Emergency Communications
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Emergency Communications
We face the potential of disasters as part of our daily lives and deal with them as they happen. We face the prospects of that devastating earthquake that could potentially destroy a lifestyle to which we have become accustomed. Disasters have shown little respect for jurisdictional or geographical boundaries. Our entire city could be affected or just a few neighborhoods. Whichever disaster we potentially face, proactive preparation is essential to survival. We have all experienced many fire drills in our past and most have taken them seriously while respecting the need for them.

As part of my ongoing concern for emergency preparedness, I continue to feel the need to keep aware and involved in our emergency preparedness and community safety activities. Foster City has developed and maintains a very successful Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program (over 500 graduated so far) which is predicated on the premise of neighbor helping neighbor. I am proud to live in a community where the residents are willing to spend their time to be trained and prepare themselves to help each other in the event of a disaster.

One specific aspect of emergency preparedness that I wish to focus on is communications; the ability for two or more people to communicate effectively over distances beyond shouting range. The most effective communication is that which is the most accurate and efficiently delivered. One has only to think back to September 10, 2010 and the San Bruno fire to witness the need for effective communication. As my eyes and ears were glued to the television, I repeatedly heard that an airplane had crashed in the Skyline area of San Bruno only to find out later that a rupture in an underground gas line caused the explosion and subsequent fire.

For those who were watching the tragedy of the San Bruno incident, you had to come away with a sense of the chaos that must have been taking place. Now imagine a scenario where a high magnitude earthquake caused pipes to rupture igniting fires not unlike that of the San Bruno incident. Widespread chaos can be found up and down the Peninsula affecting more than a dozen cities. Electrical power is cut off to the areas rendering electrical devices inoperable. Cell phone antennas are inoperable or are overloaded and many hardwire telephone lines are cut. Emergency response teams are outnumbered by the number of local incidents needing attention. And assuming there were available resources how would those resources find their way to where they are most needed?

Battery powered amateur radio communications is one means to establish effective communications. Amateur radio (ham radio) serves as both a hobby and a service that use various types of radio communications equipment where two or more like minded enthusiasts communicate with each other for recreation and public service. Within Foster City, a group of amateur radio communication enthusiasts have joined together to be a communications unit and be responsive should an emergency arise.

The Foster City Amateur Radio Emergency Service (FCARES) was founded on June 7, 2009 with a goal to provide local radio communication to Foster City when conventional wire, cell phone and other means of communication fail. The group is currently made up of 33 members from the CERT graduates. Their commitment is to work in cooperation with city, county, regional, state, and federal agencies should their services be required primarily in emergency situations.

The group meets on the second Monday of each month from 7:00 to 9:00 PM in the Sail Room in the Foster City Community Center (above the Foster City Library). The group meets to enhance and hone their radio skills beyond practicing radio protocol. These radio operators gain experience in utilizing power sources, improvising antennas, and practicing emergency response situations. It is not difficult to imagine yourself communicating with someone on a radio in a calm setting. Now imagine trying to communicate with someone when people all around you are screaming in agony or several people are trying to use the same radio channel at the same time. The FCARES group is preparing themselves for such a situation. You can find more information about the organization at www.fcares.org.

In the event of a disaster, you could be hurt and isolated for several days before help is able to arrive. Are you as prepared as you could be for such a situation? Attending a CERT training class might help answer that question. You can find more information about CERT at www.fostercitycert.org.

I would appreciate your comments on this and other issues by emailing me at akiesel@fostercity.org.

Council Corner

January 19, 2011
Emergency Communications
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