Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Handiham World for 17 September 2008

Welcome to Handiham World!

Report from Texas - Damage from Ike extends far inland

Map of south Texas showing a location 300 miles inland on I-20.

We got hit hard; 300 miles from coast, and still got clobbered.

About 80% power still out - some will be out up to 90 days. Running most street light signals off generators or welding machines with power plants. Mine’s been running at home since Friday night. All EOC’s on generators – hospitals, too.

I rode around with the fire chief, I’ve never before seen power poles just jerked out of the ground; even the steel ones were broken off at ground level.

It gets worse the further south you go. All power is out within 60 miles of the coast.

Got to get back to work with the county police and fire so we don’t run out of people. 7 A.M. Saturday to 7 A.M. Sunday we ran fire, EMS, calls power lines down -- you name it, it came in!


Thanks to Ken for that report. I purposely put his news up front to remind those readers and listeners who were not in the path of the enormously destructive storm called "Ike" just how bad and how extensive the damage was... and still is! In fact, damage from the storm extended well into the Midwest, with flooding and power outages in places like Illinois and Kentucky. I heard from relatives in Louisville that they will be out of power for days due to all of the storm damage. This morning I heard from a handiham member in Houston, Texas, where power is still out. She contacted a mailing list of friends via the Internet, because her phone and DSL service had come back to life. Even so, if she had not been prepared with a portable generator to run the computer equipment, she would not have been able to send out her message. She did lament how she wished that her ham radio station had been better organized and prepared.

Last night I watched on the TV news and saw the long lines of cars clogging the freeways of South Texas as people tried to return to the coast to assess the damage to their homes and businesses. I was somewhat surprised at this, because my understanding is that there is so little infrastructure left in places like Galveston that people are still trying to get out. It is a terrible situation that will take a very long time to straighten out. It is also a cautionary tale for amateur radio operators who have not really been too careful about preparing "go kits" for their own personal use during such emergencies. Remember, a well-planned go kit can be useful for yourself and your immediate family as well as for assisting in a public service communications capacity. Having a radio and extra batteries along with you in the car or on the bus as you are evacuated from the danger zone could come in very handy indeed. We have all heard of situations where cars have stalled or run out of fuel on the jammed interstate highways during an emergency evacuation.

In an emergency, especially a widespread one like a hurricane, police, fire, and medical response cannot be counted upon in the same way that we do in normal times. A radio and charged batteries will at least provide an alternative means of communication that could be a life-saver. Here in Minnesota, we seldom have enormous weather events of such a destructive nature, but we do get widespread blizzards and much more localized destructive storms like tornadoes. While the immediate response may be different since evacuation from a huge metropolitan area is not likely for those events, the go kit is still a vital part of our amateur radio emergency planning.

Large-scale terrorist attacks are not out of the question. While no major world metropolitan area has yet experienced such an attack requiring a mass evacuation, if such a thing did have to take place it would be vital to have a working go kit so that you could use an alternative form of communications. As I have stated before, cellular phones cannot be counted upon in wide-area emergencies. The reason is that the cellular system is designed with limited capacity that assumes not all users will try to make calls at the same time. In a wide-area emergency situation, people are likely to pick up their phones to check in with relatives and friends. Even a relatively localized disaster here in the Twin Cities area, the Interstate 35 bridge collapse, caused significant congestion of the cellular phone system. Can you imagine what would happen to the cellular system in a much bigger, more widespread disaster situation? Your amateur radio equipment might turn out to be the only practical way to communicate!

Station in go kit as displayed at SATERN booth, HamventionEmergency responders learn something very important in their training: how to deal with complacency. While some of us are better at learning than others, everyone is affected by complacency. A perfect example of how we become complacent is that we go a long happily for many years without having to deal with a disaster, in the meantime failing to keep our radio equipment in good working order, failing to keep our go kits up to date, failing to have a family plan for dealing with emergencies, failing to stock extra water and batteries, and so on. It is really hard work to fight complacency. Things have gone well for so long that we simply assume the rest of today, tomorrow, the next day, and the next week will all go just as perfectly well.

That may not be the case. I'm not telling you to worry all the time, but I am telling you that you need to be prepared. And the best way amateur radio operators can be prepared is to follow the basic philosophy of having equipment that is ready to go, even in an emergency and even on short notice.

Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager