PACKET RADIO: Notes from the '89 CA Earthquake
Steve Wolf, W8IZ@W8IZ
(This text from the W8IZ packet radio bulletin
board. It's formatted to fit a 80 character screen.)
**** SECTION C: AMATEUR RADIO OPERATIONS: **** EAST BAY CHAPTER ARC EARTHQUAKE 89'
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 beginning.
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 expertise.
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!
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 operations.
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 date.
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.
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....
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.
THE MAJOR FOUL UP WERE MESSAGES ARRIVING AT OAKLAND FOR MULTIPLE BRANCHES BUT CONTAINED IN A SINGLE MESSAGE. An example would be 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 A RED CROSS EMERGENCY OPERATING CENTER and MESSAGE CENTER OPERATIONS in the general critique for furthers).
**** SECTION D **** MANPOWER PROCEDURES IN AMATEUR RADIO DISASTER COMMUNICATIONS
CRITIQUE OCTOBER 1989 EARTHQUAKE: COMMUNICATIONS EBAY CHAPT. ARC
Purpose: 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 disasters.
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.
THE PROBLEM: 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.
PLANNING AND TESTING NEEDED
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.
THE EAST BAY CHAPTER COMMUNICATIONS COMMITTEE: ESTABLISHING THE RELATIONSHIP
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.
THE OAKLAND SERVICE CENTER PROBLEM
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 recruiting.
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 REACT/GMRS units.
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 appreciated.
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.
FROM WHENCE AND TO WHERE
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.
CONTINUITY and STATUS BOARDS
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:
******************** ********************** ******************** COMMUNICATIONS CENTER
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 893-3100/273-3856 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 667-7740 *147.24 Staffed by ALCO RACES
Security 845-8500 (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 (-)
ARES STAGING: SCHEDULED TO COME IN TO OAKLAND BUT NOT YET ASSIGNED 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 operators.
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. or 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 reverse.
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 established.
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 area. 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) etc.
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 otherwise.
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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