Communications Emergency: April 9, 2009

For those interested in hearing about the Santa Cruz ARES Ham Radio response to this week’s communications outage in Santa Cruz, San Benito and Santa Cruz Counties. The cause of the outage were multiple cuts in the Fiber Optic cables which ended up shutting down almost all land line telephone, cellular and internet connections in most areas of the three counties listed above. This brought down our 911 dispatch system, hospital to hospital communications, ATM and Credit Card transactions. Comcast was the only provider I’m aware of who’s telephone, cable TV and internet stayed up throughout the event.

I noticed I had no cellular phone service around 0645 hours local, but still had internet (wifi via Comcast) so figured it was a local problem. Around 0745 hours Ellen got ahold of me via our Comcast landline as she was just finishing her shift at the hospital and let me know it was county wide. I turned on the radios and checked in to the Resource Net letting them know I would be available after 1000 hours. I monitored both nets as I drove to Watsonville to meet her.

When Ellen and I had finished up our first baby appointment in Watsonville (Yay! Babies!! She was 6 & 2/7ths weeks on Thursday we learned from our first ultrasound.) I went back home with her, packed my gear, and checked back in to the Resource Net at 1030 hours. Went to the office, set up a quick antenna outside and brought my radio in to the office figuring it might be hours before I was needed. About five minutes later they called me up and requested me at Sutter Maternity and Surgery Center.

I was at Sutter from approximately 1130-1645 hours and was quickly joined by two other volunteers: Kent, AB6KB, and later Barry, KI6QWQ. Mostly we monitored the events going on between the other served agencies and gave information to hospital staff. We were able to pass their large food order via radio to Monterey, where they still had phone service and they relayed the order to the vendor. We were preparing to place an order for their pharmacy as well but they were able to place that via another method.

My primary setup was my Yaesu FT-817nd with the antenna lead heading out a propped open door, I raised my 20′ fiberglass Jackite pole with my Larsen antenna that I usually use mag mounted on my car up on top of it. I also used my Kenwood TH-F6A for monitoring other frequencies (police, fire, and news media). My 5 watts hit all of the necessary repeaters with no problem, if I’d needed more power I had my 35-watt Mirage amplifier and a DieHard Portable Power 750 12-volt power source in the car.

The event taught me a lot about what pack in my “Go Kit” and that I really do need to build up a better collection of things that are ready to go on a shorter notice… I spent time around the house taking down an antenna, gathering antenna cable, extension cords, my battery backup, my antenna mast and mount, etc. I should really have a kit ready to go, even if it requires me to purchase a few duplicate items (antenna cable ready to go instead climbing through my attic taking down my current setup for example)

Here is a summary provided to the Santa Cruz ARES mailing list by Cap Pennell, KE6AFE:

From: Cap Pennell KE6AFE, XCZ ARES DEC and ACS Radio Officer volunteer
Date: April 10, 2009 11:09:22 PM PDT
To: <[email protected]>
Subject: Communications Emergency, fiber optic cable outage, Thursday April 9, 2009

Dominican Hospital President Nanette Mickiewicz, MD, sent a uniformed Santa Cruz police officer to ring my front doorbell at 0520 hours PDT to summon us to service. I woke up then. <grin> Luckily, by 0600 hours I was at the hospital attending a briefing with hospital managers, and our ARES Resource Net had been started by ARES OES Bob K6XX using W6WLS/W6MOW repeaters linked across Monterey Bay. During that briefing, the hospital determined to implement HICS/SEMS for the emergency. No telephones or internet had worked anywhere since about 0230 hours, and nobody knew quite how widespread the outage was, except the hospital’s telephone system did work only within the hospital (but their internal computer LAN did not completely work either, so they were forced to revert to “a paper system”). By 0615 hours we had initially established and staffed tactical voice radio link channels, K6BJ/KI6EH linked repeaters between Dominican Hospital EOC in Santa Cruz and Watsonville Community Hospital ER, and also HEARNET 155.385 MHz Simplex between both hospital ERs and County 9-1-1 (“Netcom”, our Operational Area’s PSAP). Later, we served additional locations with ham radio too. By request first at scene in Watsonville Hospital ER, Clint KI6ELJ initially staffed both the ham radio and HEARNET, starting before 0600 hours. Once HEARNET (ER staff) and K6BJ/KI6EH repeater (hams) were staffed and operating at both hospitals, I left Dominican Hospital to become our initial ham operator at the County EOC in Santa Cruz and operated as ARES/ACS shift supervisor from there for the rest of the day.

