Amateur radio has long done exercises twice a year in Oregon. Called the Simulated Emergency Test (as sponsored by the ARRL), these are typically done in April and October, as has been the case here for a number of years.
The fall exercise is coming up on November 2, and it’s going to be a BARN BURNER – the largest exercise of it’s type that we’ve ever had, at least in my memory. Participating are over half the counties in Oregon, about 13 counties in Idaho, 4 counties in northern California, 2 in eastern Washington. Also participating are 23 hospitals around the state, the Red Cross and Portland General Electric. And of cours, included are the State of Washington Emergency Management Division, the State of Idaho Bureah of Homeland Security the State of Oregon Office of Emergency Management.
Below is the text of an email I sent out to the Emergency Managers and the Amateur Radio Leaders around the state this morning:
With this exercise, we’re setting up a scenario – basically no electricity, no phones, no internet, no repeaters. Our normal utilities are down. That’s why amateur radio units have been activated.
(This is what I call Cascadia LIGHT). The loss of all normal communications within the impacted zone is a very real scenario)
You now have two sets of needs to address:
- How are you going to communication WITHIN your county, sending whatever traffic you need to send between your EOC and whatever other facilities you choose to include in the test. This might include hospitals, city eoc’s Red Cross Shelters or whatever other needs you’ve identified in your local emergency plan. In some of our smaller counties (do we really have any of those), you might accomplish all your needs using vhf simplex, or via a portable repeater placed on a hilltop in the back of a pickup. In larger counties, you might be communicating from one end to the other via HF. It’s up to you use your amateur radio ingenuity to determine what you want to test, and how you’re going to make it work. Included in this test might be communications to neighboring counties as well.
- How are you going to communicate to the State ECC? You will need to send a Declaration of Emergency, resource requests, situation reports – all those things you’d be communicating to OEM in a real situation. But this time, OEM staff will be generating responses back to you. For some local counties, we might be able to communicate using VHF simplex, but that’s only perhaps a half dozen of the 36 counties in Oregon. The rest are going to have to use either Winlink HF, using HF GATEWAYS outside of the affected area (Oregon, Washington and California). You’ll probably have to also pass voice traffic to OEM using the HF nets
This exercise is going to show us all the holes and weaknesses in our plans, in our training, and in our resources. It’s going to set the agenda for the next year.
From OEM’s perspective, my objectives are simple.
- 1. Can every county effectively communicate with Salem?
- 2. Will the HF Winlink System handle the amount of use we anticipate?
- 3. How well can our amateur radio units handle formal voice traffic?
- 4. As a result of the exercise, identify all holes and weaknesses in plans and training
- 5. As a result of the exercise, update plans both at the county and state level to address the problems
- 6. As a result of the exercise, define training needs and implement a training program to meet those needs.
Detailed After Action Reports will be expected and should be detailed. I’ll be asking all the Emergency Mangers to make sure these are completed, submitted to them for review, and submitted to me as well. The test does NO GOOD if we don’t formalize the “what’s broke and how do we fix it” process.
To be honest, I expect a giant FUBAR, and that’s GREAT. There’s two indications of success in an exercise. #1, where lots of things go wrong and you identify the problems before the real one hits, and #2, when everything goes super smooth, because you did enough #1 exercises that you identified and fixed the problems so well that #2 occurs. We will keep working in this direction until we get to #2.
Plans are being put into place to have future exercises professionally planned, involving both OEM staff and Local EM’s along with amateur radio planners. We will start with a well defined set of objectives for each exercise, and then create the scenarios, both statewide and locally, to test our ability to meet those objectives. At the local level, you’ll be defining your own portion to test what your local EM wants you to test, using the defined scenario, so that your local exercise fits into the statewide and even regional exercise. I will also do a much better job of communicating to all involved as well. We’re in a transitional state, moving from exercises that are basically a few hours of playing radio on a Saturday to exercises of great value to our future plans and responses.
It’s entirely likely that future exercises will be even more regional, including Oregon, Washington, BC, Idaho and northern California, nearly all of whom are already participating in this one.
It’s also entirely likely that our future scenarios will ALL be based on real, anticipated situations we’ll face in Cascadia. If we can plan and perform in this scenario, we can handle virtually anything else we might face. I anticipate a continuous cycle of testing and fixing until we get where we need to be.
We hope in the future to have EVERY county participate, and within those counties, have all those Auxiliary Emergency Communications (AUXCOMM) groups participating within the county structure and participating in the county scenario. With the growing use of amateur radio across the emergency response spectrum, it’s going to be important for us to plan for and test how the available spectrum is going to be shared and coordinated.
If your county isn’t participating in this exercise, you’re still invited to listen in and see how well things work (or don’t), so that we can all work together to improve for next spring.