PACKET RADIO: Notes from the '89 CA Earthquake

Part 3

Steve Wolf, W8IZ@W8IZ

(This text from the W8IZ packet radio bulletin

board. It's formatted to fit a 80 character screen.)

Old time radio operators were brought up in an era when an amateur
radio operator's a license meant more than a convenience or an
alternative to the telephone or CB. Hams then shared a common
enthusiasm, a fraternity, and common values. Amongst the values
were "how well" one could communicate; which meant how "good" was
one's station set up and how good one's ability to communicate
quickly and accurately especially during adverse conditions. It was
an era when communications values were recognized and honored.
Hence ARES, RACES, and NTS seemed to me, at in my pre-teen age, to
represent the highest and most benign values of amateur radio and
I quickly immersed myself into their activities. 
Over 200 hams provided communications for the East Bay Chapter of
the American Red Cross at shelters, service centers and EOCs for
six consecutive days. Some hams served 16 hour or more continuous
shifts at key locations because of the lack of available relief,
and because of the unavailability of any other means of
communications. Approximately 15,000 disaster messages within the
chapter were passed in over 3 weeks of radio work. Over 3000
messages were passed via amateur radio in the first week of
operations alone.    
Yes Some Repeaters Were "Almost" a "Zoo"
On my local repeater, I was hoping that an Emergency Coordinator
(EC) or an Assistant EC (AEC) would show up on the West Contra
Costa County Emergency Net frequency and take charge as reports
were getting more and more random and horror stricken. Chaos was
slowly rearing her disheveled head amongst the ever heightening
activity. Most people on the repeater were rambling on with how
much damage they received, or repeating rumors that they heard over
the TV, or asking for traffic directions. Unfortunately, the person
who volunteered as net control was not capable of running an
emergency net and it quickly deteriorated into rumors, gossiping,
highway traffic reporting, etc and it was very difficult to break
for other disaster or Red Cross related traffic. Before I left the
house I heard the confirmation that the Bay Bridge had collapsed.
This was going to be serious! 
In any case, we finally got through to the EC of West Contra Costa
County and requested amateur radio operators to be sent to the
Richmond Red Cross Communications Center which housed the radio
club station of the East Bay Amateur Radio Club, W6CUS. Richmond
was used for the next few days as the central resource and staging
center for East Bay Amateur Radio communications.
Commercial power was still out at Richmond and the Richmond Red
Cross generator was put in service while communications was
established on 47.42 MHz (Red Cross Frequencies), Oakland Red
Cross, Berkeley Red Cross, Contra Costa County OES, Alameda County
OES, State Region II OES, and the Oakland EOC through (Northern
Alameda County (NALCO) ARES, ALCO RACES, Oakland ARES, Contra Costa
ARES/RACES. Later the Red Cross generator was sent to Oakland for
emergency power after Will KB6QPO and Kit KB6JZM fired up the East
Bay Amateur Radio Club generator after obtaining it from storage
at N6ASB's house.        
By this time we were in contact with Northern Alameda County ARES
(NALCO ARES) and asked them to send an operator to the Berkeley Red
Cross Service Center to ascertain their communications needs. They
were using primarily 440.90 MHz, WA2UNP repeater, located at Alta
Bates Hospital in Berkeley. NALCO ARES dispatched operators to both
the North Berkeley Senior Citizen's Center Shelter and the Berkeley
Service Center. 
Incredibly the 146.88 MHz Oakland repeater was being jammed, so the
147.24 MHz (ALCO RACES) repeater was chosen for Oakland
communications. This net went continuously as a non-directed net
24 hours a day for an entire week handling thousands of messages
mostly emanating to or from the Oakland Red Cross Headquarters.  
At Oakland N6SPY Bob Hughes, Gerry White WA6IZE, Craig Jordan
KB6EJL, and Bob Metz W6BSE were able to finally get the generator
running. K6CSL and KB2SS were also there in the first hours
providing emergency communications in a darkened and shaken
Thus by 10 P.M. the hams had linked the Oakland shelter at MLK
Middle School, the Oakland Red Cross, the Berkeley Red Cross, the
Richmond Red Cross, the North Berkeley Senior Citizen Center
Shelter, Alameda County Office of Emergency Services, and the City
of Oakland's Office of Emergency Services all together via amateur
radio in the midst an almost useless overloaded telephone service.
Contact was later established with San Francisco Red Cross on the
145.15 MHz repeater and the next day with Santa Cruz and San Jose
Red Cross on 146.64 MHz. 
KB6LHR, EC for Contra Costa County and KB6JZM were dispatched from
the Richmond Red Cross to install a Red Cross antenna and radio at
MLK Middle School at 2 A.M. to supplement the amateur radio
communications already in place; and thus both Red Cross and
amateur radio networks were going simultaneously and redundantly
at the Berkeley, Richmond, and Oakland Centers and all shelters.
Something that was to continue for a solid week of operations,
These were the first of 13 shelters that were to be opened in the
next two weeks (a couple opened more than once). Joining on the Red
Cross Net were the emergency feeding stations at the Cypress Rescue
Site and the Bunce School Reception Center; and thus all were also
linked at the Richmond Red Cross Communications Center, the
Berkeley Center, and the Oakland Red Cross Communications Center
to all the others via the joint Amateur/Red Cross communications
system network. 
The ham radio operators did a marvelous job. At no time greater
than 1 hour were there no communications to any key location
despite the fact that many major roads in the disaster area were
severely impaired or disabled. Hams who double-shifted and who came
back day after day were invaluable in their ability to not only
provide the vital communications but also to provide continuity and
Most shelters were situated in school gymnasiums and did not have
available telephones. Those who had telephone service found the
Oakland Red Cross telephones busy 95% of the time due to extreme
over load even though there were 22 individual lines installed!
Likewise calling into the shelters from the Red Cross Operations
Center located at the Oakland Headquarters most often was busy.
Thus ham radio was the only reliable link into the shelters,
feeding centers, and the Oakland Emergency Operating Center located
at Fire Station One at 17th and Martin Luther King. Also there was
widespread fear of large after-shocks that would bring more damage
and further impair the already stretched communications facilities.
