ARES NEWS

Mississippi ARES® Responds to Tornado Destruction, Supports County EOC, NWS

At 3 AM on Saturday, January 11, 2020, Desoto County (Mississippi) Emergency Coordinator Ricky Chambers, KF5WVJ, Assistant EC Gene Adams, KF5KVL, Assistant EC and Tate County EC Brad Kerley, KG5TTU, and Andy Luscomb, AG5FG, reported to the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Communications Room to start the SKYWARN® weather watch. At 4:45 AM, a Tornado Warning was issued for the county and Chambers activated the emergency net on the 146.91 MHz repeater and began taking check-ins. Ten minutes into the net, the repeater was off the air and the net was switched to simplex with District EC Ken Johnson, KB0ZTX, relaying and announcing the move, followed by a subsequent move to the 147.35 MHz repeater.

At 5:01 AM, the team received the first report of downed trees blocking roads and an eyewitness report of a possible tornado southwest of Hernando. Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Chris Olson departed the EOC for damage assessment. The ARES team at the EOC began taking damage reports, answering phone calls, and monitoring and taking calls from public safety dispatch.

At 5:15 AM, the Deputy EMA Director radioed in that traffic control was required in Lewisburg. Chambers informed Olson, and Chambers and Kerley picked up a county vehicle with warning lights and departed for Lewisburg. Adams was left in charge of the EOC, with Luscomb in charge of the net.

Upon arriving in Lewisburg, Chambers and Kerley stopped at the command post where an ambulance driver requested an assessment of road conditions. Complying, the pair came across trees and power lines down, with fire apparatus and personnel engaged in traffic control. Chambers and Kerley assumed the traffic control function, and at 6:30 AM, EMA Director Olson requested Chambers to put a call out on the net for ARES/RACES/EMA reservists to report to the EOC, with Luscomb, the net control station, putting out the call.

At 7 AM, a citizen called the EOC and requested a welfare check on his father. Kenneth Johnson, KB0ZTX, took the assignment, reporting to the address where he found numerous trees across the driveway and residence. Johnson confirmed that the man was okay and relayed the information to his son.

Chambers and Kerley proceeded to a location where horses were reported to be trapped in a barn. Kerley approached the scene, offered assistance, and Chambers stayed with the radio in the county vehicle. Another welfare check was made, and after the secondary search of both affected areas was complete, the team performed windshield damage assessments.

The ARES, RACES personnel and reservists contributed 16 members to the effort on Saturday. They returned with 12 members on Sunday to perform door knock damage assessments. For the next ten days, the Desoto County groups contributed personnel to answer phones in the EOC. All told, they contributed 514 man-hours, freeing up first responders to fulfill their job of protecting life, property and saving lives.

Chambers said “I attribute our effective response to the training we have conducted on a monthly basis.” The training includes the recommended ARRL courses. “We were able to see how the Incident Command System worked on a first hand basis as the incident unfolded, based on the ICS training courses we have taken.” Chambers added, “My group went from 0 to 110 MPH in seconds, never missing a beat,” and “everyone performed on a professional level.” He thanked his team for its excellence in service. – source: Ricky Chambers, KF5WVJ, ARRL Emergency Coordinator, Desoto County, Mississippi; and county EMA Reserve Coordinator

 

Puerto Rico Earthquake Relief Effort Continues, with Help from Ham Radio

In Puerto Rico, Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) volunteers continue to operate from the American Red Cross distribution center in Yauco — one of the towns hit the hardest by the recent earthquakes and ongoing aftershocks on the island. The Red Cross requested assistance last week to identify undeclared refugee camps and to report on closed or damaged roadways and bridges. ARES District 5

Volunteers Eduardo Hernandez, WP4RAF (left), and Herb Perez, WP4ZZ. [Photo courtesy of Oscar Resto, KP4RF]

Emergency Coordinator Herb Perez, WP4ZZ, who is among those volunteering for the Red Cross at Yauco, reported on January 14 that he, Melvin Velazquez, WP4RAP, and Yolanda Garcia, WP4QZF, were on duty there.

“Today, we were able to occupy our space with no major incident other than the usual shaking of the entire structure. More than 10 per hour,” Perez said. “One of our members, Jared Martinez, KP4LCO, was able to search near his hometown of Lajas and was able to locate more than 10 unidentified campsites around the area.” Perez said such reports enable the Red Cross to provide necessary assistance to those left homeless as a result of the earthquakes.

Perez said volunteers were able to collect food from a church-run food pantry in Sabana Grande for isolated communities in the mountain region. He said local members of the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) and Citizens Band radio communities have been pitching in.

