Ham Operators Help Prepare for Emergencies

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  1. Guest

    Guest Guest

    From The Eastside Journal...

    <h1>Ham Operators Help Prepare for Emergencies</h1>

    by Noel S. Brady

    Journal Reporter

    SNOQUALMIE -- Residents of this remote town bound by mountains are asking an important question: ``Are we ready for a disaster?''</p>

    Police and firefighters say maybe not. That's why they're working with local volunteers and ham radio operators to assemble a backup system for extra people power and communication equipment in case of an emergency that overwhelms existing systems, such as the high-frequency radio dispatch service.</p>

    ``One of the concerns is that police and firefighters might lose the 800 megahertz communications system if the facilities are damaged by a huge wind storm,'' said Les Kerr, a retiree and ham radio aficionado who volunteers with the burgeoning Snoqualmie Emergency Communication Support Team. ``Or a huge event like an earthquake could overload the system with emergency calls.''</p>

    Still in its infancy, the organization is intended to prepare Snoqualmie for the worst kinds of disasters. Already, similar groups of short-wave radio or ham operators have begun serving King County, Redmond, Mercer Island and Kirkland.</p>

    The group's founder, Betty Keeton, got the ball rolling a year ago. She immediately had the support of Snoqualmie police and firefighters. </p>

    In fact, designers of the new Snoqualmie police station, like Capt. Jim Schaffer, made sure a ham radio antenna was included in plans for the new building, which opened in November 1999.</p>

    ``This was a real opportunity to put together something we needed and would use,'' Schaffer said. ``It's an organization and the kind of volunteers we really have to have.''</p>

    Now all the group needs is a few more volunteers, said Keeton, who drives a school bus in the daytime.</p>

    ``If all the police communication systems become swamped, they can rely on our ham radios,'' she said. ``We'll also supply volunteers to staff an emergency center in the police station, so we're also looking for gophers, people to provide food and coffee to workers and other odd jobs.''</p>

    So far the group has met three times, and has attracted about eight volunteers, several of whom also are involved with the county's volunteer search and rescue team. </p>

    Kerr said volunteers don't have to have a ham radio license or experience to join the organization. But if they're interested in learning about ham radio, the group with offer classes for volunteers to obtain a license.</p>

    Almost as important as providing an emergency plan, Kerr said he hopes the group will help create a stronger Snoqualmie community of civic-minded residents. </p>

    ``My dream for the whole thing is that this becomes something that community talks about, something that they want to get involved in,'' he said.</p>
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