The 147.24 Repeater/w6rgg sponsored by Alameda County RACES and the
Northern California Contest Club performed flawlessly linking all
shelters, feeding stations, and EOC's in Alameda County via amateur
radio operators in the field. 
Red Cross radios on 47.42 MHz and portable antennas were installed
at each shelter as time and equipment permitted. Due to the
inefficient antennas for the Red Cross frequency and the limited
choices of antenna locations at shelters combining with the
necessity of operating simplex with large buildings and/or hills
between sites and inexperienced Red Cross operators, amateur radio
was the first medium of choice for reasons of efficiency and also
because of the desire to avoid congesting San Francisco Red Cross
communications sharing the same 47.42 MHz frequency.   
Even after the Red Cross radios were installed at all sites,
traffic was so intense that Red cross, ham, and telephone lines
were saturated continuously for 5 straight days around the clock
passing over 6000 messages!
Some "Oddities"
It was "surprising" that one neighboring group in Contra Costa
County held their disaster training seminar and executed a critique
of the disaster despite the fact that we were in desperate need of
operators at the time and that the disaster communications were
still going on full steam less than 4 days after the quake. 
Another Neighboring Contra Costa ARES group held a critique a day
later. Of course no one from with the Oakland Red Cross operations
were available to attend as they were all still being utilized
around the clock.  
After having attended the amateur radio critiques of the Santa Cruz
Floods of 1981, the Napa Fire of 1983, the Los Gatos Fire of 1985
and others, one may point out that it may have been more
appropriate to have postponed these critiques to well after the
disaster communications needs were over. We also suggest that
amateur critiques will be most accurate, helpful, and effective if
they occur after the actual disaster operations are over, after the
agencies involved have had their critique and issued their factual
statistics, and by arranging before hand the participation in the
critique of those who participated in the actual Emergency
Some Bay Area ARES/RACES groups still went ahead with their
previously scheduled Simulated Emergency Tests and communications
supports for Bicycle races and foot races despite our continued
pleas for ham radio operators and necessity to ask already
exhausted volunteers to double shift. 
More 450 MHz Equipped Hams Needed
More 450 MHz equipped operators are needed in order to take the
overload off of two meters and prevent desense that occurs when two
stations are collocated on the same band and require simultaneous
communications. We have arranged more than four 450 MHz repeater
system agreements for disaster operation use, but not enough hams
yet to take advantage of this fine resource especially helpful in
relieving net congestion and in preventing desensing from the co-
operation at the same site on the same band. 
FCC Neglect Creates Emergency Communications Congestion
More repeaters that cover the Alameda West Contra Costa topography
are desired that can link Red Cross networks, government networks,
and run a resource net. Three of the Oakland areas repeaters have
were not available for this disaster because of constant malicious
interference and subsequent neglect by the FCC office despite a
long plethora of complaints on 145.82. 146.88 and 145.29 MHz (all
of which are located now in Alameda County and have excellent
coverage of Oakland).
"GOOD COMMUNICATORS" are as Transparent to the Process as Possible
Communicators should know that they are there to be as transparent
to the process as possible. Communicators do not make decisions
(other than those pertaining to communications itself and here it
is the net control and/or EC if available who makes these
decisions). A reminder from California State RACES:
"As far as the end user is concerned the means of communication are
normally invisible and should be so. The goal of the system is to
move information and/or data as rapidly as possible, neither adding
nor subtracting anything in the process." from William L. Musladin,
Chief State RACES Officer, Office of Emergency Services, State of
California, Sacramento.
MESSAGE FORM: Name, Title, Location, Date, and Time P L E A S E
The East Bay American Red Cross Message Form has a separate space
for the title, time, date, name, and location as well as text.
Every message should have these elements in them minimally. This
is because in a disaster, it is volunteers who run the disaster.
They often are from varied parts of the chapter or from distant
chapters and often do not know each other by name. Job function or
function is hence very important as decision makers must know "who"
is requesting what, "who" is authorizing what, etc. 
Time is important because messages can often sit on tables for a
half hour or more because of key staff being in meetings or jammed
up on other matters. If there are superceding messages that
countermand previous messages, no one can be able to determine
which is the most current information or requirement without a date
or time. 
The date often seems unimportant at the time ("everyone knows the
date"); but believe it or not, after the disaster is over someone
will be going over the messages to determine what happened and how
to improve the disaster response next time. Dates are essential in
order to piece together what occurred and what went wrong. We even
had some messages laying around during the disaster whose current
relevance could not be determined simply because of the lack of a
Logs help tremendously in keeping track of activity not just for
future analysis but for keeping track of supplies, locations, and
operations. The date need only be placed on the top entry. The
simple format as an example follows:
Date Time Group - Tactical Callsign - Traffic  
182000  MLK Shelter KB6EJL        Head Count for breakfast 130
  2002  Bunce School N6FYV        Require 30 more blankets/cots
  2004  Oakland High              Security Police on way to Shelter 
  2005  Claremont Shelter         B. Jones transported to hosp.  
        Deep cut on lip. T. Merrit arrested - result of fight
  2005  Oakland EOC KB2SS         Need site to open new shelter  
  2007  Oakland Tech              Chiquita Jones and Mother      
        transported to Children's hospital- high fever
  2008  MLK Shelter               N. Potter Shelter Mgr needs    
        relief after 18 hours continuous            
  2009  Bunce Feeding Center      Very Low on Food (Second Request)
  2010  Oakland Tech 1            Extra Ice on Way to Claremont
  2012  Oakland Tech 2            Need 70 long shower towels
Greater Depth Needed
There was a need for greater depth in for Red Cross radio
operators, CB operators, and hams as well as trained message center
personnel. Greater depth in "experienced communications leadership"
would have been greatly helpful. There are 12 separate ARES/RACES
groups in the East Bay Chapter. It would have been best to simply
contact one EC or EC for amateur radio communications. Such a
discussion was being pushed by the Communications Committee but
there was no progress.
