EMCOMM and Failing to Plan

Immediately after the Boston Marathon bombings, cell service was disabled as a preventive measure. As an emergency communicator, I prepare for this stuff and usually have at least one radio nearby at all times. What’s your communications plan should they shut off your cell phone service? Remember: that means no voice calls, text messages, emails, mobile web, or anything else getting into or out of your mobile phone. Do you have a landline? What if that should fail as well? It probably will because the system will be jammed with people trying to call one another. (Hint: the telephone system is not designed for 100% usage capacity.)

Do you know an amateur radio operator? Do you have an emergency plan? Does it include a rally point (is it your home)? What if that location is unsafe or unreachable? What if your entire neighborhood is unsuitable? Where is your near-distance evacuation destination? What if your entire metropolitan area, state, or region is evacuated? What is your long-distance evacuation destination? Do you have a go bag with supplies for up to 72 hours? Where do you keep it? Does it include your prescription medications? Food? Change(s) of clothing?


What I Did Today

Today I spent about 8 1/2 hours at the Denver Combined Communications Center, or Denver 911 for short. This is the building where all 911 and non-emergency calls (720-913-2000) for the City and County of Denver are answered. In the radio room they have the phone operators and dispatchers for Denver Police, Denver Fire, and Denver Health. I’d post pictures if this cool location but I’m afraid that would probably be a breach of security. I can tell you that they use scramble pads to enter the door access codes, so don’t bother looking over anyone’s shoulder. Scramble pads sound more fun than they actually are.

What did I do today, you may ask? Generally not much. I listened do Denver Police DNC disivion 1 dispatch a lot, played some cards, and generally just stood by in case something were to happen. Fortunately not much did and I hope it stays that way throughout the week.

By the way, I have to say for the record that the guy who runs this place, Carl Simpson, is awesome. He’s an amazingly gracious host and so accommodating to the amateur radio operators.

A call to action – LACDCS

Last night at the annual Los Angeles County Disaster Communications
Service general membership meeting April Moell, WA6OPS, spoke about the
Hospital Disaster Communications service in Orange County. Her brief
lecture was informative and spoke about the nature of hospital
communications in an emergency situation. To my knowledge, DCS doesn’t
do anything like this. But it is what I’d hoped to be doing when I
joined DCS. Emergency communications. So far we have not had one single
activation in which I have participated in the 3 years I have been with
DCS. April pointed out that there are two basic structures: the
RACES/DCS/ACS structure in which hams are tied to a particular
government agency, and the ARES structure, in which ham groups form
agreements with entities and are not tied to one specific served agency.
I believe the latter has a greater chance for growth. The big
difference is that the former requires some sort of administrative
official to request activations, following which hams are sent to
assignments, and the latter allows hams to self-deploy according to
established protocols, thereby saving valuable time. It’s a top-down vs
bottom-up approach. I think I will look for an organization that
utilizes the latter, if merely for my own sanity: I cannot stand the
bureaucratic nonesense that gets in the way of actually doing what we
want to do: get communications back up in an emergency situation where
minutes count.

L.A. Marathon XXI – A Ham’s Brief Report

Sunday was the 21st annual Los Angeles Marathon. The first one across
the finish line won $100,000 + $25,000 + a new car. But this is a
person who runs everywhere. Howabout 1,000 pairs of shoes instead?

There has only been one other time in the history of the L.A.
Marathon when there was a fatailty. This year there were two. This year
there was also the highest number of runners—over 26,000—so
statistically it was bound to happen sooner or later.

I did not run the marathon but I was on my feet all day. (Note to
self: find more comfortable shoes.) I was downtown at the start/finish
area Command Post and vicinity shadowing the director of security for
the marathon, Bob Taylor. This was a ham radio event. We didn’t do much
all day except deal with the fatality situation and fix a couple of
security issues. The folks at the marathon generally know what they’re
doing thanks to the many years they’ve done it.

The weather was just about perfect for the runners but a bit chilly
for the rest of us with the exception of a few hours midday. It would
have been perfect without the breeze; We lucked out not having any rain.

Overall it was a good experience and I recommend volunteering for
this event to anyone who wants to feel helpful, whether or not you’re a
licensed amateur radio operator.

A Day at the Marathon

I spent the entire day volunteering as ham radio comm for the 20th LA Marathon. First I set up an APRS tracker in an LAPD unit, then I shadowed the assistant race director, who shadowed the race director. I got an “all access” pass as well as a “V.I.P.” pass and at one point was within an arm’s length (yes, literally) of Scott Bakula (who was running the race) and Muhammed Ali (who was not). Muhammed is only 62 but he has pretty severe Parkinson’s, which was evident upon his arrival. That, of course, did not affect his sense of humor at all. I was probably close to other recognizables, too, but I didn’t recognize them if I was. Although I’m pretty sure I walked by the mayor a couple of times.

After the first of the runners came in (you might have seen me on TV at the finish line, I was the guy in the bright orange hat and the goofy radio headphones following around a guy in a yellow jacket), I headed up to the CP (Command Post) where I proceeded to track the LAPD unit as it drove behind the sweeper vehicles at the end of the marathon. The sarge made it back to the finish line after 18:00 and I took back my tracker and hit the road. All-in-all a productive, fun in a weird why-am-I-volunteering-but-it’s-fun-anyway sorta way. My only complaint is getting up at 3 am, but at least I’ll sleep well tonight.

The Greatest

The finish line

The CP