Operations from Yauco have been on VHF and UHF, although commercial telecommunication services remain in operation for the most part. Another station has been established at the Red Cross Headquarters in the capital of San Juan, which is not in the earthquake zone. Puerto Rico Section Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF, said the stations are operating as a backbone, in the event of new or stronger earthquakes. HF equipment has been safely stowed if communications fail, Resto said. Most of Puerto Rico now has power and water.

Puerto Rico Section Manager Oscar Resto, KP4RF, installs an antenna at Red Cross Headquarters in San Juan.

ARRL is shipping six VHF/UHF base/repeater antennas and six 50-foot rolls of LMR-400 coax through the Ham Aid Fund. Resto said a new Red Cross warehouse will be placed in Mayagüez, where he will install a third station for backbone communication. “That is the reason for the new antennas,” he said. “We already have the radios. In case we need to escalate to HF, we are ready with ARRL go-kits from Hurricane Maria.”

A lot of seismic activity was reported on January 15. “Many more or less 3.1 quakes were felt during the day,” Perez said. That included a magnitude 5.1 temblor that shook the facilities.

The ARES team in Yauco has also been handling health-and-welfare traffic from the earthquake zone. Operations are running from 9 AM until 5 PM each day.

A magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck the southwestern part of Puerto Rico on January 7, fast on the heels of a magnitude 5.8 tremor the day before. The worst-impacted cities were Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Yauco, and Guánica, where most homes are no longer habitable.

 

How to Send E-mail to a Disaster Area via WINLINK

There’s a common misconception that one has to have complicated equipment, software and skills to leverage the ham radio-developed WINLINK system to reach into disaster areas. In fact, one of the major advantages of the system is that it can easily connect disaster area-located volunteers (who must use radio to make any connection) with anyone else in the state, nation or world. It provides an easy way for “back-home” supporters, family and friends to keep in touch with deployed volunteers.

First you have to know the correct email Winlink address of the disaster-located ham: it is simply their callsign (e.g., K4AAA) @winlink.org thus K4AAA@winlink.org

Second, because WINLINK was built to handle slow-speed radio connections, receiving a load of spam would be catastrophic for throughput over a slow modem protocol. To avoid this, WINLINK developers put in a “white list” — a list for each WINLINK email user of who is allowed to send them email. While the WINLINK user can simply add you to their email-okay list, there’s an even simpler way for support amateurs to bypass this, which will not be known by spammers — just put //WL2K at the beginning of your subject line. For example, like this: //WL2K What is your current Status?

With those two critical components of the Winlink email message format, anyone with normal email can make needed communications to a deployed volunteer who is participating in the WINLINK system. One caveat: WINLINK can’t “force” email onto a volunteer who doesn’t have their radio turned on, or isn’t connecting into a Winlink server station, so it depends on periodic check-ins by the participant to check for, receive and send email by radio.

Approximately 50,000 messages per month are transacted by this system, so it is in regular substantial usage. WINLINK email-users can also add entire domains to their “white list” (e.g., arrl.org, arrl.net, em.myflorida.com and state.fl.us ) — which might be a useful thing to do for those who are going to be deployed and will be in contact with officials or managers. Click here for additional information: — — Gordon Gibby, KX4Z, North Florida Amateur Radio Club

 

South Carolina Amateurs Answer Call for Hurricane Florence Response

“South Carolina ARES was fully activated,” ARRL South Carolina Section Emergency Coordinator Billy Irwin, K9OH, reported. Irwin coordinated regularly with the state Emergency Management Division. “We had operators serving 12-hour shifts at the EMD and ultimately moved to 24-hour coverage.Two operators were deployed to Berkeley County to assist with shelter operations at the request of the Emergency Coordinator there.” “We literally modified plans on the fly to meet the needs of the mission,” Irwin added. “Several ARRL Sections offered assistance.”

Richland County EC Ronnie Livingston, W4RWL, said volunteers in his county staffed the county EOC and the Red Cross. Operators at the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) kept in contact with field volunteers in Marion and Dillon counties after conventional telecommunications failed there.

DEC Earl Dean, W4ESD, reported that ARES had deployed operators coordinated with the active agencies. Horry County EC and ARRL South Carolina Section Public Information Officer (PIO) Gordon Mooneyhan, W4EGM, said radio amateurs set up and organized communication networks to assist local government and emergency agencies, as well as to handle health-and-welfare traffic for affected residents, to let their family members outside the affected area know they were all right.