Welfare Traffic
Despite the fact that the official Red Cross incoming welfare
inquiries from friends and relatives did not start coming in until
the Red Cross lifted its moratorium 10 days after the earthquake
struck, the amateur radio community handled over 10,000 messages
the first week alone in and out of the disaster area. Mostly via
their new packet radio technology, in which messages are entered
anywhere in the World on amateur radio packet bulletin
board/mailboxes and automatically forwarded to the destination
mailbox through the national amateur radio packet network called
SkipNet, sponsored by the American Radio Relay League. 
There are more than 35 amateur radio packet mailboxes in Northern
California (5 in the Santa Cruz County area and many in the Bay
Area). Messages started arriving in Bay Area amateur mailboxes the
first evening of the quake and were picked up by local amateurs who
were able to utilize the advantage of relatively unimpeded local
calling to notify relatives and friends of their loved one's
concern. In most cases, relatives were able to call out long
distance but long distance calls into Northern California were
almost impossible for the first few days. As a result, most friends
and relatives in the disaster area were able to then call back the
inquirer themselves. Those who could not get through via the
telephone, sent messages back via the amateur radio until
commercial communications were normalized.  
10,000 messages came through the packet system and many others came
from the amateur National Traffic System and some from shortwave
single sideband attempts on behalf of individuals.
Outgoing message service was offered to the victim evacuees at the
Berkeley senior Center Shelter the first evening (Tues Oct 17). It
was to be put on the packet mailbox system which was ready to take
as many as we need, but there was little demand as outgoing long
distance lines were readily available.
Radio operators must realize that in a disaster, staffing needs
will continuously change. They must be prepared to be over utilized
or under utilized. Bring a book in case you might get bored; but
be prepared to operate alone with emergency power and your own
equipment. See the section on amateur radio resources separately.
Radio operators must realize that the Red Cross workers they work
with are all volunteers and obviously have little opportunity to
practice disaster work often. Mistakes may be made and patience is
required if things seem chaotic. WE ARE ALL VOLUNTEERS....
Message Center
Communications technically was there to every site. But messages
intended for certain people were often delayed or lost at the
Oakland Center. This was not the fault of the radio operators, but
rather a problem of establishing a message center. A message center
must inform all operations and admin personnel the procedure on how
to facilitate communications to any desired location. Messages
coming in to the Center must be routed to the correct people as
fast as possible, they must be checked for completeness and
legibility, as well as priority. 
a message from the shelter manager at Berkeley Adult School for 20
towels asap, a relief for the nurse who had been there for 12
hours, relief for herself who had been there for 10 hours, and
additional lunches for 10 more people. The message is addressed to
the Oakland Red Cross Center. Does the "runner" pick up the message
from the radio operator and take it to SUPPLY (for the towels),
FEEDING (for the food), MASS CARE (for the shelter manager), or to
DISASTER HEALTH SERVICES (for the Nurse)? We found after the first
day that the first desk the message would land on, often would be
the last. In other words, the SUPPLY supervisor would look at it
with the myriad other projects he had to solve and place it on his
desk. It never got to feeding, or to nursing, or mass care! When
we started tracing down this problem of loss messages, many ideas
were attempted. The foremost was the establishment of THE MESSAGE
CENTER. The second was the establishment of the MESSAGE CENTER
MANAGER. Since this is not the problem of radio communicators, we
will not go in further detail here on this subject other than the
radio operators efficiently interface most effectively through a
message center structure. (See IN-HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS, STRUCTURING
OPERATIONS in the general critique for furthers).
                      ****  SECTION D ****
The October 1989 Northern California earthquake demonstrated the
need for some improvement in amateur radio manpower recruiting and
assignments during large disasters in the Bay area. The following
discussion will focus on the problems and possible solutions
particularly in the East Bay, which the author has had intimate
experience, and in more particular manpower requirements for the
American Red Cross, the major user of ARES personnel during
Personal Background:
The author first joined RACES and AREC in 1959. A long time
assistant EC for West Contra Costa County ARES/RACES, the
California Department of Forestry's VIP Program, Communications
Chairman for the East Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross, having 
served in almost every major Northern California disaster since
1981, including the Santa Cruz Floods, the Alviso Floods, the Los
Gatos Fire, the Napa Fire, the Vaca Fire, the Duval fire, etc.
General Background:
The State of California contains two ARRL divisions, the Pacific
and South Western. In the Pacific Division, within the state of
California there are the San Jaoquin, Santa Clara, East Bay, San
Francisco, and Sacramento Sections (The Pacific and Nevada Sections
of the Pacific Division being out of state). The Section Emergency
Coordinators (SEC) who are appointed by the Section Managers, in
turn appoint the (District Emergency Coordinators (DECs) and local
Emergency Coordinators (ECs). 
In the Pacific Division, the Santa Clara Valley Section (SCV) has
had an excellent resource net procedure honed by both practical
experience, the availability of many cooperating repeater groups
capable of emergency power and multiple linking capability, and the
luxury of a great reserve of available manpower not found in most
other sections. They have a plethora of DEC's and experienced and
active operators with many fine emergency associations. It is for
those above reasons that we believe that their resource nets, for
disasters in their area have proven to be very efficient in the
past. However the problem of a simultaneous disaster occurring in
SCV section and other Northern California sections at the same time
presents a different problem beyond the normal clear boundaries of
SEC, DEC, and EC delineated through the clear cut intra-sectional
organization flow charts as articulated by the ARRL/ARES structure.
However, we will use the SCV section model as the ideal (with minor
improvements) because of its great success in the past for intra-
sectional needs. 
In the Pacific Division, the California Department of Forestry
(CDF) and the American Red Cross are the two chief consumers of
amateur radio disaster communications. This situation most likely
will not change dramatically over the next five years.
Appropriately it is the local EC who is in charge of local ham
operations as he/she is most intimately familiar with local needs.
The normal procedure then being that the EC asks the DEC for
additional manpower if required or conversely the DEC can enquire
of the EC if he needs additional manpower. The additional manpower,
when supplied, remains under the control of the local EC,
appropriately. This usually results in the creation by the DEC of
a resource net often on a County wide level (but not restricted to
such) on some high level repeater, recruiting amateurs as needed
for the local ARES group's use and appropriately removing resource
recruitment burdens off the emergency operations net frequency. The
efficient details of the workings of a resource net and its
interface with the local EC will be detailed elsewhere. 
Problems arise when 
1) There is no local EC
2) There are many local ARES groups involved and hence many ECs.
3) There is no active DEC willing to take on this job.   
4) There are wide reaching disaster needs encompassing more than
one section and recruitment is being done on a Division wide level
or greater.
The above are not simple problems. Rather to bore anyone with
theoretical rambling, we will use a real example to illustrate the
problem and suggest some solutions. 
The October 1989 California Earthquake impacted heavily upon three
ARRL Sections, the SCV (Watsonville, Santa Cruz, and Los Gatos),
San Francisco Section (San Francisco), and East Bay (Oakland and
Berkeley). The illustration in particular will be the operation in
the East Bay and the contracting agency requiring amateur radio
communications, the East Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross. 
Over 200 hams provided communications for East Bay Chapter of the
American Red Cross for a 6 day period from Oct 17 starting at
approximately 1730 PST to October 23. The East Bay Chapter consists
of 12 different ARES/RACES groups encompassing all of Alameda
County and West Contra Costa County. Fortunately it is entirely
within the ARRL East Bay Section. The ARES groups involved are
Fremont ARES, Castro Valley ARES, Alameda ARES (city), Union City
ARES, Hayward ARES, Livermore ARES/RACES, San Leandro ARES, Oakland
ARES, NALCO ARES (Berkeley/Albany), Alameda County RACES, Newark
ARES, and West Contra Costa County ARES/RACES. The communications
needs of the East Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross during a
disaster are considerable, being that communications would be
needed from any part of the chapter to any other or at least from 
the Oakland Chapter Headquarters to any other potential shelter
site, feeding station, first aid station, or mobile within the
chapter's boundaries. The area being separated geographically
significantly by hills of over 1000 feet in height, a realistic and
functional plan was required. Cooperation of all the ECs was also
required. The need for tests were also pointed out as being
desirable (or at least a table-top walk through). 
Many answers to problems involving 12 separate ARES/RACES groups
that encompassed more than one county had to be worked out. Details
as to how a wide area net would be run, who would appoint the net
controls, who would make the various assignments to the various
shelters, who would interface to the Red cross on behalf of ARES
or would there have to be 12 interfacers, what frequency would be
used for a Red Cross Net. Should local nets be run instead with no
wide area operations net, mandating stations to change frequency
to talk to a shelter from another ARES area, etc? These problems
were all predicted to arise. Not the least of them being resources.
After numerous discussions with the SEC of East Bay Section, the
DEC of Contra Costa County, the DEC of Alameda County, and most of
the Radio Officers and ECs involved explaining the disaster
Communications needs of the American Red Cross, a series of East
Bay Chapter Communications Committee Meetings were begun by the Red
Cross Communications Chairman inviting all ECs, Radio Officers,
DECs, interested amateurs, and the SEC involved targeting these
particular issues. Minutes have been sent out to all participants.
Most of these issues still were not resolved at the time of the
earthquake and are still not resolved today.
It must be said that the resolution of the issues on HOW the
Amateur Radio Service provides these disaster communications are
not the responsibility of the Red Cross. Officially the Red Cross
can only communicate to the amateurs the possible magnitude and
locations of their potential communications needs and provide a
liaison person to interface with the amateur community. Because of
the ARRL/Red Cross National Statement of Understanding and because
the Red Cross is traditionally the major disaster agency to utilize
amateur radio, it was hoped that the East Bay amateur community
would attempt to work out a resolution of this problem. 
Obviously the Red Cross becomes more concerned when it knows that
the amateur communications are not prepared or in other ways needs
additional support. In certain areas of the country because of that
"lack", there have been formed local Red Cross amateur groups in
competition with ARES and/or RACES. It was local Red Cross policy
to avoid such competition and attempt at all costs to interface
with local ARES/RACES ECs or even better with an integrated amateur
County wide structure under the DEC and/or County Radio Officer;
however neither structure was able to provide the needed service
at the time, despite the offerings of 24 hour access to the
communications room and other use of Red Cross facilities, there
still were no takers in Oakland, although, the other Service
Centers were all in better shape with two meter antennas installed,
emergency power, and active ARES relationships.
It was well known that Oakland was going to have a severe
communications problem in the event of a disaster, especially due
to the fact that the East Bay Chapter's Disaster Committee had
chosen to run all major disasters from Oakland. 
The former Oakland EC had been appointed DEC of Alameda County and
there had been no replacement. On Oct 17, contact with the DEC
began at 1730 PST requesting communications, but he was preoccupied
establishing a Medical Net, as that is his prime commitment. Two
volunteers from Alameda were dispatched to the Oakland EOC and the
Red Cross. Richmond Red Cross (West Contra Costa County ARES/RACES)
also sent two hams to the Oakland Red Cross Headquarters and
eventually to Martin Luther King Shelter that same night. Disaster
Communications were being "jammed" on the Oakland ARES repeater of
146.88 MHz and the Red Cross Net operations shifted to 147.24 MHz
(Alameda County RACES) by 1830 PST and stayed there for six days
straight 24 hours a day. NALCO ARES provided communications to
Berkeley Red Cross and the Berkeley Shelter located at the North
Berkeley Senior Center. 
By 1930 PST it was clear that the Red Cross would require
additional 24 hour manpower for the next few days as additional
shelters were to be opened. Communications the first night on
147.24 included Alameda County EOC, Oakland EOC, Oakland Red Cross,
Richmond Red Cross, Berkeley Red Cross, Alameda Red Cross, 3
shelters and a feeding station. 10 additional shelters were to open
in the following 4 days as buildings began to be condemned by
municipal authorities, but this could not be predicted at the time.
Amateur radio also kept us in contact with San Francisco Red Cross
and Western Operations Headquarters in Burlingame.
STAFFING: The only Constant was Change
Hams should expect that staffing requirements will constantly
change during disasters and prepare for the two extremes of over
work or boredom! Bring a good book, portable TV, etc for recreation
or conversely plenty of emergency power and good portable antennas!
A minimum requirement is usually a two meter handhold, spare
batteries, clip board, paper and pencil. Of considerable help is
an extra roll of coax, barrel connector, portable outdoor antenna,
and 440 MHz capability. Packet often is valuable (although not used
on this disaster).
Radio operators are encouraged to expect the worse if you are
traveling a long distance don't expect the Ritz for sleeping. Bring
your own sleeping gear, toiletries, or better yet your own camper.
Shelter sleeping is not the Ritz! Operators although sometimes
wined and dined, should also be prepared to feed themselves (just
in case). Disaster operation is not "always" a picnic. Also
remember that you will be operating in a disaster area with many
other volunteers who may not have had ample sleep and who may not
be functioning efficiently. Have patience. Be gentle but firm when
you suggest someone who needs some sleep to do so. Remember that
the Red Cross is a volunteer organization and that over 99% of the
people you will be working with have never done this before. They
are volunteers like yourself and "Will" make mistakes.  
At many shelters the experienced hams manned both the Red Cross
radios and the amateur radios, providing a much needed efficiency
to the congested Red Cross channel that were shared also with San
Francisco and San Jose Red Cross operations as well. 
Much and exceptional help was provided from Contra Costa
RACES/ARES, Sacramento County RACES, Livermore ARES/RACES and
Alameda County RACES, NALCO ARES, and all the hams who came to help
when it was most needed. It was greatly appreciated by many
exhausted operators! 
One thing that was learned was that disaster staffing needs are
very changeable especially in an earthquake scenario, you either
have too much or too little. Damage is spotty and unpredictable.
Building departments take days for inspections and condemnations.
After shocks can cause additional problems as well as develope
"over-preparedness syndrome". The EC for West Contra Costa County,
KB6LHR, was asked by the Communications Chairperson to establish
a resource net for operator staffing throughout Wednesday (one day
at a time for now). Having no EC in Oakland and having the DEC tied
up with a medical net, the burden was put on the Red Cross
Communications Chairman, as there was no one else willing to step
in (luckily he was at least a ham). 
Most staffing up until at least Wednesday afternoon was secured by
4 A.M after talking to W6CPO, the DEC of Contra Costa County who
was able to fill a request for 10 communicators to ride with damage
assessment teams in the morning. Another phone call to the Alameda
County DEC caught him right before he was leaving for work in the
morning. A request for operators for Oakland sites was considered
"unlikely" but he said he would try and call me back. He arranged
for one person for the Oakland EOC that day until 4 PM, but after
that he could not help at this time. Thus with no other structure
in place and with immediately impending disaster assignments at 4
P.M> and 3 new shelters being opened, we were forced to do our own
The Contra Costa DEC sent over approximately 10 hams (mostly to
help with damage assessment). The damage assessment was delayed
because of internal Red Cross problems (damage assessment for
earthquakes is a special problem and the East Bay Chapter was not
alone in being ill-equipped). Thus on Wednesday morning, we were
over staffed.  
By 3 P.M. on Wednesday, Oct 18, we still needed 2 additional hams
for the 4 P.M. shift. It was obvious that West Contra Costa could
not do all the needed staffing. Our needs shortly became
approximately 35 operators per day with NALCO ARES filling 95% of
the Berkeley sites. We were forced to do recruiting on the
emergency operations net because we had no choice. It was not
planned but if you need operators and the resource net can't
provide them, it must be done. It worked in so far that we were
able to always get enough operators from the operations net when
needed although, some had to double shift more than once. 
By Friday evening, Oct 20, (3 days after the quake) a resource Net
run by State OES was set up for amateur staffing on the N6AMG
linked 450 MHz repeater system of which the East Bay Red Cross
participated in as time permitted. The resource net closed Monday
as the amateur radio operator requirements were replaced by
stabilized commercial telephone service, Red Cross radios and
It should be pointed out that, amateur radio provided the
communications that was requested of it as far as the east Bay
Chapter of the American Red Cross was concerned. Messages that were
delayed or lost were due to internal message center problems at the
Oakland Chapter and will not be discussed in this section on
manpower resources. We made it by the skin of our teeth. Had the
disaster been any larger, we probably would have come up short. 
On Sunday October 22, the Red Cross officially requested from the
Alameda County Office of Emergency Services communications
assistance. They graciously activated their RACES operators which
served the final days, without which a serious collapse would have
occurred. As to the question why the Red Cross still required
amateur radio communications six days into the disaster will be the
subject of another section. Suffice it to say, telephone lines were
not sufficient and neither were Red Cross commercial radio services
until Monday, October 23. Amateur radio provided essential
communications up until that time, whose services were greatly
Because it is impossible for outside "armchair" generals to realize
the scope of the disaster operations that occurred at Red Cross
Oakland Headquarters, ARES/RACES officials are reminded that it is
not  "good practice" to tell Red Cross officials that they did not
any longer require amateur radio. A better tact would be to suggest
the implementation of other communications means if technically and
practically possible.
Who's In Charge?
It has been repeatedly stated in all ARRL publications that the
amateurs in the operation area are in charge and that operators
outside the operation area should provide all the support that they
can. Unfortunately not all hams subscribed to this "well known"
maxim and some "contention" did occur. Let it be said that the hams
inside the operation area are privy to much more information than
"support" operators have outside the area and although I
"suggestions" can be given; it must be stated that long
presumptuous lectures given by "officials" outside of the area
appear pedantic, irrelevant, absurd, and even counterproductive to
leadership in the operations area. "Short" queries and suggestions
based on current and accurate information however may be helpful.
Remember, amateur radio is there at the request of disaster
agencies and we must try to support their communications effort as
best we can. Hams try to allocate resources based on the unique
situation at hand. Lacking an active EC or DEC, the local
operations must be assigned by the agency to whatever
"organization(s)" are willing to help. The East Bay amateur effort
was run by an amalgam of RACES, ARES, and individual hams from many
counties of California who came in and helped because of the lack
of local amateur resources.
