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. .-.-.

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