Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sandy: Ops in Stamford Garner Great Praise



Courtesy of NASA

A report from Jon Perelstein, WB2RYV, President, Stamford Amateur Radio Association, Communications Officer, Stamford CERT


Eight members of Stamford Amateur Radio Association (SARA) in Stamford CT are also members of Stamford CERT and volunteer in emergencies through CERT.  For Sandy, another twelve SARA members were either sworn in as "spontaneous volunteers" to CERT or were on standby to be called in if needed (and whether they know it or not ARE going to become members of Stamford CERT).  Two other members are senior volunteers in Red Cross disaster services and operate through that mechanism.

During and just after the storm, CERT hams were assigned to backup communications for shelter operations and for local EOC to the state Region 1 EOC.  There was at least one ham at each shelter, at the Stamford EOC, and at the Darien Red Cross chapter house (which serves the consolidated Stamford-Darien chapter).  Amateur radio operators who are sworn members of the Bridgeport EOC staffed the Red Cross Regional Operations Center in Bridgeport and also provided backup communications to the state’s Region 1 EOC.  We also arranged for ham radio members of a CERT in the Farmington area (Red Cross state headquarters) to staff communications between Bridgeport and Farmington.  We were prepared with VHF NBEMS for local communications (shelters, EOC, Darien); with HF NBEMS via NVIS antennas between Darien and Bridgeport, and with HF NBEMS via NVIS antennas between Bridgeport and Farmington.  VHF voice repeaters are available locally and regionally, and CT ARES maintains partial coverage of the state through a linked VHF voice repeater system, but exercises have shown that voice is inadequate to Red Cross shelter operations needs (especially over the linked repeater system).  Most of CERT/EOC hams were also prepared to work with VHF Winlink and HF Winmor.  

An interesting problem for us is the fact that most of the facilities we work with are in downtown urban settings, thus making it difficult to deploy HF antennas.  We have been testing with small antennas that can be deployed in those settings, and are using a mix of Buddipoles, 80 meter Hamstick dipoles, and other similar short NVIS antennas.  As it turns out, the short antennas let us set up in places that provide some protection from wind, although of course we had the antennas indoors during the height of the storm.

The original plan called for eight hour shifts, but weather conditions made it impossible to relieve people on schedule, with the result that most our hams did a 16 hour shift.  The ham at the Darien RC chapter house couldn't leave because of blocked roads and wound up on-site for about 30 hours.

The critical communications facilities did not fail as a result of the storm, and the backup communications were not needed.  As soon as that became apparent, our shelter-assigned hams reverted to being regular CERT members and participated in the full gamut of shelter operations from intake to food distribution to logistics to ...  One of them was part of the team that ran the pet shelter operations within the shelters.  The hams also took it upon themselves to take over the inventory and logistics control at the shelters.  When a food delivery problem interfered with Tuesday breakfast (the morning after the storm), one of our hams scrounged up coffee for 450 residents.

Three of our hams worked the City’s Citizen Service Line taking calls about downed trees, downed power lines, blocked roads, possible missing people, people trapped in cars or their homes, etc. (yes, some of those calls should have gone to 9-1-1 but the callers called us).  Another of our hams became involved in clearing up (non-technical) communications problems between Red Cross and Salvation Army (which provided the food to the shelters).  After clearing that problem, he was assigned to be the permanent liaison between Red Cross and Salvation Army to make sure that no additional problems arose.  Two of our hams wound up as “expediters” -- given specific tasks (and authority) to address communications issues between different operating units of the City (either people issues or technology issues).   I participated in the Mayor’s four hourly crisis assessment meetings.  

As happened in Irene, the Mayor’s senior staff tended to ask the senior ham on duty to get information about shelter status rather than calling over to the shelters themselves.  The explanation for this behavior given by one of the Mayor’s senior staff was essentially “When I call over, I wind up getting put into voice mail or told that someone would call me back.   When I ask you to get me the info, I get it in about five or ten minutes.”  This Director put a line item in her budget after Hurricane Irene for a “Baseball bat to assist amateur radio operators in collecting information on behalf of the Mayor”.

In the aftermath of the storm, we were visited by various local, state, and national politicians.  Whoever was hosting the visitor (often the Mayor) made a point of introducing me and noting I am president of SARA as well as an officer of Stamford CERT.  During one of those visits, I had a 5+ minute conversation with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal on the subject of ham radio’s relevance in modern emergency communications.

Participants included

Stamford CERT
Jon Perelstein (WB2RYV)
Chris Demisch (KB1QXR)
Christina Kovacs (KB1UOB)
Andrew Rosca (KB3CZA)
Bill Librandi (KB1IFY)
Donna Librandi (KB1TGW)
Steve Urso (KB1YLQ)
Tom Young (KD1UL)

Other SARA members sworn in or on standby
Terry Martin (W1TSM)
Jon Solomon (W3EIC)
AT Crocker (KK1R)
Georgi Todorov (K1GTT)
Tom Agoston (WB2HTJ)
Adam Borawski (W1ASB)
Jeanine Cariri (KY1Q)
Luis Cardez (KB1TJM)
Joe Molon  (KA1PPV)
John Sabini  (WB1GRB)
Chester Piorkowski (N1CHD)
John Braziel (W1AMF)

SARA Members in Red Cross Disaster Services
Frank Cassella (KB1IFX)
Frank Ballentine, Jr (KB1QZH)

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