Amateurs from as far as Visalia, Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Sonoma
provided great assistance. The major resources came from Livermore
ARES/RACES, Sacramento County RACES, Alameda County RACES, and
Contra Costa County RACES/ARES. The actual number of Oakland based
hams providing Red Cross communications was predictably very small
(less than 5%).   
Another problem was that neighboring ECs and others did not seem
to understand fully the conditions and staffing needs at the
Oakland Red Cross. Mix ups occurred because no resource net could
be contracted with who could guarantee any positions. All they said
is that they would try, but some wanted to try on an exclusive
basis. That is to say, they did not want us to do our own
recruiting from other nets, yet they could not guarantee 100%
fulfillment. Needless to say this would not be an intelligent
arrangement, yet we were not able to arrange a suitable
understanding from certain hams who were outside of the disaster
area, but who wanted to be in exclusive control of the staffing.
Hams are recruited by agencies usually via an established local
ARES and/or RACES group that is the "provider" organization for ham
radio operators for that entire operation/emergency. Sometimes the
local ARES or RACES group is not in existence, not trained or
experienced, or is other wise capable of providing this function.
In most cases the ARES District Emergency Coordinator then takes
over for ARES. In this disaster neither could be effected (although
NALCO ARES did a very excellent job for Berkeley) so the hams were
all run through the Red Cross Communications Committee, the least
desirable method for both Red Cross and hams. Thus some hams did
not know who was "in charge" given the lack of the EC.
In these situations, shift openings (staffing needs) may thus
requested by the agency involved (in this case the American Red
Cross) and are thus filled by various amateurs or "groups" that the
Red Cross can contact. In this case it was mostly hams, but it can
be CAP, GMRS, REACT, USCG Auxiliary, MARS, etc. If activity appears
to be low, a radio operator may conclude that he/she is no longer
needed at a location and "forgotten", the radio operator should
check with the Net Control and/or Communications Supervisor and
inform them their status. One may have been over looked as these
guys often are in a hot-bed and can over look situations. Maybe
there is no longer a need for amateur radio at a certain position
after all, but then again maybe something else is in the works and
that amateur communications at a particular site is very important.
The point being that it would be appropriate for a ham to inform
and/or request termination, but not appropriate to relieve oneself
after being assigned. Even if it may seem obvious to the assignee
a trained communications operator should take the time to inform
the NCS of one's desires, BEFORE one makes the decision oneself.
This "Self-staffing" did occur on a couple of occasions and can/did
cause problems which can be simply avoided. 
For the first few days, about 40% of the hams were sent to Oakland
via Contra Costa ARES/RACES. West Contra Costa ARES/RACES did not
have a high level repeater capable of covering the astern Part of
the Bay and the South Bay and recruitment was thus limited. The
major sources of operators remained "on the air recruitment". 
What Oakland Red Cross requested from the recruitment net(s) was
for them to recruit operators for certain time slots 24 hours in
advance based on our best projection of the number of slots still
unfilled. It is difficult in such a situation where shelters and
feeding stations were constantly opening and closing to efficiently
designate exact physical locations for hams to report. 
Subsequently, most were requested to report to Oakland staging
(Oakland Red Cross) initially and to check in on the 147.24 MHz
repeater when enroute for final assignment. Operators recruited for
slots only hours in advance could usually be assigned directly to
the known openings then and there. Operators requesting certain
locations were always given their preference if expressed. 
The master schedule was kept at the Oakland Red Cross and we
requested that operators first apply for positions but not be
dispatched until "confirmed" at Oakland. Unfortunately, some ECs
dispatched operators without letting us know and conversely some
operators who had been confirmed never showed up. Despite being
either shorthanded or over staffed, we managed to provide the
communications function required albeit not always with the most
efficient use of personnel. It would have been better if Oakland
Red Cross had a 440 MHz resource net going simultaneously in
parallel with the 2 meter operations net, but it was a catch 22
situation where we barely had enough operators to keep the
"operations" part going, and could not afford the luxury of setting
up the resource net at the same time. Since there was no one on the
outside that could guarantee adequate staffing, we were forced to
take volunteers from random sources, many of them unexpected but
none-the-less often producing extremely valuable assistance. 
SHIFT CHANGES: Orientation
Shift changes were scheduled in the traditional midnight to 0800 -
0800 to 1600 and 1600 to midnight slots. Since there is usually
chaos at breakfast (0800) and freeways are also overly congested,
ka6soc has suggested that a different schedule would thus be more
effective. However it is not clear what the best alternative
schedule may be to allow volunteers to best interface with disaster
work and their daily lives.
Also it is worth while to spend some time with one's relief to
educate them as to the frequencies, procedures, physical site, key
resources, etc. It is best that major operating centers dedicate
an operator specially tasked to orientation at shift changes.
Shift changes are also a time where a lack of continuity can
contribute to deterioration. Besides receiving orientation, it
would be helpful for operators at each site to maintain status
boards (poster board or chalkboard would do) containing the vital
information of:
What locations/agencies  are on what net/frequencies. 
Another board may have the next 24 hour schedule for relief
operators at that location.
