I live in Columbia County, a very rural county in northern Florida, not far from the Georgia border. For a time, our county was in the crosshairs of catastrophic Hurricane Ian. ARRL Northern Florida Section Emergency Coordinator Arc Thames, W4CPD, had conducted Zoom ARES planning meetings, drafted Incident Action Plans and coordinated communications with the state’s Division of Emergency Management headquartered in Tallahassee and, of course, all northern Florida county Emergency Coordinators. I had attended his meetings on the now-postponed Service DENIED statewide ARRL SET exercise, and was grateful to know that the Section and our county would be in good hands radiocommunications-wise.
At our county level, EC Brad Swartz, N5CBP, relatively new on the job, reported regularly on county ARES activation plans via the local ARES net, and recruited operators for possible assignment to the EOC in the county seat, Lake City. For years, ARES has enjoyed its own room at the EOC for its station and equipment: an Icom IC-7100, IC-9700, and an IC-7300, among other radios and peripherals. Swartz has a good relationship with the county emergency manager in charge of the large EOC.
As an ARES member, I was asked to report for duty at the EOC to serve as an operator if needed. I checked first with my wife, who would be left home alone for the duration of my EOC assignment: after discussion and a check of the storm’s track, with an estimate of when conditions would possibly deteriorate, she released me for duty at the EOC. (This kind of discussion between family members is absolutely mandated in any such ARES deployment scenario. Family first.) I told her that if potentially perilous conditions would be arriving, I would drive home immediately to be with her and our home. We do have a 10′ by 20′ heavy steel shipping container on our 2-acre property that would serve as our shelter and family “EOC.” See the October 2022 issue of QST, pp. 68-69, on “Developing Your Own Personal Emergency Operations Center and Plan.”
After my stint at the EOC, I was assigned to relieve the operator at one of the three Red Cross emergency shelters opened in the county. He had been on duty for over 24 hours. He checked out of, and I checked into, the ARES net on the city’s 146.94 MHz repeater, and introduced myself and my function to the Red Cross staff on duty there. I also politely answered questions from a few of the dozen or so shelter residents.
I explained that my sole function there was to receive any messages from the Red Cross shelter staff, and relay them to the on-duty operator at the EOC for delivery to the Red Cross manager for the city/county. Later, when it was patently evident the storm track had changed to the east and we would not be subject to dangerous conditions, the Red Cross closed the shelter, and I was released from duty. I notified the net control station at the EOC, took down the radio equipment and antenna, thanked the Red Cross staff for allowing me the privilege of serving them, and drove home to watch TV in horror of the destructive force of Hurricane Ian in southwest, central and eastern portions of the state.
At Red Cross shelters, we are there to receive and relay messages, period, with the possible exception of helping with moving tables or other furniture, and hand out food and snacks as requested. (It’s important that we don’t take any food or snacks for ourselves; it’s unprofessional at best, and at worst we could be taking food that might be in short supply for the residents.)
We are not there to tell the Red Cross personnel how to do their jobs. That old adage applies: We should be seen, but not heard!
And lastly, and most importantly, we must make absolutely sure that each member of our families approves of us leaving home to serve. Remember, they will not have us at home while they watch TV and listen to radio reports of possible danger, and most certainly will develop a sense of growing anxiety. Calculate the decision to leave home with the utmost care. – Rick Palm, K1CE, Columbia County (Florida) ARES