Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hurricane Ike - After Effects

It came, it went. Now the clean up and repair starts. Many will be out of home and needful things for some time into the future. Electrical power is slowly coming back to Houston. Galveston is such a shambles, no one is getting in except law enforcement and clean up people. A task that is overwhelming.

As we at the Bexar County ARES stood down from the EOC, some of our crew packed up to travel to Houston and in the immediate areas to assist with communications. Most of them will be posted at PODs. Points Of Distribution. The basic things of lift are being handed out. Food, ice, toiletries, clothing. Our folks along with Hams from other unaffected areas pass info back and forth about resupply. Keeping the basics of lift supplied at the PODs is a full time job. There are so many in need and long lines form up early each morning.

Our folks expect to spend about 5-7 days there and hopeful, be replaced by more folks from our area. Living can be primitive. We understand there is shelter (no other description) and food (MREs) available for our folks, but showers may not be available. I can't speak for others, but if I don't shower every day, about the third day I don't want to be close to me. I can imagine what it would be like for other folks having to work close to me.

If there is still a need by the second week of Oct., I'll probably make the trip too. Hams who are properly equipped are the only ones going. I'm in the process of gather the proper equipment. One thing needed is an independent means of powering the radios. Deep cycle batteries work just fine. Getting two or three of them, charging them up, packing them in some sort of rolling luggage rack, finding room for one or two radios, tools, bits and pieces takes time when starting from zero. I'm getting there, but it's expensive. However, if I go it will all be worth it. And, if/when there is a next time, I'll be ready.

OK, that's it for now. C U later. .-.-.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hurricane Ike - Monday

Hurricane Ike, now just a lot of rain streaming across the New England countryside, is all but over. Here at the EOC, the people movers, the search/rescue folks are all working at taking increasing numbers of evacuees out of the Galveston/Houston area and placing them in shelters here and the Metroplex area. Our part, the ARES Hams will stand-down at 6am tomorrow. We remain on stand-by for call out to travel to the disaster area. Several local Hams have volunteered to make the trip if called upon. I don't have the necessary "Go Kit" to be of any assistance. I've talked to several Hams having Go Kits and have some ideas on what I'll need. Among items needed are a radio capable of receiving on one frequency and transmitting it on another frequency. To go along with that, I'll need a couple of deep discharge batteries, battery charges (one store bought, the other hand made), and a bunch of odds and ends of wire, connectors, tools, electrical tape, etc. I can spend as much on this as I want, or as the wife says, as little as needed to get by. She has agreed to this as long as I don't do it all at once. I figure I can get set up for about $600.

We have not provided a lot of communications other than checking in with various other ARES groups across the state and with local Hams to insure everything worked and everyone was available and listening. So, form our point of view this has been an almost non-event. I know that may sound cold and callus considering the death (20 I've heard of so far) and destruction (already several billion and counting). I certainly feel for all those who have lost so much and have been displaced. I hope they all get home soon.

Unless something extraordinary happens this will be the last on Ike. BTW, you may wonder what happened to Sunday's blog. I was off Sunday and did as little as possible. Got up late (7:30 a) took wife to breakfast, vegetated the remainder. C U later


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hurricane Ike - Saturday

Ike came in last night. Came across Galveston and right up I45 to Houston. As I write this there are over 4 millions of people without electricity. Word is that it may take several weeks to get everything fully restored. News media are in a frenzy showing destruction. The expected wall of water that was going to wipe Galveston Island clean, did not happen. There was water to be sure, but not as high as forecast. Upon daylight various responding agencies and the openly curious came out and started looking around. It has been said on the media that this will be the largest search and rescue Texas has ever had. Military, state, and private flying resources from all over the US are staged and ready as soon as the winds are down enough for them to operate. Boats and high-lift vehicles (trucks on big wheels, etc) are ready to go. Everyone is waiting for the word.

Locally, all efforts are directed to caring for the evacuees and getting them ready to go home when it's safe to do so. It could be in a day or two, or in a week or two. Just depends on how badly things were torn up. In the ARES radio room, there has been only local traffic of Hams checking in to see what if anything has been needed from them. The Red Cross is taking care of all the shelters and weather conditions here have been good all through the Ike event. Red Cross has their own communications set up this time and all normal telephone and Internet services are available. We remain on alert in stand-by if we are needed. We are needed in the areas affected and a call has been put out for any Ham available to go to Lufkin, TX, tomorrow for ?long to assist with shelter communications and possibly responder communications damaged by Ike. There may be additional requests for other areas east of Houston and in the Galveston area. The State EOC may put out a call state wide for Hams to assist. Many hams from all over will give their time and use their equipment to give service.

I'm off tomorrow and will be back in the radio room on Monday and every day thereafter until we are told to stand down. If more stuff needs to be put in today, I'll update. Keep watching.

