We provide Emergency Management Communications and Operations support to various Emergency Management Agencies along with related Amateur Radio info.
By: N2PHI , 11:57 PM GMT on October 29, 2013
Today is the 1 year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. I wanted to share some thoughts of my experience as the County Radio Officer for Camden County NJ. Our County sits roughly 40 miles from Brigantine NJ. Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Brigantine and moved west north west passing over Camden County. Now a simple google search of Hurricane Sandy would provide a wealth of information in detail about Sandy's strength and impacts. I wanted to share a personal story. Here is my story.
I was appointed as the County Radio Officer for Camden County NJ Office of Emergency Management for the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications programs of both ARES Amateur Radio Emergency Services and RACES Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services. I was appointed in September by the County Emergency Management Coordinator. Now anyone familiar with this program would understand the type of position that I was stepping into. Anytime you take over any program your likely to encounter growing pains and issues with membership data and equipment. Unfortunately due to unexpected issues that had occurred when I was appointed no updated member database appeared to have existed. We worked with previous rosters from as far back as 2005 to work on updating the list.
In the process I also had to locate individuals who I could appoint to my staff that were willing and capable of taking on the role as a Deputy County Radio Officer, no easy task. Fortunately I was able to quickly find some help and get the ball rolling. Once the staff was in place we contacted our liaisons at our hospitals and arranged to inventory what equipment that was assigned to our group. No easy task considering the amount if people we counted on to cooperate with the transition. The transition didn't go smooth and it took time to find answers. It took most of October locating information and accounting for equipment and updating member database. We were making good progress. Then some weather Intel came in from my good friend John Giampetro who had assisted me in the past with SKYWARN activities. John gave the first hint that a storm out in the Atlantic could become a Hurricane and threaten NJ. I asked John to track it and update me daily.
Now NJ has rarely seen any Hurricane activity with the exception of some remnant tropical storms that tend effect us with heavy rains. But this was different. 5 days out the National Hurricane Center posted outlooks and forecast tracks that put the cone of uncertainty covering all of NJ. The County OEM started sending daily updates from the NWS Forecast office in Mount Holly with briefing packages highlighting the inevitable. The County placed our Amateur Radio Program on Alert for Hurricane conditions and to work on a staffing plan for the EOC. Now I am not even in the position a month a now faced with the possibility of a Hurricane ravaging the county. I made contact with my staff and they went to work on going over our membership data base and calling people directly daily for three days updating contact info for over 90 members listed on our roster. In addition each had to ensure their own family preparedness was being addressed as well as their home. Stress levels were high, not only was I looking at my own home but I was constantly thinking about the program and all that I still needed to do, checking in with work to see what the plan was for working when the storm hit, taking care of my own home, food shopping etc. Every time I thought I was close to completion I thought of other things like gas for the generator, do I have enough, do I need more. I literally was out getting gas for cars and portable gas containers hours before the storm was expected to hit. Do I have propane in case I need to cook. I took empty milk gallons washed them out and filled with water in case we lost water. I purchased cases of water and batteries for flashlights. I think I had more batteries then food at one point.
Fortunately as the storm got closer I would turn out to be off the two days surrounding the arrival of the Hurricane.
Now Amateur Radio traditionally plays a very large roll in the response and recovery from a disaster due to the fact that its large communications capabilities were not dependent upon the internet, or electric or large radio towers. I literally could fire up my ham radio rig from the battery of my car, string a wire antenna in a tree and talk anywhere in the world. This concept was very attractive to emergency management agencies because when their Multi-Million dollar communications systems failed early into many of these large storms they have amateur radio stations come in and help out until they could get back up and running. Now I was really anxious going into Sandy with the state of our program. I wasn't familiar with what our members stations capability was like, I wasn't sure how I would enact a communications emergency if the County Public Safety system would go down. We are a large county with over 500,000 residents. I couldn't fathom having to have operators go out to all these Police, Fire and EMS stations to ride along passing messages. I knew manpower would be difficult in covering the County EOC because many people would be uneasy with leaving their family behind in this type of situation that we normally never had to face.
The tricky part was making sure that we had coverage for the County EOC in case all forms of Communications failed County Wide that we would have a link to the County EOC in case we needed help. We were ask to staff for 24 Hours which turned out to go longer. We managed to make sure we had at a minimum of two operators per shift. It turned out that many members wanted to come up and hang at the EOC so staffing through much of the event peaked to 6 - 8 people at times.
At this point Hurricane Sandy made landfall over Brigantine NJ during the overnight hours and passed directly over Camden County before going towards PA. We had a top wind gust of 72 MPH here in Camden County with minimal damage. We conducted a combined ARES/RACES/SKYWARN net, calling for reports on the hour. We began operations on Sunday October 28th 2012 at 1800 Hours (6 PM) and continued until 2000 Hours (8 PM) Tuesday October 30th. Our operations were much longer than originally anticipated. Net operations continued through out the event calling for reports at 6 hour intervals because of lack of any known damage and issues in Camden County. Much of the heavy rain that was forecasted to fall fell over much of Delaware and Virginia. The very strong winds occurred along the coastal communities up and down the NJ coast but it was apparent much of the heaviest damaged areas occurred in the northern NJ areas towards NY. Our operations then shifted from County Operations to assisting our effected counties by providing resources from manpower to equipment. As it turned out, the ARRL delivered equipment to many of the effected Counties especially Ocean County. At the height of the storm various towns had their own shelters open if needed, which they weren't. The County was preparing to open a shelter at the County College for possible evacuees from Coast Counties, but as it turned out that was not needed.
My parents live in North Wildwood so I was anxious all through the storm wondering if I would have a place to go back to in the summer for vacation or if my parents would have place to live. They live about a half a block from the beach. As it turns out they were spared as well because all of the new condo's built around their home actually protected them. So they were fine.
Looking back, we were lucky. I got lucky, the Southern Counties were spared. All in all Amateur Radio would have come through if called upon, because When All Else Fails, that is what we do. We make the magic happen.
On a side note, many of the first reports from along the NJ coast came via amateur radio. In North Jersey the State 800 MHz radio system had failed and many of the first reports from North Jersey were only possible because of Amateur Radio Operators. When we remember and thank all those who helped during #Sandy, remember all those ham radio operators who staffed EOC's around the State for well over 48 hours, staffed the shelters, staffed police and fire stations. Many of which will never receive one acknowledgment or a simple thank you because we as a society often fail to recognize the worth of volunteers and the good deeds that do without the recognition.
#NJ #HurricaneSandy #sandymemories #camcoemcomm #hurricane #arrl #hamr #hamradio
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Gloucester Township APRSWXNET
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Updated: 5:19 AM EDT on October 13, 2015