Sunday, February 25 , 2018, 8:40 am | Fair 46º

 
 
 

Amateur Radio Operators Play Vital Communication Role During Emergencies

Volunteers can serve as link between Santa Barbara County Emergency Operation Center and hospitals, and assist first responders

The Amateur Radio Emergency Services radio room at the Santa Barbara County Emergency Operations Center in Santa Barbara allows operators to communicate with Lompoc, Santa Maria and the Santa Ynez Valley during crisis situations. During an emergency, ARES operators may be assigned to city Emergency Operation Centers, hospitals, clinics and other locations as needed. Click to view larger
The Amateur Radio Emergency Services radio room at the Santa Barbara County Emergency Operations Center in Santa Barbara allows operators to communicate with Lompoc, Santa Maria and the Santa Ynez Valley during crisis situations. During an emergency, ARES operators may be assigned to city Emergency Operation Centers, hospitals, clinics and other locations as needed. (Amateur Radio Emergency Services photo)

During fires, earthquakes and other emergencies, licensed amateur radio operators provide a vital service to help communities communicate.

The Amateur Radio Emergency Services, or ARES, keeps key officials in contact during emergencies when more traditional communication methods may not be available.

        |  Emergency Preparedness 2017  |  Complete Series Index  |

“It’s a way to take your hobby and do something useful for the community,” said Lou Dartanner, Santa Barbara County ARES district coordinator who has participated in the organization since the 1980s.

“And especially in a disaster or emergency it allows us do some more mundane things that releases the fire personnel or law enforcement personnel to go do more important things.”

Dartanner said the volunteer organization provides its members with an opportunity to do what they can and like to do.

“You spend all this money on this radio equipment, it’s nice to be able to go out there and use it to do some good,” he said.

The ham radio operators are included in the county disaster plan, and during a declared emergency ARES members work out of the Emergency Operations Center, where a complete radio system allows communication between the Public Health Department and hospitals.

ARES, part of the Amateur Radio Relay League, has almost 100 volunteer members in four units in the county — Lompoc, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Santa Ynez.

If an incident is restricted to one part of the county, ARES members from the other communities will assist. Help also can be summoned from ARES members in San Luis Obispo or Ventura counties, Dartanner said.

“ARES is an essential partner for emergency response during disasters, such as an earthquake, that affect communications,” said Jan Koegler, manager of the Public Health Department’s emergency preparedness program.

Members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Services, or ARES, use their unique hobby to keep communication flowing during emergencies such as wildfires and earthquakes. During the 2007 Zaca Fire, an ARES member positioned at East Camino Cielo and Painted Cave Road assisted when the California Highway Patrol radio system experienced poor reception at the remote location. Click to view larger
Members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Services, or ARES, use their unique hobby to keep communication flowing during emergencies such as wildfires and earthquakes. During the 2007 Zaca Fire, an ARES member positioned at East Camino Cielo and Painted Cave Road assisted when the California Highway Patrol radio system experienced poor reception at the remote location. (Amateur Radio Emergency Services photo)

“We shouldn’t forget that cell, landline and even radio communications could be damaged in an earthquake. ARES would be able to provide critical information on the status of hospitals and provide the communication link between hospitals and emergency operations centers in our county.”

The Public Health Department conducts exercises with ARES to test the ability to send messages back and forth between hospital command centers, field treatment sites and the county’s emergency operations centers, she added.

“ARES is a great asset and resource to our county,”​ she said. ”​We are fortunate to have these volunteer radio operators who train and drill so that they can assist our county during a disaster.”​

During major incidents such as the recent Canyon, Rey and Sherpa wildfires, ARES representatives staffed the Emergency Operations Center around the clock for five days, Dartanner said.

Other ARES members provide fire patrol services, keeping watch as two-member, radio-equipped teams look out for potential smoke or other hazards.

“At the same time, we will take weather readings and get temperature, wind speed, direction and humidity,” Dartanner said, adding that the information is relayed to fire commanders.

“It relieves them then to be able to do other patrolling and more important things,” he added. “As soon as we see any trends that they need be aware of, then we can let them know and they can jump on it, maybe send extra patrols.”

The ARES members also note the number of vehicles parked at trailheads, so authorities know the potential number of people in the remote locations.

Earning an amateur radio license takes a negligible amount of money and requires taking a class and a test. Many of those who take up the hobby belong to the Santa Barbara County Amateur Radio Club, and membership is required to be part of ARES.

Like any hobby, investment in equipment can cost hundred of dollars or more.

“It’s not a real expensive hobby, but it can be if you really get into it,” Dartanner explained. “Let me put it this way, it’s cheaper than owning a horse.

“But it’s a lot of fun and the people are nice.”

        |  Emergency Preparedness 2017  |  Complete Series Index  |

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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