Missing Person Search

Incident Commander Sergeant Croy

On the morning of July7th, the ARES team was contacted by Centralia Police Department and asked to assist them and Riverside Fire Authority in a ground search & communications link for a missing 93 year old male.  The Alertsense call up notification was sent out and team members were asked to meet at a grange hall in north Centralia that was being used as a temporary command post.  As the team was assembling, we learned that our missing person was last seen the day before but had not returned home overnight.  Suffering from dementia and seizures and walking with a cane, the family was obviously very concerned for his safety.

Incident Commander, Sgt. Croy, brief everyone prior to beginning the search.  He then divided searchers into seven teams, each team comprised of a fire or police volunteer and one ARES team member.  All teams were to use amateur radio to communicate with Incident Command.  Each team was given a residential area to search, going door to door, showing the photo of the missing person and asking permission to look through back yards and in outbuildings.  The ARES team set up one of our communication vans and acted as a “filter” between the search teams and Incident Command.  These kinds of searches contain lots of low level communications traffic that the Incident Commander simply doesn’t need to listen to.  He trusts that we will immediately pass along important information to him directly over the CPD radio frequencies.  As each team completed their assigned search area, they returned to the command post for a new search assignment.  This allowed each team to take a quick break, get some water and provided an opportunity for the Incident Commander to look them in the eye while giving them new search grids just to be sure they understood what was needed.   Several drones were put up to search nearby rivers and waterways but these were short term at best due to battery life and heavy rain.

Map briefing at Command Post

As with any missing person search, once the information and description was given to the public, the Incident Commander starts to receive “I saw him there” reports which all have to be checked out.  Search teams continued their assignments while patrol officers check on these reports.  As the day wore on, and all obvious areas to search were covered, the teams moved to search the most likely of the “I saw him there” reports but after by the time darkness arrived, our missing person still had not been found.  The Incident Commander debriefed all teams and thanked everyone  prior to being sent home around 10pm.

While a long day for our ARES team members, almost everything went right from our ARES point of view.  The notification system worked well and our response was very good.  The communications system worked well with only one hitch.  Originally placed in the grange hall with its metal roof, we were unable to send or receive good enough inside the building to perform our duties.  Once we brought in our own communications van, all worked well being outside and using 50 watts of power.  Our radios, being installed close together, allowed us to monitor the police frequencies, fire frequencies as well as amateur radio.  This made receiving a report via amateur radio and passing it along to the Incident Commander quick and easy.  Inside the van, we used a radio operator, while another ham continuously logged the status of search teams  and still had room for our ARES coordinator.

Inside the ARES Comm Van

This was our first opportunity in several years to be a part of a missing person search.  While a tremendous burden on the family, it allowed our ARES team to test out what we have trained for.  Once in place, our ARES communications system worked flawlessly and it is always a pleasure to work with our served agencies.


Monthly Field Communications Test Exercises

Ken AD6KT testing his HT in the rain

It was a typical Northwest day with 100% chance of rain all day accompanied by 12 mph winds.  But we don’t care!  We are Professional Amateur Radio Emergency Service Volunteers!  We laugh at bad weather, especially when we can use our two communications vans equipped with superb heaters.  These regular 3 hour monthly field communications test exercises are fun and each one is a learning experience.  We have three objectives: provide orientation on the vans and communications equipment to any of our team that wish to learn; test communications capabilities throughout our response area HT up to HF; and check into the monthly FEMA and Homeland Security nets in support of our State EOC tests.

We began this exercise with another van deployment orientation – basically making sure everyone knew how to take the comm vans out of the fire station where they are housed.  This involves unplugging the external power systems, unplugging the battery tender, raising the fire station doors and start up procedures for the vans.  We also spent some time showing everyone how to set up the Icom IC-7300 radios for CW operations as that would be part of the exercise parameters for the day.  Once out of the station, one van was deployed to Riverside Fire Station number three and the other would go to RFA station number 4 – both on the outskirts of our response areas.  When the vans were in place and the HF antennas up, we were ready to conduct some communications tests.

