CW Classes Begin!

At last evening’s first Morse Code class, the question was asked: since the requirement to know CW in order to get your amateur radio license was cancelled in February 2007, why are you here?  Many said they had always wanted to learn code but just hadn’t had the opportunity or hadn’t taken the time to learn it.  For several years in a row at our annual Field Day, we all have watched Code Master Merle Olmsted rack up the numbers and several of the ARES team members said watching Merle was the inspiration to learn CW.  Whatever the reason, eleven Centralia ARES team members sat down last evening ready to begin an eight week Morse Code course.

They come from all levels of amateur radio.  The youngest, Andrew, is 12 years old and attending with his dad.  The oldest is… well, much older than Andrew but the desire to learn is still there.  A few have tried CW before and are trying to learn it again, hoping for better results this time.  The rest fall somewhere in between.

Last night’s class included a demonstration of the basic CW keys – straight key, bug and paddles.  We discussed ways to make the learning easier, how to practice, and some of the obstacles they will find along the way. Each session will include a review of the previous week’s code, general information about the world of CW, and the next set of letters.  We are using the Gordon West Morse Code learning course.  He makes the learning fun and enjoyable.

Learning the Morse Code is not for sissies.  It takes commitment and dedication and the journey is a personal one, but for those who stick with it and come out the other side, the joy of carrying on a CW conversation with another ham is magical.  So get ready world, we’re about to invade the airways with some brand new code operators!

Earthquake Disaster Field Exercise

It was 56 degrees, 11 mph winds and raining hard but two weeks after our ARES team designed a 6.0 earthquake it was time to put this disaster into play.  Since we do these types of exercises fairly often, we tend to use one of our two hour training nights rather than a full day scenario.  Not much time to get everything done, but it just makes us work faster.  10 minutes into the evening everyone had their scenario, action plan, safety briefing, tactical call signs, radio frequencies and assignments so out the door we went.

In this exercise, our Emergency Operations Center and much of the downtown area sustained damage, so command and control transferred to the Riverside Fire Authorities Emergency Coordination Center across town.  Power was out in some, but not all of the area.  A 48 car train carrying crude oil managed to stop when the earthquake hit, but two cars came off the tracks and tipped over.  The train cut the community in half.  Team members had to look up the emergency response guide placard “1267” and take precautions accordingly.  A fairly large portion of the area near the train derailment needed to evacuate so two of the team mapped out multiple evacuation routes.  A mutual aid request from the county sent us to the small town of Galvin and windshield surveys became widespread.  Creating a little “havoc” of our own, several team members made up insert scenarios ranging from traffic accidents, to fires to possible overpass failures.  On top of everything else, we had our communications vans spread out and were working on some HF radio tests using 6 and 10 meter ground wave.  It was a fun evening’s work keeping net control very busy.

There is no such thing as a “perfect” disaster exercise – at least for our team – but this one was close to perfect.  We need to slow down and control our communications – something we should be good at already.  It is difficult to always remember to say “exercise, exercise, exercise” but thankfully, net control did a great job of doing that.  We didn’t have quite enough people to get everything done that we had planned but what we did get done was completed safely and correctly.  We only train in the fire department’s ECC a couple of times per year but it is a beautiful facility with lots of maps and radio equipment.  It was a good learning experience for our net control and evacuation planners.

So what’s next?  We will debrief this exercise at our next meeting and fix a few bugs we found in one of the communications vans.  We hope to turn right around and design a flood disaster scenario since flood season is here in our area.  Maybe it is time to see how well one or more of the Assistant Emergency Coordinators can design a disaster scenario.  Hmmm……..


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”.