Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) volunteers in Puerto Rico for the second year took part in the annual Caribe Wave exercise (formerly known as the Large Atlantic Tsunami Exercise — LANTEX), a tsunami-preparation communication drill undertaken on different dates on the US East Coast, in Canada, on the Gulf of Mexico, and in the Caribbean Basin. The object of Caribe Wave is to test the reliability of communication systems and protocols among tsunami alert centers and to help emergency management agencies to improve their preparedness to execute a tsunami alert. In Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, Caribe Wave takes place in conjunction with the Puerto Rico Seismic Network (Red Sísmica de Puerto Rico), FEMA, NOAA, and the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA-AEMEAD).
The scenario for the March 17 drill was a tsunami generated by a magnitude 8.4 seismic event, 15 kilometers deep, off the coast of Venezuela. The Tsunami Zone website includes information on other programmed exercises in the US and its territories.
Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and SKYWARN volunteers in Louisiana assisted the National Weather Service (NWS), as record-setting rainfall led to severe and widespread flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved a disaster declaration for the state. Region 7 District Emergency Coordinator John Mark Robertson, K5JMR, in the Shreveport-Bossier City area, said Amateur Radio involvement began on March 8, when the NWS-Shreveport Office requested a SKYWARN activation during a tornado watch. For the next 17 hours, Robertson reported, a group of volunteers handled weather-spotting duties over linked repeaters, filing some 70 reports. Their coverage included parts of Texas and Arkansas. The severe weather included hail as well as major flooding that closed Interstate 20 in three Louisiana parishes and inundated entire neighborhoods. On March 10, the ARES team in Tangipahoa Parish in southeastern Louisiana was active for nearly 2 days in response to heavy rain and flooding.
“Local hams operating from their fixed stations in homes, on portable HTs, and mobile provided updates on local conditions and were able to offer road reports to travelers on the state highways and Interstate 12, which crosses all of the major rivers in our area,” ARES Region 9 DEC Bob Priez WB5FBS, told ARRL. He said the Tangipahoa, Tickfaw, Tchefuncte, and Bogue Falaya rivers, as well as numerous streams and waterways, were well above flood stage by the afternoon of March 11.
Conventional lines of communication can be impacted after a disaster. This we know. Phone lines can go down, cell service can be overrun with calls, texts, and emails and it can be difficult for survivors as well as first responders to get in touch. This isn’t a far-fetched scenario or intellectual exercise. It’s a reality we’ve seen happen over and over during disasters small and large.
Enter Amateur Radio—or what those involved in the hobby refer to as “ham radio.”
Amateur radio enthusiasts—or “hams” as they’re often called—often step in during emergencies to help bridge communication gaps between first responders to keep people safe when smartphones, cell towers, and internet technologies we rely on every day go down. Volunteer hams also serve as a valuable source of information during the initial states of an emergency. Often, hams provide this public service in association with volunteer groups like Community Emergency Response Teams, who are always ready to spring into action quickly and effectively.1
We owe it to these volunteers to do everything we can to support their work to help communities bounce back when disaster strikes. That’s why we’ve partnered with the American Radio Relay League and researchers from Virginia Tech’s Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology in Blacksburg, Virginia—one of the leaders in amateur radio technology—to develop a new communications satellite that will help amateur radio operators transmit radio signals across the United States 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. After all, disasters can happen any place and any time.
All the phases of Emergency Management work together to preserve life, and to prevent environmental as well as property damage. These are continually being developed, practiced, and monitored at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), in LaBelle. The EOC is generally a quiet building, but once it is activated, it becomes a hive of activity. The Emergency Operations Center acts as a coordinating entity. It is a place where all agencies come together to help our community.
When a disaster happens Emergency Management becomes the lead agency in coordinating the response. The situation room in the EOC becomes the center of all decision making and is the coordination point for a unified response to any disaster. Having everyone in the same room allows for better communication between the departments and outside agencies. The Hendry County EOC, when activated, is organized using a hybrid version of the Incident Command System (ICS). The different agencies are divided up into four sections under an Incident Commander or a Unified Command. The sections are: Planning, Logistics, Operations and Finance/Administration. It is within these sections the appropriate Emergency Support Function (ESF) are assigned.
In conjunction with the State of Florida and the National Response Plan, Hendry County has identified 18 ESF’s. The people that fill these roles come from various departments and agencies from the county, community non-profit organizations, the Cities of LaBelle and Clewiston as well as many volunteers.
Emergency Support Functions (ESF)
ESF 1 – Transportation
ESF 2 – Communications
ESF 3 – Public Works
ESF 4 – Fire Fighting
ESF 5 – Planning
ESF 6 – Mass Care
ESF 7 – Resources Support
ESF 8 – Health & Medical
ESF 9 – Search & Rescue
ESF 10 – Hazardous Materials
ESF 11 – Food & Water
ESF 12 – Energy
ESF 13 – Military Support
ESF 14 – Public Information
ESF 15 – Volunteers & Donations
ESF 16 – Law Enforcement
ESF 17 – Animal Concerns
ESF 18 – Public & Private Partnerships
Activating the Emergency Operations Center means that an emergency situation has reached a level which requires vital personnel to gather and begin the process of protecting citizens, property, and the environment. The activation also oversees any assistance that will be required from neighboring counties or the State of Florida through mutual aid. Currently there are 3 activation levels used throughout the State of Florida:
Level 1: Full Scale Activation of Local, State, and Federal Emergency Response Teams
Level 2: Partial Activation of State Emergency Response Team
Level 3: Monitoring Activation
Most of the time, the Hendry County maintains a Level 3 Activation. This means that the Emergency Management staff are continuously monitoring many different areas (including the weather), and making sure that the citizens of Hendry County (and all its communities) are prepared for whatever disaster that may rear its ugly head.
