Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade

ARES Comm II On Station

Who wants to come out on a cold, dark December evening and stand around for two hours or more watching some vehicles – of which only a few are actually tractors – covered in Christmas lights drive down the street?  Well, apparently everyone in and around beautiful, historic downtown Centralia does!  The Centralia Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade has been around for a few years now and it just gets bigger and bigger every year.  The number of parade entries last year was around 56 but this year it topped 90.

And this isn’t one of those quiet parade.  Oh, no, its a Christmas party on wheels with singing, bands playing, Christmas music on every float and dancing in the streets.  Yup, when it comes to a lighted tractor parade, we know how to party!  This year Centralia ARES had 10 volunteers and two communications vans working the parade.  CPD had 9 officers,sergeants, and two command staff doing walking patrols, on bicycles or in patrol cars.  Riverside Fire Chief Mike Kytta redirected a couple of his aid crews around the parade route and had his small, quick response vehicle in the downtown area as well.

With 10 volunteers, the ARES team was spread out to cover about every other intersection.  The first intersection required two volunteers and two police officers working crowd control to keep the kids back and out from under the floats but even that wasn’t enough.  One ARES communications van held the net control and the other van, set up on the

One of 90+ parade entries

far side of the parade monitored a safety channel just in case one of the volunteers needed help.  We were also responsible for delivering and setting up the police department’s communication and command van.  This year, however, it was never used as the Sergeant Patty Finch, the officer in charge of the parade, spent much of her time monitoring the event from inside our ARES van as we had a nice heater going.  Unfortunately for her, when things started to get hectic, out she went into the cold.

Thankfully, just as planned, the parade ended without any major problems or incidents.  It was evident that everyone had a good time.  By 9pm, Centralia ARES had all the vans back in their facilities and all team members accounted for and

Pollice Chief Carl Nielsen

heading home.  Centralia holds two major parades each year, the other being the July 4th Summerfest parade but for us, the Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade is the most fun.  From the looks of it, all those folks standing out in the cold appreciated it as well.  Must be the Christmas season.

Flood Windshield Survey Site Tour

Chehalis River Bridge

As flood season approaches in the Chehalis River valley, Centralia ARES has been busy ramping up for another year of unknowns.  Will it be a year of minor flooding or is it time for another 100 year event?  Only time will tell.  During flood events, ARES volunteers guard sandbag locations, man the Emergency Operations Center amateur radios, and conduct street by street windshield surveys among other assignments.  Knowing the locations where we can assess flooding on area rivers and creeks is important but many of these places are hard to find, especially for new team members.

Saturday, October 13th, the team took a tour visiting 18 sites on all four of the important waterways in our community.  These consisted of two locations on the Chehalis River, four on the Skookumchuck River, six on China Creek and three on Salzer Creek.  Additionally, we visited several dike locations and the China Creek Flood Mitigation Project site.

Stopping at each location, team members were able to see, first hand, the exact same locations they will be visiting during their flood surveys.  We discussed how and why these rivers and creeks flooded and were able to describe how flood waters affect the streets and neighborhoods in each area.  Finally we discussed the dike system that surrounds Centralia and how that functions to protect the community.

The team has been working on information sheets that will ultimately go into their field resource manuals that provide information on each of these sites as well.  Information will include a street addresses, GPS coordinates, safety concerns, general information about each site and photos.

China Creek in Downtown Centralia

For Centralia ARES, a flood event windshield survey means combining two pieces of information into one reporting system.  Over a two or three hour survey period, team members are asked to stop at the places in their respective emergency response divisions where they can view the river or creek flows.  They provide a radio report back to the EOC on what they see and report changes they have noticed hour by hour.  When away from the river locations, the team conducts a street by street community assessment reporting power outages, water over various roads or dangerous situations, then it’s back to the rivers and creeks to see if there are changes in the flood.  A complete report from each team not only gives the EOC photos or descriptions of the flooding situation but also provides a complete community picture for the Incident Commander who cannot leave the EOC to see conditions for himself.

The APRSdroid tracking system we have been experimenting with this fall does a wonderful job of tracking each windshield survey team and allows the volunteers in the EOC to show their progress to the entire incident command team on the computers and TVs in the EOC.

