Washington County emergency radio service looking for volunteers
In the midst of an emergency, communication is almost always a primary concern. Earthquakes, weather events, a military conflict and anything else that could result in a loss of traditional communication are worries for us all, as well as the agencies responsible for our safety.
The Amateur Radio Emergency Service takes those threats seriously, and it is its objective to bridge the gap between you and those necessary services when you need them most.
"The mission is simple: In an emergency, knowing what to do and what is expected in terms of supporting the local agencies responsible for responding to the emergency is our goal," said longtime ARES member Steven Hill. "And we need more members for us to be ready to do that."
ARES is looking for new operators. The organization — which has been around since the 1930s — has been more than handy during recent emergencies such as the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York City's World Trade Center, and more recently, 2005's Hurricane Katrina, with which more than 1,000 ARES volunteers assisted in the aftermath, providing communications for the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and others related to the relief effort.
But with dwindling numbers across Washington County, the group is looking for local qualified individuals to step up to fill the void — before they're really needed.
"We need volunteers," Washington County ARES coordinator Pat Roberson said. "This group in Washington County is a really good and enjoyable group, but we'd like to make it bigger."
Operators need a technician-class or higher license, typically gained by way of an examination to demonstrate technical knowledge, operating competence, and awareness of legal and regulatory requirements, along with — at minimum — a VHF/UHF antenna.
Both Hill and Roberson said that qualifying testing isn't taxing, and often, licensing can be obtained in a relatively quick and easy manner. But equally important to the necessary specifications, it's interest and desire that paves the way.
"You have to have a willingness to serve," Roberson said. "Beyond that, the qualifications aren't that intense."
Nearly every county in Oregon has an ARES unit, and it typically reports to the county emergency coordinator. In the event of an emergency, the county is responsible for the overall response to that event, and ARES is in a position and has a protocol set up to provide communication support to various service agencies.
In Washington County, participating agencies include but aren't limited to the cities of Banks, Sherwood, Tigard, Tualatin and Hillsboro; the Oregon Food Bank, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, the Washington County Sheriff's Office, the Emergency Operations Center, and more.
In the event of an emergency, ARES operators act as a makeshift news and information network in case of a natural disaster that cripples telephone, cellular and internet services.
During such an episode, the first goal is to have designated operators for the first 24-hour period of activation, while the long term goal is to have operators for each agency to function for the first 72 hours of an incident. So the idea is to have them on site, acting as a conduit between service agencies, their colleagues, and the general public.
The sole purpose of these stations is to communicate. As an example, if there's an official in Banks that needs something and needs to contact the county, that official would either write out or talk to one of the operators, and the operator would pass traffic either through voice or something called WinLink, a sort of radio version of email.
Operators are in charge of nothing, nor are they problem-solvers. They're only there to facilitate the communication process.
Roberson, who has been the coordinator in Washington County for four years, has been affiliated with ARES since the 1980s, serving previously in Multnomah County. He couldn't say the last time that the service had been activated in Washington County, but he noted ARES was deployed to Clatsop County as the result of a 2007 windstorm.
"The Clatsop County emergency management contacted the Washington County emergency management and in turn contacted me," Roberson said. "We got some people together and carpooled to Clatsop County, where we set up and helped out with ... contacting between the county and Salem to coordinate emergency efforts."
Hill added that in 2017, when he was in Multnomah County, his radio operators were contacted by Grant County in preparation for the thousands of people who were flocking to the area for the solar eclipse.
"They were expecting thousands of people, and they were fearful that the cellphone system would crash," Hill said. "So they asked that a bunch of us go over there for about five or six days and set up a communication network with the county and the sheriff just in case."
Ultimately, they weren't needed in Grant County, but their time may come either there, here or somewhere else — which is why Roberson said Washington County ARES is looking for volunteers.
"We could certainly use more help," he said.
If interested in volunteering or learning more about Washington County Amateur Radio Emergency Services, visit its website at washcoares.org.
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