AMATEUR RADIO SWINGS INTO ACTION IN STORM STRICKEN GULF REGION

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Since 09-18-04


Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) teams were ready and waiting as Hurricane Ivan devastated entire sections of the US Gulf Coast early September 16. Packing 115 MPH winds as it made landfall, Ivan zeroed in on the Mobile Bay area of Alabama, but because of its huge girth, the storm wrought widespread death and destruction in the Florida Panhandle and also affected Mississippi.

Below-sea-level New Orleans was spared major flooding, however.

Alabama Section Emergency Coordinator Jay Isbell, KA4KUN, said ham radio has been helping relief agencies, especially in the hard-hit southernmost counties. "Right now the adrenaline's still up," he said September 16 of volunteers staffing a statewide ARES communication network--an HF net with liaisons to local repeaters and including all of the state's emergency operations centers.

"Most everybody south of us is operating on emergency power." In Baldwin and Mobile counties--which straddle Mobile Bay--telephone service was out, so ham radio was providing a substantial communication link, Isbell said. "We're giving their messages priority."

Most traffic has been logistical--requests for shelter cots, tarpaulins and generators--"but they've also asked for three four-wheel drive vehicles and a helicopter for search and rescue as well as damage assessment," he said.

ARES teams along the Gulf have been providing communication support for the Red Cross, The Salvation Army and the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief organization. ARES already is assisting with damage assessment activity, for the first time using Global Positioning System units and computerized mapping as an aid.

ARRL Alabama SM Greg Sarratt, W4OZK, praised Isbell's efforts and said he's proud of Alabama's radio amateurs. "Many amateurs stepped up to provide communications and assistance," he said. "Several amateurs traveled to Southern Alabama before Ivan to help get ready for the hurricane." He said others traveled to the Mobile area to help emergency managers "and people they don't even know."

In Northern Florida, Western Panhandle ARES District Emergency Coordinator Bill Hayden, WY8O, reported damage assessment was under way in Okaloosa County, where the storm took out several repeaters and telephone service.

 In southern Santa Rosa County, massive flooding and several fatalities were reported, and refugees were forced to take shelter.

In Escambia County, five shelters and four hospitals sustained storm damage, and several people died. The hurricane destroyed the Interstate 10 bridge connecting Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, cutting off residents and relief workers alike.

At week's end, Northern Florida Section Traffic Manager Dale Sewell, N4SGQ, was working up a list of relief personnel and waiting on how to get them into the affected area. "Having lived in Pensacola for 35 years, I know the complications of being surrounded on so many sides by water," Sewell said.

 "I just never imagined that all the routes would be cut off simultaneously." He said

Escambia County was left virtually without power, which utilities say could take three weeks to restore. In Mississippi, ARRL SM Malcolm Keown, W5XX, reported that outside of some "significant interference" the West Gulf ARES Net operation went smoothly. Most traffic was tactical, he said, to help the Red Cross with needed equipment and supplies.

The net, on 7285 and 3873 kHz, operates in accordance with a memorandum of understanding among the ARRL Louisiana, Mississippi and South Texas sections. Keown says ARRL President Jim Haynie, W5JBP, stepped in to restore the fallen dipole antenna of West Gulf ARES Net National Traffic System Coordinator Carolyn Womack, KC5OZT, who's also North Texas Section Traffic Manager. "He went over and fixed it, and by 4 o'clock she was back on the air, so chalk one up for the ARRL president!" Keown said.

The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) <http://www.hwn.org>  on 14.325 MHz secured operations for Hurricane Ivan September 16, but only to take another breather before an anticipated reactivation for Hurricane Jeanne in a few days.

The nearly continuous activations over the past four weeks have taken a toll on HWN members, HWN Manager Mike Pilgrim, K5MP, told ARRL, and several were affected by storm-related damage. The HWN coordinates its activities with WX4NHC <http://www.wx4nhc.org>  at the National Hurricane Center to gather real-time ground-level weather data and damage reports from Amateur Radio volunteers in a storm's path and relay these to forecasters.

This hurricane season WX4NHC has been taking advantage of IRLP and EchoLink via the new VOIPWX Net <http://www.voipwx.net/> , which also provides streaming audio.

The Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) <http://www.satern.org>  on 14.265 MHz has been handling health-and-welfare inquiries in the wake of the recent round of hurricanes. The net also handles emergency communications from storm-affected areas. SATERN also takes health-and-welfare inquiries via its Web site.

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