At a major Emergency Operating Center it was found most efficient
that a single scheduling board containing the key locations on the
left column with phone numbers and addresses and the top column
with times, with the resultant grids filled with callsigns. This
allows most essential data to be updated and "off the desk" for all
to see at a glance. An example:
********************  **********************  ********************
Site                    Thursday October 19
                        midnite-0800   0800-1600   1600-midnite etc
Oakland Red Cross       wd0faa aaron   kj6ep greg    wb6lfd earl
2111 East 14th          n6fpc          n6svd sid     wa6nil jim
533-2121 /2123          wd6dxw         n6grf roger   n6bqr dee
147.24 and ARC
Oakland EOC             kb2ss          k6kis gil     n6jrf john
17th and MLK
147.24 only
Berkeley Red Cross     n6eeg don       wb6hpa fred   n6vmk steve
2116 Alston way        n6wdv 
841-7791 841-7795
(Also 147.48 440.9)
147.24 & ARC
Staffed by NALCO ARES
Richmond Red Cross     kb6jzm kit      n6vkk dudly   closed
2300 MacDonald                         n6ral chris
233-2929 233-2962 (Comm Cntr)          wd6cjc mike  
(Also 145.11) 147.24, ARC,
OES Martinez, OES region 2
Staffed by Co Co Cty RACES
Oakland High           wd6yba          ka6gqw aaron  closed
Park & MacArthur
836-9782 147.24 & ARC
Oakland Tech           n6old           n6rcq bill    wd6eye joe
43rd and Broadway
547-9701 147.24 & ARC
Martin L. King School  kb6ejl craig   n6wbl Jason    kg6uz frank
390 10th St
835-1031 444-9266 (pay phone)
147.24 and ARC
Bunce School           n6uyb judy      n6szq jim     ka6uzv craig
18th and Poplar        n6rmw
834-7377 147.24 & ARC 
Cypress Feeding Station
Emerg. Response Veh. (ERV)   staffed by ERV Supervisor 
18th and Cypress
ARC radio only
Claremont School       kb1gy           nh6pm         wb6pch
6400 College Ave
547-6733  147.24
Alameda County OES    ALCO RACES ----------------------->
County EOC- San Leandro
*147.24 Staffed 
(use Security Radio 
at front desk)
San Jose and Santa Cruz Red Cross on 146.64 MHz 
San Francisco Red Cross on 145.15 MHz
Sacramento County RACES 145.19 MHz
Richmond Red CRoss and Resource Net 145.11 (-)
                       wd0faa aaron      kb2ss   ted    wa6tgf ron
                       wd6cmu eric       kb6qpo  will   wb6nil bill
                       kb6lhr rachel     wa6tni  harry
                       wa6tgf ron
                       w6vom  john
*********************  *********************  ********************
What we requested from all resource nets was that they check with
Oakland headquarters once every two hours to ascertain any
additional staffing needs within the next 24 hour period. Thanks
to Contra Costa County ARES/RACES. Livermore ARES/RACES. Alameda
County RACES. NALCO ARES, and Sacramento County RACES for an
exceptional staffing job!
Arriving and Setting Up
Operators enroute should report into the emergency net giving their
ETA. Main roads may be inaccessible so ask for routing if needed.
Check in at "Communications" when you arrive. Some Red Cross people
will put you to work sweeping floors unless you tell them that you
are there for "Communications" only. Find the person you are
relieving and try to get a briefing or if you are the only
"communicator", report in to the Shelter Manager (if it is a
shelter) and let them know that you are the "communications"
person. You might have to explain to them who/what you can talk to
(provide). If you are not sure what you are supposed to do, ask the
NCS. At Red Cross Emergency Operating Centers there is usually a
Red Cross Communications Supervisor and hopefully he is a ham, but
not always. If a sign COMMUNICATIONS CENTER is not visible at your
immediate location, it may be helpful to ascertain the materials
necessary to create one. It would be helpful to list all the
stations, frequencies, phone numbers, and locations that you are
in communication with on a poster board in plain sight, not only
for your self for quick reference, but also for any additional
Some interesting statistics are:
Operation 6 days. Total hams 220-240. Many worked multiple shifts.
Total locations served 19.
Maximum total locations at one time 14. 
Breakdown by major contributing standard locations:
Contra Costa County   63
Alameda County        62
East Bay Section     149
Sacramento Section    28
SJV Section            8
San Francisco Section  7
SCV Section            2
Berkeley              19
Richmond              14
Livermore             11
Oakland               10
Sacramento             9
Walnut Creek           9
El Cerrito             9
Concord                7
El Sobrante            6
Alameda                5
Albany                 4
Davis                  4
Hayward                4
Vallejo                4
Roseville              3
Out of State or Div.   4
Unaccounted for approx 15
Remaining cities 3 or less.
ARES and RACES should plan at least desk-top exercises at least
yearly with realistic scenarios that include the possibility of
more than a few shelters opened in their area.
ECs and Radio Officers should communicate with Red Cross
Communications Chairmen and ascertain what their disaster
communications needs may be and then attempt to implement a plan
to fill them during disaster situations.
A *SINGLE CONTACT* DEC or area wide ARES/RACES system that could
"guarantee" staffing would have been a great help. Such a staffing
network could coordinate regionally on 450 or 220 MHz. Wide area
resource net(s) could recruit volunteers and thus feed them in to
the staffing scheduler at each local area (in our case at Red Cross
Headquarters) as they were confirmed on 220 or 450 MHz. 
Resource nets should not be held on the same frequency as the
operations net if possible. This is agreed by everyone but
sometimes due to lack of trained manpower, frequencies, or simply
due to lack of ability, there is no alternative if forced with the
situation of open slots.
For small localized disasters, it seems that resource nets are
easily handled by the DEC at the request/approval of the EC. The
local ARES group within the disaster area can be kept in touch with
the resource net on an arranged 220 or 440 MHz frequency, thus
keeping the operations frequencies entirely clear.  
For larger operations encompassing more than one local EC group,
the DEC must be able to accommodate all "users" in regard to
priority. This is best done through the establishment of a command
net (best done on 220 or 450 MHz) between the DEC and all the Ecs
involved. We assume will assume that the ECs are in contact with
the local agencies in their area as to their long and short term
communications needs. This also assumes that there are locally
appointed ECs (not the case in Oakland).
For even larger operations that encompass more than one County but
within a section, the DECs involved as well as the ECs must come
together on one command net to arrange the structure and staffing
of the resources net if such were not to become competitive and if
such were to take the load off the local ECs. The SEC here may
become directly involved. Here we will assume that at least some
local ARES groups can afford to spare some personnel for resource
net control duties.
For an even larger operation encompassing more than one section,
the SECs may want to come together on a command net (again on 220
or 450 MHz but may be suitable for 40 or 80 M as well) to ascertain
the operation of one large area resource net or the maintenance of
two or more Section-Wide nets with the coordination of excess
personnel to go to the other area. the choice being here 
1) A large inter-section resource net encompassing the needs of
a wide area or even state wide.