— George P. Geran, KK4AXV, Brevard County Assistant EC; Willie Thompson, KB5FKG, Indian River County Assistant EC; Steve Marshall, WW4RX, Martin County EC; Charles Benn, WB2SNN, Palm Beach County District EC; and Steve Lowman, N4SGL, St. Lucie County EC
Every two years the St. Lucie (Florida) Nuclear Power Plant is required to hold an exercise that is chiefly evaluated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The purpose of these exercises is to test and evaluate the responses of plant personnel, law enforcement agencies, emergency management officials, and communications personnel. This year, the exercise took place on February 24. The scenario involved overloaded communication systems normally used by the public, rendering them unusable. ARES would provide radio communications among the county EOCs and other critical assets/support locations.
ARES teams came and participated from St. Lucie, Palm Beach, Martin, Indian River, and Brevard counties. Operators successfully employed the UHF repeater-based Statewide Amateur Radio Network (SARnet) for most communications as well as an HF net on 7.245 MHz. The dual nets backed each other up for redundancy/reliability for the ARES mission of supporting each of the EOCs.
When a train and just about anything else cross paths, the results are not good. According to the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis, 2016 has recorded 155 incidents and 20 fatalities. Last year, the total was 2,059 incidents with 240 fatalities.
This past April Fool’s Day, the train versus bus incident in Arcadia, however, was only a drill.
Florida Department of Health along with public safety agencies from DeSoto County staged a mock train-bus accident along the tracks that pass Morgan Park in Arcadia, designed to field test the first responder and hospital emergency departments.
Hendry County Emergency Management staff and reservists, led by EM Director Brian Newhouse KJ4WIC, and Finance & Logistics Chief Cristina Mercado were invited to participate in the exercise to take advantage of the training opportunity.
Hendry County CERT Coordinator Margaret England KM4OVY, ARES Emergency Coordinator Frank Harris WA4PAM, and Volunteer Coordinator Tony Fanska KC0SJU, provided safety control around Morgan Park’s still-open public roads. Throughout the exercise, all of the hams in the group stayed connected on 2-meter simplex.
A total of thirteen “patients” including Hendry County CERT and ARES team members Bill Roy KI4QIQ, and Tom and Hannah McColough were made up to display an assortment of serious injuries.
CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) are made of locally based individuals with training to assist professionals during times of disaster. This train-bus scenario was an ideal opportunity for the Hendry County team to work in conjunction with first-responders in unfamiliar territory, as well as their DeSoto CERT counterparts.
Both Newhouse and Mercado provided “moulage”, the art of makeup application to simulate injuries. The practice dates to at least the 16th century, when wax figures were used. A real steel spike “embedded” in one victim’s abdomen, fractured ribs, flying glass cuts, and a cerebral hemorrhage from a fractured skull were all simulated with detailed makeup.
The victims were instructed to “make it real”, and “give the responders a hard time” with painful howls, disoriented cries for help, and in one case, a panic attack that was so genuine in appearance, the attending paramedic had to confirm with the victim that she was indeed okay, and merely acting.
Once the players were in place, DeSoto County Fire-Rescue descended on the scene, triaged the victims (sorted them by injury severity), and transported them to DeSoto Memorial Hospital, in what would later be termed a “very quick” exercise lasting about one hour, half the normal time.
In the “hotwash” or after exercise review at the DeSoto County Emergency Operations Center, the facilitators gave emergency services high marks, citing inter-office cooperation, communications skills, and solid training. During the meeting, some of the CERT “victims” arrived, some still in makeup and fresh from the emergency room, to applause from the professional teams.
The Hendry County participants were singled out three times during the meeting, with Newhouse and Mercado being commended on excellent “moulage” work, advice to the victims on how to play their roles realistically, and the enthusiastic participation and accuracy of the victims themselves. Additionally, the Hendry County CERT team members had praise for their DeSoto counterparts, complimenting them on their positive attitude and performance.
Director Newhouse followed up the exercise saying, “I was proud to have our staff and reservists work with the outstanding professionals in DeSoto County today. I’d like our teams to continue along this path to make Hendry County the place other jurisdictions can look to as an example of what can be done with a small group of dedicated staff and volunteers. Hopefully, when the word gets around locally, it will encourage more residents of Hendry County to take CERT and ham radio training so they can be ready to help their neighborhoods after a disaster.”
Hendry County CERT Coordinator Margaret England KM4OVY added, “I was impressed at how smoothly the Incident Command System was implemented by the responders, emergency workers, and hospital staff during the train bus wreck simulation. I look forward to Hendry County CERT volunteer’s participation in future emergency exercises in order to help in our neighborhoods and community.”
And Brenda Barnes, Planning Consultant & Public Information Officer for the Florida Department of Health in Hendry & Glades Counties said, “This was a great training experience for everyone involved. You respond like you train. This training exercise provided the opportunity for us to learn together but also allowed us to strengthen our professional relationships.”
The Hendry County Emergency Management will be hosting free ham radio training on April 16th, and a free CERT training class in June. Seats are still open. To register, call the Emergency Operations Center at 863-674-5400.