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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ham operators to help in emergencies

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ham radio operators George Edenfield, Nancy Knapp, Carol Hayes, Chuck Reeves, Dave Costin, Brad Roberson and Pat Lewis work with David Asher and Mike Rollins from the State RACES program at the Putnam County Emergency Operations Center Thursday evening. The group is training on three new radios at the EOC that will be used in case of disasters in the community.
GREENCASTLE -- Communications are the cornerstone of emergency response at all levels. With that in mind, Putnam County Emergency Operations Center Director Dave Costin is reaching out to Amateur Radio Operators to help the county in case of emergencies.

A recent training session at the EOC with Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES) is part of program to ramp up the local emergency program.

Don West, communication director for emergency response division of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the Indianapolis Emergency Operations Center, coordinated a $5,000 grant to get Putnam County four new radios.

These are high frequency, short wave and long distance radios that will be used by emergency personnel in the event of a large-scale disaster such as a tornado, flood or earthquake that might affect the county.

"These radios can send data, images and all different formats of information out. This could be our only form of communication in the event of a major disaster here or somewhere around us," said Costin. "Operators can talk to the EOC and answer questions if someone is injured, hurt or in need of help."

Costin went on to explain that in a nightmare situation where the electricity and phone systems go down over even a portion of the state, the EOC needs a way to communicate from county to county or state to state.

"Right now, we're working on ways to communicate in order to coordinate things like obtaining water, sandbags and other supplies. Everything has to go through the EMA director for tracking purposes."

RACES is a volunteer organization of licensed amateur radio operators who provide communications to affiliated government agencies during emergencies. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the group, although administration of RACES has been turned over to individual states.

"RACES operators have to have trained at the local level. That's what we are doing now. We need more ham operators to help us with this," said Costin. "For example, we may need to have an operator at the hospital, schools or the fire departments if there is a disaster."

According to Costin, if the New Madrid Fault goes bad and an earthquake occurs, the federal aid is going to Memphis and St. Louis where there are large populations of people. Putnam County would have to fend for itself.

If transportation becomes clogged up, there will be a problem. One scenario might be that the energy plant has only three or four days of coal supply. After that supply is used up, most of our coal comes from the west. If the interstate goes out, we may not get coal. Without coal the power grid could fall.

"There could be a cascading effect. Our phone and electric could collapse if the power grids go out. It can take a long time to bring power back up once the grid goes out," said Costin.

Costin added that getting gas to emergency personnel will be critical and having people staffed in schools, fire departments and other areas where people might walk to looking for help is necessary. There are a lot of things to look at.

"It will be the ham guys doing it," acknowledged Costin.

The RACES Training has begun already and the seven members trained are now the executive committee. But Costin is hoping for many more ham operators to volunteer to form a hardcore group. Training will be provided to those interested.

To become an official member of the RACES team does require between eight and 16 hours of training.

Any amateur radio operators interested in helping with the group can call Dave Costin at 653-5115 or contact him by his call number: KC9RBE.

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