Walt's Thoughts regarding HAM community support during power and utility outages

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Gene asked us to be thinking about how we might better organize for such a contingency and I think he is on to something. We don’t usually suffer from hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, etc. here in Southern Arizona, but power and utility outages seem to be on the increase. Add to that the demographics of our community, with many folks dependent on electricity more than for just convenience and comfort – and telephones that are literally lifelines. HAM radio operators have always been quick to help in more traditional emergencies, but now we may have to think a little outside the box…

During yesterday’s incident with Cox telephone and internet going down for half the day, I called the Sahuarita Police dispatcher to volunteer our services. She was appreciative and thoughtful. But after a brief discussion, she asked, "What exactly could you folks do for us?" a good question. The general population has no idea who we (Hams) are our how to reach us in an emergency. The dispatcher and I agreed that if any "inbound" emergency calls ended up at the Police Department, they could call me on my cell phone and I would check the net to see who was closest so they could drive over to the person in question. OK, for an ad hoc situation, but not elegant either. But it got me to thinking.

We want to be helpful in these kind of emergencies AND we want to put our best foot forward to the HOA’s that want to restrict antenna placement. Maybe we could meet both goals with the right approach.

Bill (I think) AA0TF gave me the basic idea – if people knew to look for the antennas in a community it might be beneficial in an emergency, but there are timing and "cart before the horse" issues as Bill, K6WWH pointed out. But still…

SO, here’s what I came up with:

A club initiative with the following key elements:

Compile a list of club members who would be willing to participate and build a file with name, address, phone number, cell phone if any, email if any and community (mine would be Quail Creek), if the community has an HOA and finally, does the community have a manned gate or patrol service. Contact each HOA and give them a list of club members and addresses for inclusion in the next HOA newsletter or directory – perhaps with our club member’s homes highlighted on a map for emergency use. For communities with manned gates, consider a club project to place a 2 meter transceiver in the guard house with a gel cell battery and simple charger. Nothing fancy, just something that can hit our repeaters. We might even have some functioning radios in the club closet. We could conduct training for the guards (how to turn it on, FCC emergency communication rules, etc.) In an actual emergency, a club member would head for the guard house when the lights go out to assist and to establish a net. Consider doing the same thing at the Sauharita Police Department dispatcher and other key emergency service providers (SAV is already on board, but maybe add Green Valley Fire, Border Patrol and maybe Tucson Electric?) Develop a written contingency plan (NOT a book, just a page – if longer than that, no one will ever read it) and distribute to the HOAs and emergency responders.

In the event of a power or utility failure, we will all monitor the repeaters. If the outage lasts over 15 minutes, we will head for the gate houses, emergency services locations and help establish a communications link. If community members know in advance that we are there and willing to help, they can come to us. Some communities may elect to use a community room as a "mustering point" for people who might need our help. That will vary from one neighborhood to the next, but we can have a mobile equipped car or hand held transceiver toting club member there on short order.

So, our neighbors get a safety net, the HOAs get a gold star for thinking of the safety of their members (at no cost) and maybe we have a fighting chance of getting some community support for the "antenna reasonable accommodation" initiative we would all like to see get passed next year?

Just a thought,
Walt, W0ALT