Preparedness: Power Outage

September is National Preparedness Month and each week we’re looking at different disasters that should be prepared for.  This week we’re talking about power outages.

On the morning of August 14th, 2003, no one foresaw how that day would test their preparedness against disasters and put millions of people’s emergency plans into action.  Just after 4:10 PM a cascading voltage drop, caused by a software bug and power lines coming into contact with tree limbs, led to a blackout that put roughly 55 million people in the dark.

This event didn’t just affect people’s abilities to turn on lights and keep their food cold but also took down communications infrastructure.  Many cellular systems failed when generators ran out of fuel, cable television systems went offline until their home offices regained power, and Internet connectivity similarly went down causing those that relied on Internet connectivity for news and communications to be left in the dark.  Amateur radio operators in Suffolk County, NY, handled roughly 500 pieces of traffic of which the majority was health-and-welfare traffic.

The power outage affected New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario.  At least ten deaths are attributed to the outage and New York City Fire Department handled 60 “all-hands” fires that were caused by people using candles for illumination.

Lessons learned

In the aftermath of the Northeast US blackout of 2003, we learned some lessons that can help prevent further emergencies while reducing the load on emergency services.

Before a power outage

  • To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Follow energy conservation measures to keep the use of electricity as low as possible, which can help power companies avoid imposing rolling power outages.
  • Fill plastic containers with water and place them in the refrigerator and freezer if there’s room. Leave about an inch of space inside each one, because water expands as it freezes. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold during a temporary power outage, by displacing air that can warm up quickly with water or ice that keeps cold for several hours without additional refrigeration.
  • Be aware that most medication that requires refrigeration can be kept in a closed refrigerator for several hours without a problem. If unsure, check with your physician or pharmacist.
  • Keep your car tank at least half full because gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps.
  • Know where the manual release lever of your electric garage door opener is located and how to operate it. Garage doors can be heavy, so know that you may need help to lift it.
  • Keep a key to your house with you if you regularly use the garage as the primary means of entering your home, in case the garage door will not open.

During a power outage

  • Use only flashlights for emergency lighting. NEVER use candles during a power outage due to extreme risk of fire.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to keep your food as fresh as possible. If you must eat food that was refrigerated or frozen, check it carefully for signs of spoilage.
  • Turn off or disconnect appliances, equipment (like air conditioners) or electronics in use when the power went out. Power may return with momentary “surges” or “spikes” that can damage computers as well as motors in appliances like the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer or furnace.
  • Do not run a generator inside a home or garage.
  • Do not connect a generator to a home’s electrical system.  If you use a generator, connect the equipment you want to run directly to the outlets on the generator.
  • Listen to local radio and to a battery- or generator-powered television for updated information.
  • Leave on one light so that you’ll know when your power returns.
  • Use the telephone for emergencies only. Listen to a portable radio for the latest information.
  • Do not call 9-1-1 for information—call only to report a life-threatening emergency. Use the phone for life-threatening emergencies only.
  • Take steps to remain cool if it is hot outside. In intense heat when the power may be off for a long time, consider going to a movie theater, shopping mall or “cooling shelter” that may be open in your community. If you remain at home, move to the lowest level of your home, since cool air falls. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty.
  • Put on layers of warm clothing if it is cold outside. Never burn charcoal for heating or cooking indoors. Never use your oven as a source of heat. If the power may be out for a prolonged period, plan to go to another location (the home of a relative or friend, or a public facility) that has heat to keep warm.
  • Provide plenty of fresh, cool water for your pets.
  • Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic signals will stop working during an outage, creating traffic congestion.
  • Remember that equipment such as automated teller machines (ATMs) and elevators may not work during a power outage.

After a power outage

  • Throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more or that has an unusual odor, color or texture. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Never taste food or rely on appearance or odor to determine its safety. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been at room temperature too long, bacteria causing food-borne illnesses can start growing quickly. Some types of bacteria produce toxins that cannot be destroyed by cooking.
  • If food in the freezer is colder than 40° F and has ice crystals on it, you can refreeze it.
  • If you are not sure food is cold enough, take its temperature with the food thermometer. Throw out any foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers) that have been exposed to temperatures higher than 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture, or feels warm to touch.


Amateur radio operators are likely to be better prepared for a communication outage since we utilize communication methods that are both efficient (little bandwidth, less power consumption) and don’t require Internet or other commercial infrastructure to function.