2) The maintenance of the section wide resource nets, with each
section doing its own resource recruitment with its own personnel
but with coordination via a inter-section command net on 220, 440,
40M or 80M that will allow deployment of inter-sectional, inter-
divisional, or state wide communications assistance.
It is suggested that item number two is more maintainable,
practical, and wieldable, with its main draw back being that
confirmations will have to be made with the local disaster official
before dispatching (especially important if there are more than one
recruiting nets operating and if the request was made well in
advance). Granted the resource net may prefer the simplicity of a
single resource net, but it should be remembered that the purpose
of the resource net is to help those in the disaster area and to
lighten their load as much as possible. HAms must find out what
they want and try to accommodate them as best we can, not the
All ECs, DECs, and SECs should be reminded that there was state
wide agreement reached in 1983 to use Western Public Service Net
3955 Z (eves) and 7275 KHZ (RN6 NTS) daytime for statewide staging
and coordination. Perhaps with the advent of the new sophisticated
repeater link controllers and the n6amg repeater system, such can
be effected on 450 MHz if reliability and redundancy can be
From experience, it is suggested to place the recruitment nets on
a 2 meter repeater having a wide area coverage near the disaster
area. The coordination between the resource net control and the
local ECs should be however on 450 MHz or 220 MHz if possible.
Disaster operations often are in need of additional operators, thus
it is not feasible to sacrifice an operator to monitor the resource
net 24 hours continuously if there is a need for an operator in
operations and things are busy. It should suffice, until staffing
needs are adequate, that the local EC or his/her representative
check into the resource net periodically (say once every two hours)
or even better, if the resource net needs to communicate, a packet 
24 hour packet link with printer always on may be more efficient. 
Resource net controls should ascertain the specific radio equipment
requirements. In almost all cases two meter hand helds with spare
batteries capable of operating the entire time of the shift should
be minimum requirements. In some locations out door antennas will
be required and the agency may or may not be able to install one
during the disaster. In many cases 450 MHz will be a great adjunct
and in some cases required. In rare cases beams, masts, high power,
220 MHz, hf, packet, etc will be required. Thus it seems best that
the resource net request may be addressed in the following manner
by the EC for example:
12 midnight- to 8 A.M. Oakland area- check in to 147.27 when in
Require 5 operators from midnight to 8 AM with 2 m handi-talkies
for shadow work.
Require 3 operators for 2 meter mobile work- need mag mounts and
cigarette lighter adapters. Handheld ok but rubber duck inadequate.
Require 2 operators with outdoor 2 M antenna capabilities (50 ft
coax ok) 
Require 1 220 MHz packet operator with complete equipment and
emergency power,
Require 2 450 MHz operators with battery power (HTs ok) 
Resource should never dispatch without first confirming with the
local staffing EC or AEC. This is especially true when there is
more than one net that is recruiting or when needs are constantly
changing and the requests were made well in advance. It is best
that the resource net control or his/her assistant contact the
staffing EC/AEC as soon as a new recruit has been signed up for
confirmation. This way the staffing EC/AEC can write in the
callsign of the recruit in the appropriate slot (either for a
specific site or for local ARES STAGING) as confirmed (and hence
expected). Then only after the recruit has been thus confirmed
locally, should the recruit be told so and dispatched.
It is advisable that the resource net control also obtain the
recruits home/work phone number in case of need for re-assignment. 
Requests should be given to the resource net at least 16 hours in
advance. Because staffing needs constantly change, the recruits
should always check in to the resource net before they leave and
into the assigned net when they are in range unless instructed
It should be realized that the Red Cross will most definitely ask
for communications assistance in a large disaster. So may the
Salvation Army, utilities, and County and City agencies. If there
are widespread casualties, hospitals, blood banks, and other
medical facilities will require aids. Each of amateur radio's users
will have to be accommodated on a priority basis. Each one may
require its own net as the circumstance may be. It appears that
the larger the resource net is, the more unwieldy it may become,
hence a *coordinated* group of resource nets not larger than that
of a section level may be most efficient. 
Staging areas in each County may be desired. To avoid conflict with
the ICS nomenclature they should not be called STAGING AREAS but
ARES STAGING or some sort. It would be wise to provide some sort
of housing for traveling hams as Red Cross shelters are difficult
and minimal. Recruits should be warned that showers, sleeping, and
other facilities may be minimal and that they should not expect
great hospitality. 
Packet also could be used for operator staffing. An automatic
packet staffing server could be created. Operators to connect to
this server and sign up on the spot. The server could be a standard
packet BBS running a server service and not necessarily located at
the disaster site. Messages to the agency or local ARES official
could automatically be generated by the server, thus providing
automatic notification that a slot has been signed up for. So far
the software for this special application has not yet been written
although the w0rli bbs system is now available to support such a
server if it were separately developed.
Hams must realize that when going into an earthquake area they will
meet many volunteers under stress and requiring more adequate sleep
who will not act efficiently. It is best if we learned patience
when coming into this type of situation and try to be as helpful
as possible. It is wise also when you see someone who has become
over-tired to strongly suggest that they get some sleep.
In most of the above it is clear that pre-planning and discussion
are needed. In large disasters covering over section boundaries a
job description for a Division Wide EC (REC) is needed in order to
facilitate planning and interface both inter-sectionally and inter-
divisional and on a state wide basis. Currently there is no such
job description and all job descriptions even at the SEC level fall
short of even contemplating an elementary flow chart or procedure.
Although, most areas are fairly well prepared for medium sized
disasters (Oakland is still an exception), we need to think through
a major catastrophe such as a 7.5 earthquake or greater, if we are
to efficiently utilize the resources of amateur radio for the
benefit of the agencies and ultimately their victims. The job is
made more complex when multiple local ARES groups are concerned,
multiple counties, multiple sections, multiple divisions and also
agencies whose responsibilities encompass areas beyond our own
traditional lines of separation. In short, we need a structural
framework that is both pre-planned and flexible. Hopefully the
above discussion has helped to bring some of the subjects to a
greater depth than previously.
D. Simon, NI6A, Am. Red Cross Comm. Chair., East Bay Chapt.

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