This exercise began testing our CW capability on the 6 meter simplex frequency.  We successfully passed CW traffic back and forth between locations using short messages at different speeds.  From there we moved on to testing voice comms over the same 6 meter frequency.  On testing days, we always have a couple of team members monitoring from home just to give us a little more information about how well things are working.  While we regularly use our two local repeaters for these tests, we have learned that 6 meters (simplex and repeater) works well enhancing our capabilities.

Next were the VHF/UHF tests over three area wide repeaters as well as our two local repeaters.  All worked well.  We have found through testing that one repeater north of our response area does a really good job covering a couple of areas our local repeaters have trouble with.  Thanks to the Capitol Peak Repeater folks for letting use their repeater.

One area we continually want to test is our ability to use 5 watt HTs within our response area.  Should the worst happen, these radios may be our last line of defense but we need to have a through understanding of their limitations and where they will and will not work. Should we be tasked with house to house evacuations in outlying areas, we will need to rely on volunteers using HTs to pass information.  If necessary, we can and will use relays to make the communications happen.  While this worked well from one fire station, the other had difficulties as we were working under a power line and up against a metal building but choices were limited.  Our goal is to create a response area wide map that shows where HTs will function reliably.  While we have options, it is important to know what communications systems work and where they don’t.  Unfortunately, our response area is not flat where line of site comms work well.  We are surrounded by hills, mountains and plenty of dirt.

Each Field Communications Test Exercise provides a little more data and plenty of opportunity to use all the radio systems in the comm vans.  What will we be testing next month?  We will have to wait to decide but we have an extensive list of ideas to try.  Maybe next month will be warmer and dryer, but we don’t mind a little bad weather.  Did I mention how well those heaters work in the vans?

Lyle Olmsted, KB7PI, Silent Key

Lyle Olmsted, KB7PI

2019 certainly ended in a way none of our team expected.  On New Year’s Eve, Lyle Olmsted, KB7PI, passed away at Centralia Providence Hospital.  In 2008, the Centralia Police Department and Riverside Fire Authority were searching for ways to overcome the sudden and destructive forces experienced during the December 2007 area wide flood that closed Interstate 5 for three days, when we created the Centralia Amateur Radio Emergency Service team.  Its purpose at the time was to provide the Centralia EOC with backup communications should all normal comms fail during a similar disaster.

The police department created a form letter and sent it out to every one of the 450 amateur radio operators in Lewis County asking if they would consider helping with the formation of an ARES team.  Lyle Olmsted was the very first volunteer, marching into my office only hours after he received the letter in the mail.  I had no idea how important this man would become to our fledgling ARES team or to me personally over the next ten years.  Lyle arrived so quickly I had only just started to create a volunteer application form for the team.  Holding an Advanced amateur radio license and a desire to make it all work, Lyle became our first Assistant Emergency Coordinator, a post he held until a year before his passing when he stepped down to become our team advisor.

Our team’s two ARES Communications vans are a tribute to Lyle’s tenacity.  Seeing a smaller box van owned by the police department that didn’t seem to have a real purpose,  he proposed we create a mobile communications van.  I’m sure when Chief Bob Berg handed me the keys and told us to have at it, he had pretty low expectations.  Over coffee, I handed Lyle the keys and said “let’s do this”.  The smile on his face was fun to see.  Over the next year, Lyle designed the interior, sought out donations and used equipment and spent hours and hours working on every detail.  When it was done, all Chief Berg could say was “Wow”.  He was so impressed, when we asked for a second identical van so we could create a second communications van, he simply handed over the keys.

4,157 days.  Lyle served the City of Centralia and Riverside Fire Authority as a Amateur Radio Emergency Service volunteer 4,157 days.  If you’re lucky, friendships can last a lifetime.  Sometimes less.  The best friend I ever had walked into my office 4,157 days ago and simply said “I’m an Amateur Radio operator and I want to help.”