There are some basic things we need to take into consideration, however:

  • Have a battery available to run your radios.  Generators are great but you might not want to run the generator constantly.  A battery will keep your radios on the air even in the absence of a generator.  It is also important to have a means of charging that battery (generator, solar panels, your car’s alternator).
  • Have the ability to charge your HT using DC voltage.  Having a cigarette lighter charger for your HT means be able to charge your radio up using your battery or your vehicle.  This goes for your cellular phone as well.  Goal Zero sells small solar charging units that can charge up your cellular phone and AA or AAA batteries for your HT.
  • Know how to send and receive messages.  It’s great that amateur radio has the ability to move messages around in the event of an emergency but if you don’t know how to utilize these networks they are of no use to you.  The best way to learn and understand and be able to use these networks fluently is to participate in them regularly.
  • Know your county’s emergency plans and what frequencies to monitor.  Know that during power outages local infrastructure, such as repeaters and digipeaters, may not be available and HF operations may be the best.
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Preparedness: Hurricanes

A few of Hurricane Isabel from the ISS.September is National Preparedness Month and each week we’re looking at different disasters that should be prepared for.  This week we’re talking about hurricanes.

Since 1980, Maryland has been affected by 56 hurricanes, tropical storms, or tropical depressions.  Most of these storms hit in September and bring flooding, high winds, and power outages.

The biggest threat that comes from these storms is storm surge.  When tropical cyclones make landfall they bring with them a mass of water above what is already wind driven.  This, plus an ill-timed tide, can cause significant flooding which can cut off evacuation routes, isolate people from resources, and cause serious property damage and death.  According to Maryland Department of the Environment, 5.1% of Calvert County is in the 100-year floodplain which includes 3300 people and 1134 structures.

If there is a good aspect to hurricanes it is the advance notice we typically get from the National Hurricane Center.  Advance notice of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms are measured in minutes where hurricanes are typically forecast days in advance.  It’s important to prepare yourself and your property now.

Make a planMake a kit.  Test your plan.  Get out alive.

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Preparedness: Wildfires

Smokey the Bear

…can prevent forest fires.

September is National Preparedness Month and each week we’re looking at different disasters that should be prepared for.  This week we’re talking about wildfires.

When I think wildfire I think of the northwest.  Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming seem to have the largest share of these types of disasters.  Maryland, however, is not without their share of wildfires.

According to Maryland DNR, the Maryland Forest Service responds to around 500 wildfires each year burning more than 4000 acres.  Local fire departments respond to another 5000.  Most of these fires are caused by humans.

With residential areas increasingly growing into the wildland areas, there is an ever increasing risk that a wildfire will impact peoples lives.  It is important to learn how to help mitigate the risk of wildfire affecting your property as well as being ready to evacuate if the call comes.  Many times these emergency evacuations leave residents little time to react as a fire storm may already be at your doorstep.

Make a planMake a kit.  Test your plan.  Get out alive.

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Setting up and using fldigi, flmsg, flarq, and flamp

In the September meeting announcement I noted that we’d be learning how to use fldigi and RMS Express to transmit messages.  Jim, K3UGA, found a great video that not only discusses how to setup fldigi and rest of the suite of programs that make up the Narrow Band Emergency Messaging System (NBEMS) but also shows them in use.  I encourage everyone to take a look at the video (below) and become familiar with these programs.

In the near future I’d like to start a net using these tools to make sure everyone remains familiar with how they work.  Fldigi, by the way, is a great program for everyday keyboard-to-keyboard communications on HF and the same setup could be used for both emergencies and normal operations.

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Pre-planning for Yourself

Pre-planning is one of the most important aspects of an emergency response.  Without pre-planning you have no organized structure to underpin your response.  An unfolding emergency is not the time to gather your thoughts on what you need to do.

Pre-planning helps to prevent forgetting all the myriad steps in your emergency response plans.  Pre-planning is the guide that captures the practiced coordination and the gear you should have assembled to be ready with your response.  But pre-planning is not just the guide you will rely on for a local or non-local emergency.  This guide will also provide the response you have in place for your own home.  You cannot worry about the safety of your own loved ones and your home while you are trying to respond to an emergency that is affecting others and is outside your own immediate environment.  You need to make sure that your family and your home are prepared ahead of time to be able to handle the serious problems that a wide-spread emergency can present.

Your Own Home Response

You can properly respond to an emergency incident in your community if you have covered the needs of your own family and home.  Some families have special needs, but all families have needs that have to be included in pre-planning.  You can properly address your family’s needs before a disaster scenario by making sure you have covered at least the following:

  • A communications contact plan for all members of your family. Each member should know who is supposed to contact them, and they in turn should be given a designated member for them to contact. This should be your own personal COOP Plan.
  • An evacuation location or designated place for all of your family members to meet as soon as it is safe for them to do so.
  • Enough food, water, daily medications, and first-aid items to live comfortably for 3 to 7 days.
  • A list of items you would need if your family is evacuated, especially for an indefinite time.

Check for additional resources that are available at

Non-local Incident Response

Training is the second most important aspect of pre-planning. Once you have a plan in place, you need to train to that plan. The training phase is the time to find out where problems may arise. Responding to an actual emergency is NOT the time to find out where mistakes will emerge from your plan. Training should also include communications with pre-identified agencies who are the first-line responders and coordinators of any variety of emergency. And this is also where you want to make sure that your ham radio contribution is truly ready to assist when needed. Do you have a checklist for you individual radio, accessories, and personal items you would need in responding to any kind of emergency. The least amount of time you should plan for is 24 hours. The most amount of time could be days or weeks or more. Do you have an adequate stand-alone power source that will keep you up and running for a long time? What radios would you bring? How will you transport them? Make sure you have a contingency plan for antennas. Make sure you have a variety of antenna connectors – odd and not – just so you can get your messages out. If you don’t have a compatible connection to the antennas on site of the disaster, you won’t be able to work those critical emergency communications. You might as well be a dead cell phone.