C U later. .-.-.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike - Friday

At it again. Over night was quiet for us in the radio room. Much business was going all night as more evacuees came in from the Houston/Galveston area. At one point last night it was announced that anyone living in a one or two story home on Galveston Island should evacuate immediately or face certain death when Ike arrives. Galveston has a 17 foot high retaining wall across part of the island. It will not stop the waters. There is a forecast storm surge of 22-23 feet at land fall. Watching several different TV news and weather channels I'm getting a lot of info on the expected storm surge at both low tide and high tide. It is expected to cover a wide area up and down the coast of Texas. The highest will be from the eye and to the right of the eye over into Louisiana.

Radio-wise, our local traffic is still quiet, but the Texas Emergency Net on the amateur frequencies is becoming busy. It was declared as an emergency net earlier this morning. That means other Hams should stay away from casual contacts and keep the frequency open. We've checked in with the net and are listening.

As Ike draws near to the coast, some forms of business speed up, like getting those last few people out and into shelters, and other things slow down. One rule is to keep people from harm. That applies to emergency responders and support personnel as well as citizens. "Hunker-down," is the word. Several hours before Ike hits, weather and water conditions get bad enough for everyone to hunker-down and just wait. That time is spreading from the coasts around Houston/Galveston now. The only exception seems to be TV crews who will stand in 100mph winds to show views how bad it is.

We have visitors wander in from time-to-time. Some are other EOC folks who just want to see what we do and what we have in equipment. We also have official visitors from outside. Big political and business people who have influence to resources and funding for the EOC.. We put on a good face and provide explanations of who/what/how we do our job. We try to speak plain English and watch carefully for the "glazed-eye" look. When we see that we revert to grade school English because we've overloaded capacities of our visitors.

We remain in a "wait for it" condition. Shelters are filling up, services to them are being rendered. More later as things develop.

Update at Noon: On the local news it was announced that there are up to 1,000 more busses headed for San Antonio. If you figure 30 persons @ bus... whooo, thats a lot of people we will be hosting. Some of them may have to go elsewhere. We have just over 350 pets sheltered - PETA would be proud. OK, more later, maybe.

C U later. .-.-.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hurricane Ike - Thursday

5 o'clock came way too early this morning. Had to get up that early to shower grab breakfast and drive the 20ish miles from home to the EOC. Over night, or rather yesterday evening, several helicopters arrived and are staged ready for transport and search/rescue. There are several fixed-wing aircraft staged also. Also over night Ike seems to have veered more to the northwest and is forecast to strike somewhere close to Houston. If this happens, gears need shifting right now. All the folks that came from and are still coming from the Corpus Christi area may have to turn and head home. Problem is, if Ike goes further up coast, San Antonio will need all the room and resource available. The mid coast area has about half-million folks that could be effected. Now, if Ike goes into the Houston area, over five-million will be effected. Way more people will evacuate in all directions and at least half of them could come to San Antonio. Watching various TV channels like "The Weather Channel," and news channels, all are advising Houston area folks to move west and northwest. We are bracing for the influx. Expectations for the rush are looking at this afternoon and through the next days. Then, those who did not get out of the way will be transported in after Ike blows away. There is a mad scramble to prepare additional shelters with cots food supplies and all accouterments needed.

More later if we don't get too busy in the radio room. C U later. .-.-.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hurricane Ike - Wednesday

Well, the news is out. Everyone should know that hurricane Ike is headed for Texas. As an Amateur Radio operater, I have volunteered my services to the San Antonio Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and my ARES group who supply operaters for the EOC. We will be on duty 24/7 until Ike blows itself out. I'm pulling the 6am to 2pm shift all week. I have Sunday off and expect to come back on Monday and the rest of the week or until a "Stand-Down" is called.

Presently, there is little to do except check that all our radios are on and functioning. Later today, as more folks come in from Corpus Christi, we may have radio action. We help pass info out of shelters to the various agencies here. We also pass info back to the shelters from the EOC.

There was a short break from the Gustav huricane and the EOC never went completely down. Ike was already churning along out in the Alantic and so a skeleton crew was staffed in anticipation. Over the last several days a slow build-up has been going on all across South Texas and especially here at the EOC. We were called to action as of today. We don't yet have any Hams at shelters because there are no shelters open yet. Probably later today some of the other Hams will go out.

Early this morning, 6:30ish, FEMA gave a report that there were just over 20,000 cots and blankets here and being unloaded. Other agencies were also giving statis reports, but the 20,000 cots caught my ear.

I'm working with Bob Rodriguez, K5AUW. He's a couple of years younger than me, but been a Ham since he was a kid. Knows radios inside and out. Good guy. Part of our duties is working the HF radios. Presently we have two of them set for the South Texas Emergency Net, and the West Gulf ARES Net. We expect they will get real busy later in the week as Ike comes in and blows down other forms of communications.

