-7300 HF radio, external antenna tuner and the Tarheel screwdriver antenna system.  We also used the contest to test several NVIS antennas, carried for backup on the vans.  Unfortunately, we had to limit our on-air time to four hours on Saturday morning.  Still, we had good weather, a fun group of hams and donuts.  You can’t go wrong with donuts.

By the end of the morning, everyone had a couple of contest contacts under their belts and knew much more about the IC-7300 HF radio system.  All the antennas worked well with the NVIS antennas a little better than the Tarheel. When the donuts were gone, we packed up for the day and headed home.  What a great day working with everything Amateur Radio stands for.  Maybe we’ll try another contest a little later in the fall.  Thanks to all those who helped set up the vans, raise the antennas, make the contacts and eat… well, you know.