*Dispatch... It’s Got To Be Done, Let’s Do It*
On Nov 6, 2002 JW came up to my house for supper and to help me relocate my ham shack/command post into the Rubicon room. He arrived at about 1500 hours and we got to work. The main goal for the afternoon was to have all the power wires neatly run and have the back-up power system up and running.
Things were going great. We took our time, experimented with different types of wires and tried different things to see what worked the best. After deciding where the batteries would be and how to supply power to them coming from solar panels and how to supply power to the radios we started wiring. Wires were being well marked and installed very neatly.
1900 hours rolled around and we took a break and cooked up some grub. Pretty darned good if I say so myself. I’m getting pretty good at marinated chicken. At this time it was snowing quite heavily outside and accumulating fast. JW made a nonchalant comment "I might hafta stay here with you tonight." Little did we know what was in store for us in a just a few hours.
Back into the Rubicon room we went and continued wiring. We were listening to the county law enforcement frequencies. There were a lot of accidents, trees on power lines, fires etc. I went to take a look out the window…. I was in awe to see about 8" of snow already on the ground and it was still snowing very hard. I went back to the Rubicon room and told JW…you ain’t getting out of here tonight so we kept on wiring. A nice slow process to ensure it was done right.
2200 hours rolled around. We heard one of the dispatchers talking to one of the deputies through the tower in Columbia. The dispatcher said "We just lost Cooper", meaning that the main repeaters for county law enforcement, ambulance and fire dept communications were down. Washington County is very big. Communications are hard as it is, not to mention the main repeaters on the highest point in the county being off-line. Now things are bad, they can’t get much worse…BUT….
Things are about to get worse. At about 2210 hours we heard the dispatcher on Statewide Car to Car say "Columbia just went down". Things just went to hail in a hand basket. Western and Central Washington County are without communications. No way to tone ambulances, fire depts. or communicate with law enforcement. JW and I looked at each other and did the classic "Oooh Sh!t !!" We knew what had to be done and we knew that we were the only ones capable of doing it.
We had to get commo set up, like yesterday. We were in a race against time. 80% of Washington County was now dependent on us for emergency services. We quickly figured out what had to be done. Back-up power, antennas hooked up were the priority. He said "1000watt inverter back of my truck". Out the door into the storm I went. A few moments later the inverter’s inside. He started stringing wires everywhere so that we could have back-up power. (We’re still on the grid at this point) I called the Sheriff’s Office and said "Jon is here with me, we’ve got plenty of back-up power and are working on getting communications up and running." a sigh of relief from the dispatcher*
Quick backup power-1000 watt & 300 watt inverters
My job was to get the coax installed and hooked up. Antennas were already installed from the previous radio room. All I had to do was route coax into the new location…in the dark & IN A SNOWSTORM! I climbed up the tower and got up on the roof. I almost fell off and it’s an 18’ drop to the ground. I beat the ice/snow off the antennas and then hastily departed the roof before I went over the edge and made a nice deep snow angel. How bad could that start to suck?
I started shoving coax through the wall, thank goodness it was well labeled. I don’t think chasing coax to antennas to see what went where in a snowstorm would be too amusing.
Finally the outside work was done. By the time I got back inside, JW had the batteries hooked up and on stand-by and the inverter was set-up and tested. Antennas were connected. Computer was yarded down from upstairs. I realized that we needed an extra radio. I said "Go out and get the 1500 out of my truck", without question he went and did it. Now, we already had plenty of radios working, but we needed that radio. It had a certain frequency in it that the others did not. He didn’t know that at the time, but he went and did it.
Approximately 40 minutes after we realized what was happening, we had a command post fully up and running. I called the Sheriff’s Office back and told the dispatcher that we were ready. We were informed that Cooper was back online, but Columbia (our side of the county) was still down. No problem, we are set for the night and will handle any traffic that may arise. Anyone dialing 911 would still reach the Sheriff’s Office. They would then relay info to us via phone or radio. We had fire/ambulance toning capabilities and basically a mini county communications center.
Thrown together Command Post
Fortunately things settled down around 0000 hours and remained quiet throughout the night. At 0300 we lost grid power and ran on back up. During the next day the Sheriff’s Office was able to handle most of the traffic. At 1610 on Nov 7, the Columbia tower came back on-line and our system was able to be shut down.
This was a good drill for preparedness. Wasn’t really a drill, it was the real thing. We volunteered our time and efforts to ensure public safety in Washington County. We felt that even though it wasn’t our job it had to be done. Being able to run a command post for the county instilled a great sense of pride. We are Rubie’s, we are radio operators, we will respond if called upon (or in this case, before being called upon).
Eli & JW
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