2017 Clewiston Sugar Festival

KI4QIQ, KI4LFF, and some Big Tires

The 31st Clewiston Sugar Festival is in the books, and by most any measure it was a mass-of-humanity good time. Live music, shiny custom cars, old-school steam farm equipment, and food, food, food.

The participating amateur radio operators of Big Lake ARC wore their Reservist colors as Hendry EM representatives working out of the Joint Command Post supporting Hendry County EMS, Clewiston Fire, Montura Fire, Pioneer Fire, Hendry Sheriff’s Office, and Clewiston Police.

Incident Command was Clewiston PD’s Lieutenant Aaron Angell, backed by Clewison PD’s Debi McNeil, Hendry EMS Captain Adrian Damms, Hendry EM Director Brian Newhouse KJ4WIC, EM Logistics Chief Cristina Mercado, and E-911 Technician Brandi Frame KN4AFW.

Clewiston began as a work-camp during the construction of the Moore Haven and Clewiston Railroad. The railway was acquired by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company (ACL) on July 1, 1925. – – Hendry County, Florida. 1920. Black & white photonegative, 4 x 5 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

After the group briefing from Lieutenant Angell, the hams were honored with a personal team briefing outlining their expected duties as support personnel.

KC1FLU set a high bar for net control at the go-box with measured tones, time and station checks, and regular information updates on both the amateurs 446.000 ground frequency, and the local Clewiston 2-meter repeater.

The go-box is a bright yellow Pelican case containing an Alinco DR-635 dual bander and matching 32-amp switched power supply. A Diamond X50A dual-band antenna gets the signal out.

KI4LFF, KM4EWE, and KI4QIQ also set a high performance mark as Rovers, supporting Public Safety teams in the field, and acting as dispatched eyes-on-site for specific areas of the festival.

On three occasions they helped sweep the grounds looking for parents separated from their children, and to help locate a mentally-disabled man for his family. The Rover teams were out the door immediately after a quick briefing, moments after the calls came in for the missing individuals.

They were equipped with County 800-MHz public safety radios for direct communication with the Command Post as well as their UHF amateur communications.

An exercise was planned to simulate a failure of the 800-MHz system. Hams would have been dispatched to the EMS strike teams to act as their communicators. A spike in activity among festival-goers requiring increased attention of Public Safety personnel about the same time led to the decision to postpone the exercise.

KC0SJU wore his Red Cross vest during the festival, manning a responder rehab tent with water and snacks.

Breakfast was served up from St. Martin’s Episcopal Church courtesy of Hendry County EC, WA4PAM.

WD4RCC acted as unit leader for the amateur’s participation in the Sugar Festival, to which all the senior members of Joint Command gave high marks for readiness, flexibility, and cooperation with County and City Public Safety staff.

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot – Clewiston. 192?. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The takeaways from the deployment were mostly technical. The command post was located in a room that was acoustically highly reflective. The noise level with multiple radios going off simultaneously was taxing the focus of everyone in the room.

Some modifications to the go-box were suggested including a front-firing speaker, or a way to prop the box lid to direct the sound towards the operator. Also, keeping some duct tape in the box to secure power and coaxial cabling to floors and walls in a busy environment.

Unlike February’s Labelle Swamp Cabbage Festival that had the hams exceeding the range limits of handy-talkies on UHF simplex along a two mile parade route, the Clewiston Sugar Festival was more compact, all within nine city blocks. (Think a tic-tac-toe grid.) For this deployment, the large Diamond antenna was overkill. A smaller dual band whip attached to a connector mounted through the go-box would have been sufficient.

by Davis, Wally. Aerial view of Clewiston, Florida. 1958. Black & white photoprint, 4 x 5 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

2017 Labelle Swamp Cabbage Festival

Swamp Cabbage Festval Logo
Trash Panda Approved!

The Labelle Swamp Cabbage Festival is a February tradition, pulling in more than 6,500 visitors to Hendry County. The 51st edition over the weekend of February 26th and 27th was one of the largest, with over one hundred vendors offering food, drinks, crafts, games, and live music.

Setting up the Big Green Canopy

This year, legacy country band Shenandoah was on the ticket, kicking off their 30th Anniversary Tour, along with two days of entertainment, food, river cruises, food, car shows, and the Swamp Cabbage Parade, Saturday and Sunday, February 25 & 26.

Sheriff’s Lieutenant Billy Griffin briefing EM Reservists

Fifteen members of Big Lake ARC and Hendry CERT worked the Parade Saturday morning, taking assignments at key intersections along the route, and then after the parade, throughout the festival grounds.

KN4AFW performed well as net control, maintaining communications on 446.000 simplex and the local Labelle repeater.

