OWN VOICE. Co-written by Marielle Coeytaux and Marian Harris.
Being located in a community that can be easily cut off in a disaster highlights the critical role that the airport and pilots can play during a disaster.
Thanks to community groups like the Coastside Emergency Action Program (CEAP), Coastside CERT,(Community Emergency Response Team), San Mateo County’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) and the Half Moon Bay Amateur Radio Club (HMBARC) it was easy for the local pilots at the Half Moon Bay Airport Pilot’s Association to start up the San Mateo County Disaster Airlift Response Team (SMC DART) and develop relationships with the key community groups we could best support. Since initially forming, the local team has grown to include volunteers at the San Carlos Airport.
This past October we had three chances to strengthen the relationship with local responders by participating in two community Great Shake Out exercises and an additional multi-airport HAM communication exercise spanning California and Nevada using the CARLA network.
On October 1st, we participated in the Coastside Emergency Action Program’s (CEAP) virtual tabletop exercise where each group was able to propose possible “inject” scenarios following an earthquake where the other members could see if/where/how they might play a supporting role. This gave us a chance to imagine where air transport support applied beyond the typical scenarios we had already envisioned (such as stranded parents in Silicon Valley, stranded tourists needing to get out, relief supplies or equipment, and the list goes on). For example, we could transport back-up batteries or generators for seniors and medical patients whose life-supporting medical devices have lost power, or mass evacuations of students stranded after a field trip. With so many different community groups coming together, it is a great way to see what other ways the local DART team and the broader CalDART network could support and how the requests might reach us.
On October 8th, SMC DART pilots and volunteers participated in the Coastside CERT’s Great Shake Out exercise. We also ran a separate exercise in parallel with DART flights between the two county airports. During the CERT exercise, we provided road damage assessment reports and relayed those back to the EOC with the support of our local HAM Club volunteers. Over the past few years, our communications have improved by making messages more efficient for simpler relay. We also conducted 6 flights moving “stranded tourists” and “stranded commuters’” back and forth over the hill along with water samples and ‘relief supplies’.
On October 30th, The DART team met up with local HMB HAMs Lee Copeland and Jeffrey Goshorn for a major radio check in among other airport DART teams spanning California and Nevada. The project had started as a simple radio transmission planned between Half Moon Bay and the Angwin Airport in the Napa area with the idea of doing a 2-way “radio-check” between our two airports to see if we could reach each other by HAM radio. As the idea took shape, we asked our DART operator colleagues if they were interested in taking part in the radio “check-in”. To our great surprise, almost every DART Operator asked to partake. The project thus grew to a whopping number of 11 participating airports (10 in California from Napa to San Diego + one in Nevada)! For the event, we used the CARLA network, each transmitting on the repeater frequency that best suited our airport location. Amazingly enough, everyone managed to check-in, to transmit and to be heard. Half Moon Bay HAM, Lee Copeland, acted as our Net Controller, and did a great job of it. He emceed the event, giving each one of us the opportunity to transmit a message to another airport of our choice and check if we could receive their response. This will be critical when coordinating remote pilots, aircraft, or supporting the delivery of inbound/outbound supplies, people or pets from other airports. Participants were impressed with the quality of the transmissions and sound, and are looking forward to repeat exercises. More importantly, it has proven that if a serious disaster did hit, depriving us of both internet and cell phone connection, we’d still be able to communicate with one another via HAM radio -from Angwin all the way down to Carlsbad!
Over the years we’ve learned how important our tie-in with the other local community groups. These exercises enhance the network of mutual support and give us a better understanding of what the other groups’ needs might be if disaster strikes.