Amateur Radio to the Rescue in Oregon

Posted by Sam Churchill on

A recent storm flooded parts of Washington and Oregon, with high winds bringing down trees, phone and power service. But ham radio worked, reports the AP.

The storm has closed Interstate 5, the main west coast artery to Seattle, at least until this weekend, Washington state transportation officials said. Communications and transportation were impacted with the Columbia River bar closed to ship traffic and rail lines blocked by mud slides. Freight trains have now restarted with Amtrak planned to resume passenger service Thursday.

“I’m going to tell you who the heroes were from the very beginning of this…the ham radio operators. These people just came in and actually provided a tremendous communication link to us,” said Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski after a visit Tuesday to Vernonia and a fly-over there and other affected areas.

In Oregon’s northern coast, callers were again able to make and receive long-distance phone calls after floods and mudslides breached a major fiber-optic line in several places around Westport.

A network of at least 60 volunteer amateur radio operators working along the coast and inland helped from keep crucial systems such as 911 calls, American Red Cross and hospital services connected. The ARRL provided emergency comminciations, relaying information about patient care and lists of supplies needed in areas cut off by water.

“You are amateur in name only,” said Steve Sanders, a spokesman for District One of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), which helped in several key counties hit by the storm.

The storm has now largly passed, but ARES is still providing communications to the coast, with more than 60 volunteers working at the coast and many more at points in between.

The District One Emergency Radio Network was activated at 8 AM Monday morning and is still in operation today; District One ARES serves Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Multnomah, Tillamook and Washington counties – the northwest corner of the state.

According to ARRL Oregon Section Public Information Coordinator Steve Sanders, KE7JSS, “We are working closely with the American Red Cross as well as the major hospitals, Heartnet radio network and district-wide emergency managers, including Oregon Emergency Management in Salem.”

ARRL Oregon District One Emergency Coordinator David Kidd, KA7OZO, said, “The Red Cross has set up two shelters in Tillamook County and four in Columbia County. The Columbia County Emergency Center reported that Astoria is without phone service and the outage is expected to remain so for the rest of the week.

Columbia County will continue to provide 911 service and relays for Clatsop County. The ham station continues to be operational at the Vernonia Fire Department and has contact with Clatsop and Columbia Counties and is relaying traffic as needed and will support the Red Cross resupply operation in progress.”

According to Sally Jones, Administrator for the Columbia 911 Communications District, “911 lines that would normally be answered in Seaside and Astoria for callers in Clatsop County were diverted by the phone company to Columbia 911 Communications Center on a temporary emergency basis.

The emergency phone calls are being taken by Columbia 911 staff who are relaying the information via Columbia County and Clatsop County Amateur Radio Emergency Services Volunteers to the police fire and emergency medical dispatchers in Clatsop County, who then are activating Clatsop County first responders.”

Lincoln City on the coast, recently installed Reverse 9-1-1 although the system has not yet been used in an actual emergency. On a computer with a map of the area, a dispatcher can use the computer’s mouse to draw a circle around the area to be notified, click a button, and the calls will go out. Richard Glasgow, director of the Lincoln County Communications Agency (LinCom) would like to get this type of emergency notification system at all Oregon 9-1-1 centers.

Oregon Amateur Radio Clubs like the Amateur Radio Relay Group, the Tualatin Valley Amateur Radio Club and Astoria’s Sunset Amateur Radio Club can link repeaters down the coast and have proven invaluable numerous times.

Jeremy Alexander, W7EME, said, “Almost all telephone from this area, North Lincoln County to the south and Clatsop County to the north are via Amateur Radio efforts. As far as I can tell, even communications with the state EOC have been via FM ham bands.”

He said that wind gusts have ranged upwards of 118 miles per hour. “My home in Tillamook County is on a hilltop — we had gusts of about 127 miles per hour. Rain, county wide, is about 6 inches total and we had more than 2 inches in one hour late in the evening on Sunday, December 2.”