A week later, Amateur Radio operators were still dealing with Florence’s aftermath: Conventional telecommunications were starting to return to normal in some areas, but others faced record-breaking flooding. “Things are back to normal communication status, and demobilization is occurring for the deployed operators,” Irwin said on September 19.

ARRL leaders in South Carolina thanked all Amateur Radio operators providing service to their communities during Hurricane Florence, especially to their team of emergency coordinators across the state. They all planned for the worst, hoped for the best, and worked to be safe. — summarized from ARRL News reports

 

Amateur Radio Assets Active as Category 4 Hurricane Michael Makes Landfall

An array of Amateur Radio public service assets was active as Hurricane Michael — now a tropical storm — made landfall near Mexico Beach on the Florida Panhandle on October 10, with devastating 155 MPH winds. The storm is believed to be the first Category 4 or stronger hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle, and the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned of life-threatening storm surge as well as hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall.

The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) activated on October 10 and closed operations the following day.

WX4NHC, the Amateur Radio at the National Hurricane Center, was active to receive observed weather information and data via Amateur Radio to aid forecasters.

The VoIP Hurricane Net activated on October 10 to support communication with the National Hurricane Center.

The Southern Territory Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) stood down on October 11. SATERN was requested to provide Amateur Radio operators for Pensacola, Panama City, Tallahassee, and Tampa, as well as some local units in Georgia, and at Divisional Headquarters in Atlanta.

The ARRL North Florida and West Central Florida sections assisted SATERN with additional operators in Pensacola, Panama City, Tallahassee, and Tampa. North Florida Section ARES was at Level 1 (full) activation.

Miller Norton, W4EMN, the Communications Watch Officer at the Duval County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Jacksonville, Florida, was monitoring SARnet — a UHF-linked repeater network in Florida — when he heard an urgent call for help that needed to be sent to the State EOC in Tallahassee. All other forms of communication were out, and Norton was able to relay the message to via Amateur Radio. He also passed along messages and requests from the Jackson County EOC to the American Red Cross. Norton said officials in Tallahassee and Jackson County were both incredibly grateful for the way the SARnet system functioned during the weather emergency.

Jackson County Emergency Coordinator Ricky Whittington, KD4AST, is deployed to the county EOC in Marianna.

“We took a direct hit by the center of the storm at 140 MPH,” he told Clay County ARES Assistant Emergency Coordinator and Public Information Officer Scott Roberts, KK4ECR. “[The] county maintenance building across the road from the EOC was picked up and slammed into the north side and over the roof of the EOC just prior to the eye passing over.”

The incident took out the HF antenna, which has since been restored. Whittington said the internet failed, as did cell service for a while. Hams have been passing material and resource orders to the State EOC via HF and SARnet. Whitting reported “total devastation of Bay, Jackson, and Gulf counties,” with loss of electrical power and water service, in addition to damage in Franklin, Holmes, and Leon counties. “[The] only mode of communications after the eye came across was ham radio, until we got minimal cell service a few hours ago,” he reported.

The ARRL Emergency Response Team has been coordinating with Field Organization leadership in ARRL Sections affected by the storm, as well as with WX4NHC, the HWN, VoIP Hurricane Net, Department of Homeland Security SHARES, and US Army MARS.

 

Thomas Fire Response Also Demonstrates Amateur Radio’s Social Media Value

Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club (SBARC) members kept a close watch on the Thomas Fire after it broke out in early December. Using a variety of the club’s analog and digital Amateur Radio assets, radio operators were able to observe fire-fighting efforts first hand and pass along immediate information, often before it was reported by official sources or by local news media. SBARC operates five communication sites in Santa Barbara County, including sites on Diablo Peak on the mostly uninhabited Santa Cruz Island, and on Santa Ynez Peak.

“These two sites host [Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast] ADS-B receivers that are connected via a combination of amateur microwave IP links and mesh networking and were used to track and monitor airborne firefighting activities,” Levi Maaia, K6LCM, co-chair of SBARC’s Telecommunications Services Committee, told ARRL.

Starting in mid-December, a round-the-clock emergency net convened on 2 meters, as commercial power for much of Santa Barbara County was cut and the fire descended on residential communities in Santa Barbara County, prompting multiple evacuation orders. With repeaters on generator power and many operators running on battery power, net traffic consisted of official information, including evacuation orders, live reports on the rapidly approaching fire line from operators who remained inside the mandatory evacuation area, related traffic about firefighting efforts, and wind and weather conditions. SBARC volunteers set up an ad hoc remote receiving station to stream live fire ground and air communications audio over the internet and mesh network.

An early image of the Thomas Fire, caught by a remote digital Amateur Radio TV camera on December 4.