During the parade, one of the Reservists fell ill due to the heat, and the difficulty of moving emergency vehicles through a densely packed parade route was never more clear. A Hendry EMS team checked the Reservist out, and sent him home to rest. Thanks to Belle’s Ice Cream Bar for their hospitality during the action.

A missing child put everyone on alert for a few minutes. KN4AFU and KN4AFV were able to locate the parents within moments of the alert being posted by Sheriff’s dispatch.

Hendry County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Billy Griffin, in a note of appreciation to EM Director Brian Newhouse KJ4WIC, said, “Thank you so much for your assistance during the Swamp Cabbage Festival.  The group of volunteers you have are Top Notch and I enjoyed them immensely .  Please share with them my sincerest Thanks and appreciation for all they did that day to make the 2017 Swamp Cabbage Festival not only successful; but safe as well.  Great job from some even greater people.”

Everglades guide George L. Espenlaub prepares a pot of swamp cabbage (photo circa 1950s). Photo courtesy floridamemory.com.

The takeaway from this event was that 70cm proved to be at the edge of range using handhelds for all functions, including net control at the command post. Future operations will use a higher-powered mobile 70cm at the command post with an external antenna.

Florida CERT Conference & Training

The 2016 Annual State Conference of the Florida CERT Association will be August 22nd – 27th 2016 at the Hilton Daytona Beach Resort / Ocean Walk Village.

Pre-conference training is FREE for those who register:

8/25 to 8/27 – $125.00 ($100 if registered by 8/1)
8/25 to 8/26 – Two full days of advanced CERT breakout sessions
8/27 – Full scale drill, evening banquet and awards ceremony

There will be two available classes with your conference admission fee. You must pre-register on SERTrac to attend the free class:

8/22 to 8/24 – CERT Train the Trainer – G-428 (3 day course)
8/23 to 8/24 – CERT Program Manager – G-427 (2 day course)

More information is on the Florida CERT Association website.

Arcadia Mass Casualty Exercise

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.

Accident area -- photo Hanna McColough
Accident area — photo Hanna McColough

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/ARES member KI4QIQ getting a simulated injury from EM Director KJ4WIC -- photo Hanna McColough
CERT/ARES member KI4QIQ getting a simulated injury from EM Director KJ4WIC — photo Hanna McColough

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.

Cristina Mercado applying makeup to a victim -- photo Hanna McColough
Cristina Mercado applying makeup to a victim — photo Hanna McColough

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.

Triage station -- photo KM4OVY
Triage station — photo KM4OVY

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.

Hendry County CERT

Hendry County Emergency Management CERT meets the first Thursday of each month at the Hendry County EOC on February 4th, 2016 at 6:00 PM.

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FEMA began promoting the nationwide Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in 1994. Since then, teams have been established in hundreds of communities around the country, including Hendry County.

CERT training promotes a partnering effort between emergency services and the people that they serve. The goal is for emergency personnel to train members of neighborhoods, community organizations or workplaces in basic response skills. The CERT members are then integrated into the emergency response capability for the area.

If a disastrous event overwhelms or delays the County’s professional response, CERT members can assist community members by applying basic life support response and organizational skills that they learned during training. These skills can help save and sustain lives following a disaster until help arrives.

Team members maintain and refine their skills by participating in training exercises and other activities throughout the year. They can attend supplemental training opportunities offered by the sponsoring organization or other agencies to further their skills and expand their knowledge base.

Finally, CERT members can volunteer for projects that improve Hendry County’s emergency preparedness. Once the training is complete, team members will participate in a final exam and exercise or drill to put into practice the skills they learned. This training consists of twenty (20) classroom hours and can also be tailored to fit the community’s needs.

CERT training will teach each participant to:

  • Describe the types of hazards most likely to affect their homes and communities.
  • Describe the function of CERT and their role in immediate response.
  • Take steps to prepare themselves for a disaster.
  • Identify and reduce potential fire hazards in their homes and workplaces.
  • Work as a team to solve different problems.
  • Apply techniques for basic first aid, conducting triage, performing a head to toe assessment, selecting and setting up treatment areas.
  • Identify planning and size-up requirements for search and rescue situations.
  • Use safe techniques for debris removal, victim rescue and describe ways to protect rescuers during the search and rescue effort.

The CERT program has been in place in Hendry County since 2006 and has provided training to many people over the years. Each CERT trainee that completes the training will receive a CERT KIT (containing tools to use as a CERT member), as well as a Certificate of Completion. The classes are free of charge and are taught by the County’s Emergency Management and response personnel.

If you have received this training in the past, and still want to participate, we need to hear from you to update your contact information. If you have never taken the training but would like to learn more about it, please contact Hendry County Emergency Management at 863-674-5400.

The EOC is located at 4425 West State Road 80, about 6 miles west of LaBelle. It is located on the south side of SR80 about a mile past the old Berry Plant.

Amy Howard, FPEM
EM Planner, Hendry County Emergency Management