The Verizon Foundation is donating $10,000 to the Columbia Flood Victims Unmet Needs Fund in Vernonia. Verizon is also providing flood victims with a range of free calling services – from wireless phones to automatic call-forwarding – to help them stay connected during this time of crisis.

“When people are in trouble, we want to help,” said Verizon’s Northwest Senior Vice President David S. Valdez. “We’ve worked hard to get phone service restored; now it’s time to help the community with its recovery efforts.”

In other news, C/Net notes that it was a year ago today that James Kim’s body was found after he, his wife, and two daughters were stranded for more than a week in a snowy national forest in Oregon.

According to a report issued by the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association (pdf) last summer, a San Francisco detective looking for the Kims asked their cell phone company where the family had made their last call. Instead, the detective should have asked where the Kims’ phones had made their last electronic “handshake” with a cell phone tower.

Even when people aren’t on their cell phones, the handsets try to communicate, or “shake hands,” with nearby cell towers every 30 seconds to register their location. Companies maintain records of the handshakes, including when the contact was made and signal strength, which can help pinpoint a phone’s location.

The storm has proven to be a good test, say some emergency responders.

Geologists say massive earthquakes and tsunamis have occurred every 300 to 500 years off the Oregon coast. The most recent one, in 1700, drowned coastal forests in Oregon, altered the coastline and sent tsunami waves across the Pacific so powerful that they destroyed Japanese fishing villages.

Last month a Canadian cable-laying ship returned to port wrapping up the first phase of the North-East Pacific Time-series Undersea Networked Experiments‘ (NEPTUNE) project and the beginning of real excitement for marine researchers and geologists.

Another section, the Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS) is being tested this month (graphic of instrumentation). The 32-mile undersea cable carries data and power to a “science node” almost 3,000 feet below the surface of Monterey Bay. Dan Reed’s Network will tie it all together.

It’s estimated that 22,000 people live tsunami hazard zones along Oregon’s coast, plus many times that in California, Washington and Canada. Transpacific fiber lines may be among the first to go.

Oregon Newspapers reporting on the storm include The Daily Astorian, Salem Statesman Journal, Eugene Register Guard, Lincoln City News Guard, The Oregonian, Brookings Curry Pilot, Tillamook Lighthead, Coos Bay World and Seattle Times Tech Tracks.

Listen in on a Ham Radio Field Day in this sound/slide show.

WHEN the big Tsunami hits the West Coast, cellphones, land lines and cable could be dead for weeks with help unavailable. Police and first responders will do their thing on 800 Mhz. But the backbone of communications will likely depend on amateur radio operators.

Here are two solutions:

  • A public/private coastal public access network — either WiFi or WiMAX — could be solar powered and accessed by the public in times of emergency and used as tourist kiosks the rest of the time.
  • Terrestrial ATC towers from ICO, Terrestar or even Inmarsat could provide satphone connections. Governments down the coast could provide “anchor tenant” commitments, using bandwidth locally.

Solutions like these would be cheaper than one highway bridge. Unfortunately, such a network is unlikely to be a high priority — until people die.

Talk to Oregon Emergency Management (above) if you think it will help.

Related DailyWireless stories include, Mountain Rescue UAVs, E911 & Triangulation, Katrina Telecomunications Report, Hyperspectral Search, Report on Kim Search, Cellular Triangulation, Wireless River Monitoring, Underwater MIMO, McSignage, Emergency Com Gets WiFi/Sat Link, Taiwan Earthquake Knocks Out Cables, Remote Ocean Viewer, Dan Reed’s Network, VoIP Gets 911 Extension, VoIP E-911 Rush?, 211, 311, 411, 511 & 911, Tracking Individuals, Location, location, location, Rescue By Cell Triangulation E-911: Seeking a Location, Satellite Tracking, Location By Triangulation – Not, Tracking Bryon, 24hr UAV Coverage, Wireless Recon Airplanes, HDTV from aircraft, UAVs Expand Roles, and Micro Air Vehicles.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Thursday, December 6th, 2007 at 3:28 am .

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