ARRL East Bay Section

Amateur Radio Operator Responds In A School Emergency

Posted by af6aq on February 15th, 2011

Amateur Radio Operator responds in a school emergency.

By Robert B. Gregory, AB4AL

Friday February 11, 2011, 4:45 PM; Amateur Radio Operator KI6LCA, JoiAnn had arrived to pick her son up from school at the Charter School , Mare Island Technology Academy , MIT in Vallejo California .  In her purse she carried her dual-band Amateur radio transceiver.  She was heading into the office to pick up her son who attends school there.  Suddenly she heard approaching vehicles bearing down on the school perimeter at a high velocity.  Screeching to a halt a vehicle blew a cloud of dust and a man emerged brandishing a weapon at perusing police cars.  Immediately JoiAnn knew what to do.

JoiAnn is a School Secretary for the Vallejo Unified School District at Steffan Manor Elementary School and well practiced in school lockdown procedures in the event of eminent danger to students.

Her first concern was to asses the danger and act appropriately.  She announced to the staff and students that this is now a school lockdown situation.  Running at top speed she and MIT Staff members cleared the grounds and halls of students to take cover in class rooms.  She switched on her radio transceiver which has the ability to receive police and fire dispatches to gain further information about the threat level.

Amateur radio equipment is not designed to transmit on police or fire frequencies nor is it lawful to do so, but is able to receive their communications.

Many Amateur Radio Operators have been trained how to respond and assist police and fire by providing vital information or support in the event of an emergency.

JoiAnn is a member of the North Bay Amateur Radio Association (NBARA http://www.nbara.org/) a strong organization dedicated to the skills of local and worldwide communication and emergency response assistance.

JoiAnn recently was appointed by the president of the NBARA, Dan Muth to function as chairperson for coordinating the facilitation of amateur radio equipment to be installed at MIT under funding from Home Land Security.

The staff of MIT was impressed when she was able to take her hand-held transceiver from her purse and understand the events that were unfolding yards away from the school.

Under the crescendo of gunfire erupting from the crime scene, she intercepted communication between an officer and a dispatcher wanting to know if the school was under lockdown and if a nearby school a few blocks away was under lockdown.  The dispatcher informed the officer that MIT was secure and locked down but she was unable to contact the other school.  Upon hearing this communications KI6LCA placed a 911 call to dispatch and identified herself as a Vallejo Unified School District Secretary and that the school they were trying to contact did in fact have an after hours program, that the office staff had departed the campus.  She informed the dispatcher that a Police Officer would need to respond to the school in person to start a lockdown procedure.  The dispatcher inquired as to how JoiAnn knew of the inability of dispatch to make a contact by phone.  JoiAnn identified herself as KI6LCA, an Amateur Radio Operator and a Secretary for VUSD, that she carries her communications equipment with her and has the ability to monitor police and fire and is trained in emergency communications procedures.

It was not until she saw the news report on television that night that she realized the grave danger the children faced.

The individual who opened fire on the police and endangered the lives of children, school staff and neighbors living in the area will no longer act in such an inexcusable manner.  His life was terminated by an Officer of the Law who was willing to risk his life in the face of gunfire on behalf of our safety.

My appreciation goes out to those who take the time to make a difference, to receive the training and to selflessly respond on our behalf.  Thank you JoiAnn, the Staff of MIT and thanks to our officers who serve us.