On the human side, do you have adequate food and water and daily medications? What will you sleep on and what will you use for toiletries? Sanitation and personal grooming items are important in keeping you clean and healthy and on the job. Do you have first-aid items that will last, particularly if you have to share them? An extra pair of glasses? Think of responding to an emergency with your radio the same way you would supply yourself and your rig for a deep-woods camping trip. Don’t pack only for the radio. You need to pack for yourself or you might end up being a casualty yourself. Make that list and check it twice. And don’t depend on the agencies working the emergency to provide personal comfort and food and water. They’ll need their supplies for the victims of the disaster.

Be ready, be organized, be well-trained, and be the emergency support communications that amateur radio operators practice to be. Think about what you would do and how you would operate in a flood and landslide. How would you operate in a sizable earthquake? How about a nuclear accident? How about a hurricane or tornado? In your lifetime, you would probably never be called on to operate a radio station in most of these disasters. But to be on the best side of pre-planning, you would still want to prepare for that one time when you would be called up. Being ready for anything is the foundation for the existence of amateur radio.

Your Knowledge Response

When you pre-plan you will know from the beginning:

  • where to check in and with whom;
  • what frequency or frequencies to operate on for talk-in or resource management;
  • how long approximately you’ll be needed;
  • what resources, specifically, you’ll need; and,
  • whether you’ll be using the ICS 205 form.

The Unexpected Response

Pre-planning is absolutely necessary to be prepared for any kind of disaster or emergency. But don’t become so locked into your checklists and your assumptions that you become unprepared for the unexpected. Pre-planning also needs to be flexible. Follow your guides, instructions, and checklists, but leave a “space” between the lines. That’s where you’ll be inserting “well, I never saw that coming!”

Prepare yourself, your family, your home, and your property. Only then can you go and be truly helpful to someone else who has lost all those things and more.

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What is a watch?

March is the time when we start to see more severe weather.  It’s always good to get a refresher on what the terminologies mean…

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Calvert ARES Report for March 2015

The monthly ARES meeting was held in Prince Frederick on 2015-03-17.  We started working on pre-planning for some “common” scenarios and will continue to do so
over the coming months.

We also met at the home of KR3A to help deploy two HF antennas.  Ended up erecting one and getting the hardware setup for the second.  We hope to do more outdoor activities over the next few months now that the weather is warm.

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DHS OEC Emergency Communications Forum – Volume 15

DHS has just released their latest OEC Emergency Communications Forum bulletin.  There are some good scenarios that show work arounds in public safety communications as well as some future looking technology coming out.

Take a read!

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Scenario Planning

During the March AUXCOMM meeting Shawn, N3AE, presented scenario planning and provided a template for creating the scenarios:

  1. Scenario Title
  2. AuxComm Task and Objective
  3. Supported Agency
  4. Command Structure
  5. Communications Structure & Plan (nets, frequencies, backup’s)
  6. Anticipated Duration of Operation
  7. Deployed Location(s)
  8. Pre-positioned Equipment (if any)
  9. Required Equipment for Deployment (by location)
  10. Number of Operators Required and Skills
  11. Documentation During Operations
  12. Recommended Personal Gear
  13. Operator Relief and Changeover Plan
  14. Plan for Termination of Activities and Tear-Down
  15. Post-Event Hot Wash and Documentation

The meeting ended with a homework assignment for everyone to work on several scenarios and bring them to the next meeting.  The following scenarios need to be written up to be added to the EOP:

  • Severe Weather
    • Tornado/Severe Thunderstorm
    • Hurricane/Tropical Storm
    • Flooding/Flash Flooding
  • Shelter Operations
  • Loss of County Gov’t communication systems
  • Loss of Telephone Service and 911
  • HAZMAT Operations
  • Nuclear Hazard
  • Public Health Quarantine
  • Backup Hospital Communications

Please take a stab at one or more of the scenarios and bring it to the April meeting.  There are no wrong answers so give it your best shot.

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DRILL: Prince Georges County ARES Breakfast Deployment

PG County ARES has announced their annual breakfast deployment drill to be held on Saturday, March 21st.  Starting at 10:00AM, PG County ARES will be deploying to the field and will be operational on the 145.230MHz repeater (- offset, PL 110.9Hz) and 3820kHz.

Calvert County AUXCOMM will deploy after the CARA monthly breakfast to Don, KR3A’s house.  Our mission is to erect two HF antennas and make contact with PG county on HF.  We’ll also attempt communications with them on their repeater.

Additional information will be forthcoming.


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