ARRL East Bay Section

BARC/BERT Participates in Benicia Emergency Response Communications Test

Posted by af6aq on May 11th, 2009

Benicia Times-Herald

Benicia tests backup emergency response communications

By Jessica A. York/Times-Herald staff writer

Posted: 05/05/2009 02:00:19 AM PDT


Chris Riley/Times-Herald

Art Mayoff, Benicia Amateur Radio Club treasurer and emergency response coordinator, listens in on a ham radio at the Benicia Fire Department.

BENICIA — If this city lost all its phone lines like Santa Clara County recently did, there’s at least a 94 percent chance that emergency communications wouldn’t miss a beat.

That’s because of a small army of Ham Radio enthusiasts who tested an alternative communication network Sunday with nearly perfect results.

The city’s Ham Radio volunteer emergency response team members spread out to 13 different points throughout Benicia in a drill simulating loss of all phone communication.

After running 52 tests under various scenarios, only three tests failed, said Art Mayoff, Benicia Amateur Radio Club treasurer and emergency response coordinator. Those failed tests relied on the tiny walkie-talkie antennas, which hams would not necessarily be reduced to in an emergency, Mayoff said.

“I wanted to make it the most difficult situations to see where the weaknesses were,” Mayoff said. “I wanted to break the rules a little bit. A perfect situation would have proven nothing.”

Mayoff said the comprehensive drill was inspired by last month’s vandalism of Santa Clara County fiber optic cables. Land lines, cell phones, Internet service and

911 service were all rendered nearly useless during the incident. Ham operators in the area were called on to help, Mayoff and Benicia Fire Department Division Chief Tim Winfield.

The Benicia testing was the first in which the emergency team worked side by side with the city’s emergency dispatch center, which fields call for both police and fire department officials. “That group of ham radio operators are an outstanding resource to public safety and we’re glad that their training operation was a success,” Police Lt. Mike Daley said of the drill.

Winfield echoed Daley, saying the three-hour drill proved the amateur radio operators would be of great use in an emergency situation.

“It was well-attended and well worth the effort,” Winfield said of the event.

Mayoff said his biggest concern before the testing was that ham equipment might interfere with the dispatch center’s computers and radio communications. The worst effect turned out to be a slight temporary buzzing on a dispatcher’s radio, which could easily be remedied, Mayoff said.

“We selected a day when, if anything did happen, it wouldn’t affect (dispatchers) as drastically,” Mayoff said.

The test also gave emergency responders a chance to test out a new portable radio station on wheels, dubbed a “Go-Kit.” The kit contains items like headphones, cables, a large antenna, and enough energy to power a 50-watt radio for five to seven days, Mayoff said.

“I have 47 years in this (ham radio) — it’s just something that needed to be done, and I did it,” Mayoff said of producing the Go-Kits.