Everybody had been released and we finally turned out the lights in the County EOC at 1830 hours PDT, and internet access was finally restored at about 1945 hours for some of us at home, but the telephones had been working since before dark.

During the day, hams (including a couple on the far side of our Monterey Bay with still-working telephones) coordinated dispatch of a couple of ambulances, conferred with the Poison Center on a children’s poisoning case, ordered replacement blood supplies for two hospitals from San Jose Red Cross, relayed a complex major “whole hospital” day’s food order to the supplier out-of-county, tracked down various doctors between hospitals for emergency consultations, and shared status updates from our area and adjacent affected area of Santa Clara County. This service was in unity with our County government (especially County Public Health and County OES), public safety agencies, and CAL EMA Coastal Region (whose Emergency Service Coordinator Greg Smith was in XCZ EOC with us much of the day). Good for us, we had some fun and we did some real good during this emergency. Many folks were thankful for our help.

Thanks so much to the hams who rallied during our “Telephone and Internet Outage” communications emergency in Santa Cruz County on Thursday!

More hams than were actually needed also listed themselves as available on our Resource Net, and that was vital too. Thanks to all who checked-in and took notes!

With apologies for omitting those amateur radio operators (RADOs) also serving, yet unlisted below, during our Thursday April 9 communications emergency, again thanks to:

Greta Steinbruner KI6NTL RADO, Aptos Fire HDQ AP1
Jeannette Dunn KI6AJJ RADO, CAL FIRE Felton ECC
Rich Olsen W1WUH RADO, CAL FIRE Felton ECC
Dan Trigilio W6DAN RADO, Dominican Hospital
Donald Kerns AE6RF RADO, Dominican Hospital
Hap Bullard KQ6YV RADO, Dominican Hospital
Jerry Inman AE6I, EC RADO, Dominican Hospital
Larry Edler WB6MVK RADO, Dominican Rehab (Frederick St.)
Robin Samuels KI6TJZ RADO, KSCO Radio Station S.Cruz
Liz Taylor-Selling KI6QHQ RADO, M.C.R. Felton
Bob Wolbert K6XX RADO, Resource NCS
Frank Wyatt N6FW RADO, Resource NCS
Craig Smith W6WL RADO, rover & PIO/photographer
Bruce Hawkins AC6DN RADO, SCruzCo Chapter Red Cross
Jamie Finch WI6F RADO, SCruzCo Chapter Red Cross
Cap Pennell KE6AFE RADO, Shift Supervisor XCZ
Barry Schneider KI6QWQ RADO, Sutter Surgery&Maternity
Dan Dawson KI6ESH RADO, Sutter Surgery&Maternity
Kent Brown AB6KB RADO, Sutter Surgery&Maternity
Bill Conklin AF6OH RADO, Tactical NCS
Keith Beard WE6R RADO, telephone relay
Rocky Braudrick W6DNE RADO, telephone relay
Bob Boscarelli W6TQP RADO, volunteer
Dan Selling N6RJX RADO, volunteer
Jack Specht K7JJJ RADO, volunteer
Jane Brown KI6VBB RADO, volunteer
Kenneth Green AL7PS RADO, volunteer
Reed Cotton N1WC RADO, volunteer
Ron Skelton W6WO RADO, volunteer
Roy Brayshaw KF6KVD RADO, volunteer
Scott Lindberg KI6TKI RADO, volunteer
Bob Perry K6GDI RADO, Watsonville Hospital
Bob Wiser K6RMW, ECv RADO, Watsonville Hospital
Clint Ramer KI6ELJ RADO, Watsonville Hospital
Don Taylor K6GHA RADO, XCZ EOC (S.Cruz County)
Jeffrey Samuels KI6TJY RADO, XCZ EOC (S.Cruz County)

All participation by hams was good work and good practice, very much appreciated.
Fine business.

73, Cap

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