As fire crews came off duty, one firefighter and Amateur Radio operator joined the net to offer a firsthand account of operations from an insider’s perspective. SBARC members also assisted visiting fire crew members with mobile radio antenna repairs in the field.

Maaia said social media proved to be a valuable communication asset, as most official organizations, such as incident command and emergency management agencies, were disseminating official information via Twitter immediately upon release. “Amateur stations without power, cell phone or internet access could be kept informed of important information including evacuation orders, via the Amateur Radio net,” Maaia explained. “SBARC also served as an aggregator for Thomas Fire-related information by featuring tweets on the club website.”

California’s wildfires were visible from space. [NASA photo]

The largest in modern California history, the Thomas Fire caused devastating losses in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. “Although the Santa Barbara ARES group never activated, Amateur Radio proved to be a valuable mode of communication, especially when coupled with social media, amateur mesh networking, IRC chat (over mesh and internet) and live audio streaming,” Maaia said.

In Ventura County, the Thomas Fire damaged or destroyed some Amateur Radio resources normally available to provide emergency communication. It was an Amateur Radio TV camera that caught the first images of the Thomas Fire on December 4. A fundraising effort now is under way to help a repeater system operator to replace gear and to bolster the rest of the system for future such emergencies. Fundraising sparkplug Ben Kuo, AI6YR, said the fire demonstrated the difficulty of keeping equipment running in remote locations during fire emergencies.

The Thomas Fire destroyed this Amateur Radio Mesh antenna [Ben Kuo, AI6YR, photo]

“We also discovered other sites faced serious limitations after utility power was cut and solar panels were obscured by vast clouds of smoke,” Kuo recounted in his solicitation. “This GoFundMe [campaign] will go toward enhancing the existing ham radio repeater network, to make it more reliable in emergencies.” High-quality video cameras for those repeater sites is another possibility.

During the Thomas Fire, Kuo helped bridge the divide between Amateur Radio and social media, and even firefighters would check his feed to see what was going on in other areas of the fire, he said. “It’s a very powerful combination,” Kuo toldVC Star. An ARRL member, Kuo, of Newbury Park, founded the socaltech news site. He’s been licensed for 3 years and serves as an ARRL Technical Specialist for the ARRL Santa Barbara Section.

Amateur Radio Volunteers Support Evacuation Shelters in Fire that Refuses to Die

Since its start on December 4, the massive and only partially contained Thomas Fire in southern California by mid-week had consumed nearly 240,000 acres, destroyed more than 700 single-family residences and threatens thousands more, and caused residents in fire-threatened areas to evacuate. Amateur Radio volunteers have been supporting communication for American Red Cross shelter sites in Ventura and

The Ojai Valley Amateur Radio Club begins operations: (L-R) Ken Williams, KI6VDT, is assisted by Alex Elliot, KI6ZPT, as they set up a 2-meter ground plane. An unnamed Red Cross volunteer discusses the situation with Wayne Francis, W6OEU.

Santa Barbara counties, passing traffic between evacuation centers. One of several fires that have broken out across Southern California, the Thomas Fire is far and away the largest. The Ventura County Auxiliary Communication Service (ACS)/Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) Net activated on December 5, “as smoke filled the air, and the fire grew to catastrophic proportions,” said Ray Smith, KI6VED, who volunteered with his wife Jade, KI6VFQ. Their home was included in an evacuation order.

“The worst night for the crew at Nordhoff came Wednesday, December 6, when the fire surrounded the Town of Ojai on three sides,” Smith explained. “The incident commander decided to shelter in place, instead of trying to move 250 refugees out on the only open exit, which was sometimes closed.”

By Tuesday morning, Ventura County was under siege. The Smiths‘ next-door neighbor is preparing to evacuate. [Jade Smith, KI6VFQ, photo]

Smith told ARRL that several fire vehicles dispatched to Nordhoff High School — a shelter site — taking up positions around the campus, and firefighters stood guard by classrooms, opened to accommodate evacuees sleeping in their cars, some with their pets. “They were warned that if the trucks sounded their air horns, they were to pick up the [pet] cages and run for shelter on campus immediately,” Smith said. “The flames moved east to west along Nordhoff Ridge, with an army of firefighters retreating before them. For a time, the radio operators, like everyone else, did not know what would happen to us,” Smith said the fire passed within 2 miles of the shelter location.

Radio amateurs also deployed to the Ventura County Emergency Operations Center (EOC). ARRL Ventura County District Emergency Coordinator Rob Hanson, W6RH, said the ACS/ARES volunteers staffed four evacuation centers, in addition to the EOC.