As we go along I'll give out additional blogs. Expect the next tomorrow, unless something exceptional comes along later today.

UPDATE: Wednesday evening.

Spent the day at the EOC and watched as people started coming in from the Corpus Christi area, and various facilities and agencies started taking action to deal with the inflow. There is continuing concern for San Antonio. If Ike comes in and hits SA, we will have a lot, A LOT, of our own folks to care for. Many may have to be evacuated to "elsewhere." Elsewhere has no yet been defined (that I've heard anyway). But, I wanted to update you on things. Like, I left the EOC just after 2p and ran around buying bags of ice and stuffing the freezer with them. Also bought lots of bottled water. Already have plenty of caned goods and dry stuff for eating. A ton-o-candles for light (if/when the power goes away). Got the Jeep gased up and ready if I need to get through standing water. Then, at 5p I sat down at my radio at home and presently am monitoring the Emergency frequency we at ARES use in the EOC. The reason? While the two guys at the EOC at sharp and have good ears, they might get busy with other communications and miss something. I monitor and if needed, I pick up the slack, write it all down, call on phone or email to the EOC and pass the info to the two guys on official watch. The monitor acts as fall-back for message traffic. I'm on until about 10p or so, then it's off to bed and back to the EOC tomorrow morning at 6a. Workwork... workworkwork. More to follow tomorrow.

C U later. .-.-.

Monday, September 1, 2008


I'm a Ham (Amateur Radio Operator) and as such I'm occasionally called on to assist with communications when some sort of emergency or disaster occurs. Gustav is one such occasion. The San Antonio Emergency Operations Center was activated on Sunday morning and I was asked to assist by working the evening shift. The SAEOC consists of virtually all agencies that will have a need to provide assistance and coordination of services to those persons affected by an disaster or emergency. There is a building designed to house the operations. From there the various agencies talk directly with each other and then disseminate information to the individual agencies' employees providing services. The EOC has extensive communications capabilities. Many of the communications are interoperable, meaning they can talk to each other via radio, Internet, fax, and other electronic means of communicating. However, most of these systems are centralized and dependent on the equipment continuing to function. These systems are great for most situations and certainly fill the need for everyday use. Then comes a storm and electrical service is interrupted, communications towers are blown down, underground cabling is flooded, and the whole thing stops. That's when we Hams step forward and provide basic communications to keep emergency responders, well, responding. Our systems are not dependent on centralized sources of power or equipment. Our radios are individually owned and cared for. Our systems can be set up in the middle of a muddy field, under a tent and powered from batteries and/or small generators. We communicat with other Hams inside the area of need to pass info back and forth to agencies in crisis. We communicate with other Hams outside the area of concern to pass requests for supplies, equipment, and aid for the agencies in need. We also, as time allows, pass information on peoples' welfare. When you live in an area struck by a disaster or hurricane and can't get information out to loved ones living outside the area, we can pass basic information about your welfare to relatives and friends outside. When you live outside the area, we can pass requests for information into the area and hope someone can contact the people you are concerned about on a face-to-face basis, or find out where you've gone (shelter or hospital or where ever).

So, that's what I've been called to do. Volunteer Hams work shifts in twos and threes at the EOC ready and standing by to provide communications when all else fails. And, its not just when other systems fail. We also help by communicating during times of overload. An example: a shelter may be located at a school and there are limited numbers of phone lines available to call for supplies, keep track of who is there, how many are there, and what is needed to support them while they are there. We try to have a Ham standing by with the shelter directer. When phones get tied up, the shelter directer can turn to the Ham and through the Ham make request for any or all of the needed services. Since there are Hams at the EOC, the request comes in and is directed to the appropriate agency for response.

Yesterday evening I was there and it was quiet. Some evacuees had come in by buss and plane. As they were unloaded, counts of persons were made and shelters alerted. They were then taken to the shelters and their needs arranged. We even had pets come in with the evacuees. Pets are provided for as well. Among the pets was one chicken.

Now that the storm has come ashore, there may be more evacuees coming to San Antonio. If so, the EOC is on-duty and ready. AS part of the EOC, the Hams will be there. I'm scheduled to go back at 4pm for an eight hour shift. One note on the operations. It's designed to house a hundred or more people, and lots of electrical equipment. It has full facilities for restrooms, eating, and taking a short break from the action. It's designed to survive hurricanes and tornados. It's a big building. It also has a very efficient air conditioning system. In the great room it stays comfortable. We are in a small room with three air ducts in the ceiling. It gets cold in there. Today, I'm wearing warmer clothes than yesterday. By the time I left last night, I was shivering. Brrr.

C U later. .-.-.