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 ready.gov.

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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Calvert ARES Report for February 2015

The month of February saw lots of snow and ice.  We went into a standby mode for the first ice and wind storm of the season but didn’t see any power or communication outages that warranted an activation.

Our regular meeting (third Tuesday of the month) was canceled due to the possibility of ice on the roadways and an on-air net was used to take its place.  The training given during the net revolved around the wilderness protocol and how it could be used during an communications failure event (or really any time).

We’ve started doing message handling training at the end of the club’s weekly net (Monday nights at 19:30 on 146.985 repeater) which seems to get several active and passive participants.  Utilizing the trivia messages that routinely come through the Radiogram list, stations practice receiving the message and can send a response as well.  I already relayed one message from this week’s trivia on the MEPN from one of our stations here in the county.

While not specifically ARES related, we have secured space on a tower in Prince Frederick for the 444.950 repeater (FM and System Fusion) and APRS digipeater which should help provide coverage to the south end of the county.  This will also provide geographic diversity for our current site.

March’s training will include development of guidelines for responding to known threats (hurricanes, fire/EMS communication failures, etc) where we’re familiar with what will likely be asked of us.  We also plan to participate in PG County’s breakfast field operation on March 21st.

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Message Handling Training

Our January meeting dealt specifically with message handling.  The ARRL Radiogram, ICS-213 message, and other ICS forms were discussed.  We’ll start doing weekly training on message handling immediately following the CARA net.

If you missed the training, or would like to refresh your memory, you can find all the resources under the training tab under “Message Handling“.

If you want to use your training on a regular basis I highly recommend checking into one of the following nets:

We also have several elmers that can help you with passing traffic.  Please send an email to the list or ask for help on the next CARA net (or contact Eric directly).

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