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.


Field Day 2020 – Pandemic Style

Erecting the 30 foot tower and beam antenna

It’s Field Day weekend – with a twist.  All spring, we have had to miss meetings, training, conventions and swap meets all due to COVID-19.  We weren’t able to do field day in our normal location at Fort Borst Park as all parks were closed so we made plans to do field day at the home of one of our team members, Don, KI7ZNG, in a beautiful pasture out in the country.

The weekend came to us with heavy clouds, strong winds and very cool temperatures but we weren’t about to be stopped.  We’ve done on air training, Zoom training and even email training.  We were determined to make field day happen so on Friday afternoon, we drove our two communication vans, Comm II and Comm III out to set up.  We erected a 30 foot tower for a beam and established three other long wire antennas as well.  By the end of Friday, we had 20 meters, 40 meters, 80 meters, 6 meters and a mobile digital station up and running.

Early Saturday morning, we began the day with a great breakfast which included the world’s best cinnamon rolls created by Evelyn, KE7ACI, then it was off to finish last minute preparations.  On the air at 11am, we found 20 meters and 40 meters to be the most open bands.  As with many teams, it is not the numbers we are after.  Using the event to train new hams and new ARES team members is more important.  Our communications vans are somewhat complicated with HF capabilities as well as Vhf, Uhf, Fire, Law, scanners and CB all running off three large batteries.  Saturday morning is often used to let those new to these vans get “hands on” time learning how to turn on lights and radios, run logging computers, and for many, trying out a contest for the very first time.  Even learning how to carefully adjust the tuning knob to be precisely on the other ham calling “CQ” takes some practice.  Taking the time to teach about the different antennas being used and how they are orientated is important.  By mid day, we had all of our newer people up to speed and had everything working.

Contacts throughout the day were steady but not spectacular by any means, but we enjoyed each other’s company and were just happy to be able to do some amateur radio work outside for a change having only been released to Phase III for about a week.  Saturday evening brought a wonderful meal and plenty of conversation and laughter.  By 8pm, most of the day crew were headed home and a few intrepid team members determined to stick it out through the night were just settling in.  By morning, the numbers from overnight had brought us up to a respectable total.  Sunday morning was slow and by the time the contest ended at 11am, we were ready to get the equipment down and head for home.  Even so, it was nearly 3pm before the comm vans were back at the fire station and everyone and everything was done.

This has been a very unusual field day for us.  Our very first Centralia ARES team member to join, Lyle Olmsted, KB7PI, passed away in December and this was our first field day without him.  His brother Merle, AA4QE, who lives in Kentucky traditionally came out to join us for field day every year and for the first time in a long time, he remained at home.  Merle was our CW guy and responsible for many years of high contest numbers and this year’s scores showed his absence.

Above and beyond all that is just the whole pandemic issue.  Can we be together or must we stay apart.  Does social distancing work?  We are mostly at the age where these decisions can be very important to our health.  Still, we will do what we can to stay together and safe.  It was a fun field day event.  Who knows, perhaps next year’s field day will be different.  Thanks to everyone who participated in field day.  What you do is important!

Training During COVID-19

Social Distancing In Our Vehicles

Covid-19 has certainly dictated changes in the way our Amateur Radio Emergency Service team trains.  On-air morning radio nets on Mondays and Thursday have replaced the regular meetings at our favorite local coffee shop.  Zoom meetings are now our social gatherings – at least for awhile.  Our normal twice monthly training sessions at the church have stopped as well.  We’re not complaining – too much – and we’ve had some interesting training sessions on Zoom that help us stay together but as wildfire season approaches the need for field training becomes ever more important.

Riverside Fire Authority (RFA) is one of our served agencies and as such, the ARES team trains to support them during wildfire season.  Our volunteers become a “force multiplier” as Fire Chief Mike Kytta calls it.  Wildfires are a major threat during the summer heat.  Any fire which begins amid summer heat and strong winds can quickly get out of hand. While RFA throws multiple resources at the fire, one issue that can change a controllable local fire into a conflagration is fire brands on the wind.  Moving beyond the fire line, into brush and yards, small fire brands can start multiple new fires ahead of the main fire sometimes high up in the trees.  If not dealt with quickly, fire personnel can have a major disaster on their hands.

Centralia ARES trains to support the fire teams in several different ways.  Using a quick alert system that tones our ARES staff as the same time the fire department receives the alert, we deploy a “rapid response team” who’s job it is to establish a net control, retrieve our two communications vans, and set up a liaison with the fire department’s on scene command.  If needed, the remainder of the ARES team receives an alert to respond.  After safety briefings and assignments, the ARES team conducts windshield surveys ahead and around the outside parameter of the five ranging along streets or country roads ahead of the fire looking for spot fires.  Part of the ARES team begin identifying the best evacuation routes should they be needed and provides that information back to the communications vans.  The real reason for the vans is to place an ARES communications hub as close to where we are conducting the windshield survey teams as safely possible.  The vans have a radio officer and scribe whose job is to keep in constant communication with the windshield survey teams.  A safety officer monitors a radio safety frequency and provides another set of eyes and ears for the team.  Finally a comm van leader oversees deployment of the windshield teams.  Prior to moving into the smoke filled area around the fire, the van leader confirms with each team where it needs to go on their maps, what radio frequency will be used and if they have their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in their go-bags.  COVID-19 has definitely made training for this kind of event harder.

For the first time in months, we just completed some field training – with a few changes.  All team members responded to the initial training exercise briefing location but the briefing was give over a simplex channel while everyone remained in their own vehicles.  Instead of two comm vans, we used just one this time with the radio operator alone in the van and the team leader outside the van.  All communications were done over a simplex frequency.  All assignments were completed without physical contact.  The fun part for us was when Chief Kytta (also a ham radio operator) joined us from home.  He provided advice, information on how the fire department would deal with this pretend fire if it was real, and freely gave some needed real time support.

At the end of the exercise we gathered again, still in our own vehicles, back at the fire station for a debriefing session.  Chief Kytta gave his own debrief to the team before each team member was given the opportunity to discuss the exercise over the simplex channel prior to leaving for home.  We will be doing more of this kind of training as the summer progresses.  It is important to be trained and ready even during a pandemic.