The December 12 map of the Thomas Fire. Click on map for larger image. [Cal Fire image]

Santa Barbara Section Manager Jim Fortney, K6IYK, told ARRL that an Amateur Radio digital network (ARDN) MESH video network live-streamed video from several sites. “Loss of primary power has required using the solar power backup capabilities, but, unfortunately, the heavy smoke has made that backup less than fully reliable,” he said. In addition some sites are down because of power outages, and at least one hilltop site was overrun by fire. In addition to power loss to repeater sites, solar panels charging off-grid batteries have been affected by the huge plumes of smoke blocking the sun.

“The Santa Barbara District ARES organization works closely with Santa Barbara County OEM [and] is prepared to support any requests as the Thomas Fire continues to burn into Santa Barbara County,” Fortney told ARRL.

The Fallbrook Amateur Radio Group and other groups in the North County (San Diego) provided communication at some evacuation centers, and the Red Cross activated its own Amateur Radio team.

As of mid-week, FEMA reported, evacuation orders remained in effect for more than 93,000 residents, although shelter occupancy was down to about 300. A boil water advisory has been issued for Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Smith said that as of mid-week, Amateur Radio volunteers remain on duty in Santa Barbara County, “as the Thomas Fire has refused to die.”

Ham Radio Bridging the Gap in Wildfire-Stricken California

More than a dozen wildfires in Northern California have damaged or destroyed cellular telephone and internet infrastructure in some areas, and Amateur Radio has helped to fill the communication gap. Mendocino County Sheriff Thomas Allman told news media on Tuesday, October 10, that damage to cell towers and fiber optic telephone and computer lines had left officials relying on Amateur Radio operators to communicate with area hospitals.

Fire on the mountain: Solano County, California. [Elana Leoni photo]

ARRL contacted Robin Carter, a resident of the Willits area in Mendocino County, who confirmed that ham radio operators were, until midweek, stationed at all North County hospitals and large nursing homes, supplementing the county’s emergency communication system. She said cell and landline telephone service had been knocked out at her home, along with the fiber optic internet connection, although the family has satellite internet. She said internet service was at least temporarily restored on Wednesday.

Her husband Mike Carter, KC6MGM, a Mendocino County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteer, had, until Wednesday, been staffing a station at Howard Memorial Hospital in Willits for 12 hours a day.

Radio amateurs also assisted with communication at Ukiah Valley Medical Center in Ukiah; Northbrook Nursing Home in Willits; the Mendocino Coast Hospital in Fort Bragg, and Red Cross shelters at Ukiah High School and Willits High School, Robin Carter said.

The Redwood Complex Fire, the northernmost of the fires, was responsible for the Mendocino County outages. The Atlas Fire in Solano and Napa counties is the largest and most disastrous wildfire. It covers more than 42,300 acres and was only 3% contained as of October 11.

In Sonoma County, Sonoma County Radio Amateurs (SCRA) has been conducting an ARES Fire Watch Net to relay fire and emergency information on its repeater. Auxiliary Communication Service (ACS) Radio Officer Dan Ethen, WA6CRB, said a controlled Sonoma County Fire and Emergency Services RACES/ACS net is also active. In Solano County, radio amateurs are reported to be supporting shelter operations.

Fires have damaged or destroyed telecommunications infrastructure in California.

In Sonoma County, Sonoma County Radio Amateurs (SCRA) has been conducting an ARES Fire Watch Net to relay fire and emergency information on its repeater. Auxiliary Communication Service (ACS) Radio Officer Dan Ethen, WA6CRB, said a controlled Sonoma County Fire and Emergency Services RACES/ACS net is also active. In Solano County, radio amateurs are reported to be supporting shelter operations.

The fast-moving, wind-driven blazes — 18 large fires in all, according to FEMA — have driven thousands from their homes, killed at least 2 dozen people, and destroyed more than 1,300 homes. FEMA said the fires cover some 150,000 acres in all. Some towns have been virtually leveled. Most of the wildfires are clustered around Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco. According to FEMA, some 106,000 residents are under mandatory evacuation orders, more than 36,500 homes are threatened, and 59 Red Cross and independent shelters are open with 5,117 evacuees.

A state of emergency exists in Napa, Sonoma, Butte, Lake, Solano, Mendocino, Nevada, Orange, and Yuba counties. The California Emergency Operations Center is partially activated.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection mobile communications centers (MCCs) are equipped with Amateur Radio stations, but it’s not known if any hams have been deployed on any MCCs in the field for the current spate of wildfires. Read more.

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