Floods generally don’t come as a surprise to our community.  The National Weather Service does a great job providing days of warning.  Still, a flood is an unsettling event and the large floods can be devastating.  Being prepared to assist our served agencies to the best of our abilities is important to our team.  Every hour spent in preparation makes us better at what we do and we plan to do our best.

Windshield Surveys – From Wildfire to Floods

Just a few weeks ago, we were training hard to conduct wildfire windshield surveys.  Now with much cooler temperatures and a few days of rain, the fire threat, while still there, is diminishing.  Time to switch gears as we move into October and the rains begin their regular pattern.  The flood season here in beautiful, historic Centralia runs from October through February.  With four “100 year flood events” in the past thirty years, we’ve learned to treat the storms that sweep in from the Pacific Ocean with care.  Each year, Centralia and Lewis County experience localized flooding without exception, but the bigger flooding events that can cause real damage can also visit regularly.

Windshield surveys for wildfires and floods have their similarities but they definitely have their differences as well.  The biggest difference is deployment warnings.  Wildfires occur without warning and need immediate attention while we generally know a flood event is coming our way a week or two in advance.  Centralia has four independent waterways that create localized flooding depending on where and how the water arrives.  At its worst, flooding can and sometimes does divide our city into four separate areas where it can be difficult or even impossible to travel from one area to another.  With that possibility in mind, Centralia ARES has created mobile communication vans which allow us to establish a command post wherever the need arises.  We can, for example, set up a mobile communications command post in all four separate divisions of the community if necessary.

This changes the way we conduct windshield surveys as well.  While the Emergency Operations Center ramps up for a community wide flood situation, ARES personnel can set up independent, local neighborhood command posts nearer to the flood problem.  These communication vans can use their own ARES simplex frequency to communicate with their flood survey people or everyone can use the K7CEM repeater to keep in touch within the area.

When it comes to flood windshield survey work, it is all about creating a “picture” of the community for those in charge of the Emergency Operations Center.  The Incident Commander, usually a police or fire staff member, knows his community well yet, confined to the EOC, needs ARES volunteers to “paint him a picture” of what each neighborhood looks like now – or two hours from now so he can effectively deal with issues.  For ARES team members this means monitoring water flow to determine if it is changing for the better or for worse.  It also means conducting a street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood evaluation to determine which streets are under water, which ones must be closed and always looking for local issues such as a sink hole or vehicle driven into deep water now needing rescue.

Generally while the survey teams are working in 2-3 hour shifts, the ARES staff in the EOC begin the deployment process and area assignments.  After a situation briefing, safety briefing and area/frequency assignments, survey teams are sent to their survey areas where they check in with the nearest communications van who then is responsible for the survey deployment.  For the most part, it is not dangerous work but often boring work.  Nevertheless, the information provided is important to the command structure in the Emergency Operations Center.  There are times when the EOC remains closed if the event is predicted to be small and of short duration.  In these cases ARES teams will often conduct windshield surveys just to stay ahead of the issue.  Sometimes an hour or two’s warning can make the difference.

The 1986 “100 year flood” event was somewhat of a surprise mostly because none of the police and fire personnel had experienced such an event.  Still, it was a madhouse scramble, often in the dark, as first responders evacuated nursing homes and families.  The 1996 “100 year flood” closed Interstate 5 for four days and flooded local businesses with up to 14 feet of water.  By far, the 2007 flood was the worst in recent memory.  Not because it was huge or even because it closed the freeway for four days once again.  This flood was an out and out surprise.  Weather forecasts predicted a heavy local rain that would pass to the east.  Instead the huge rain cell stalled over the local Willapa Hills (unknown to the weather service) and dumped nearly 20 inches of rain into the local Chehalis River system.  By the time the wall of water, which destroyed bridges, railroads and homes in its path, became known, it was to late to do anything but react, and we were slow to do that as well.

Flooding will always be a part of our area and I’m sure we will have yet more “100 year flood” events but we may have learned some lessons over the years.  Now, we watch and monitor large rain events carefully.  We have learned to ramp up the Emergency Operations Center sooner and prepare better.  Amateur Radio Emergency Service teams are and will be a part of that preparation into the future.  Yes, October means a change in the way we train for our ARES team of volunteers but that is just fine with us.