For Immediate ReleaseSeptember 21, 2021
Amateur radio operators banding together to support emergency communications
San Rafael, CA – During an emergency, being able to quickly send or receive accurate information can make all the difference. However, most standard communication devices require electric power, rendering them ineffective during planned outages such as the ones Marin endured in October 2019.
The newly established Marin Radio Communications Volunteers (RCV), a pilot program under Marin County Department of Public Works (DPW), is working toward a solution: organized HAM radio communications.
The need was identified by several local amateur radio enthusiasts (also known as HAM radio operators) during the Pacific Gas & Electric’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) in October 2019. During the PSPS, Marin’s branch of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) noted that various community-based organizations had technological problems communicating between each other and some local government agencies. The issues included supply logistics and general assistance, which could have been improved by having a structured backup communications network in place specifically for local organizations.
The Marin Amateur Radio Society (MARS), which dates to the 1930s, designated several HAM radio operators who could provide backup communications for the vulnerable community-based organizations. Utilizing mobile radio equipment like Marin’s branch of the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES), the HAM operators began looking into effective ways to implement the support network. Soon afterward, DPW sponsored the initiative as a pilot program for improving public safety during future PSPS events.
A seven-person planning team is collaborating with 16 HAM radio volunteers to develop a structured operational system for the pilot program. The guidelines would serve the needs of Marin’s community-based organizations, facilitating basic communications pathways for them to provide their respective services. There are seven organizations participating in the pilot program: Canal Alliance, Community Action Marin, San Francisco Marin Food Bank, West Marin Community Services, North Marin Community Services, Homeward Bound of Marin, and San Geronimo Valley Community Center.
“We’re going for simplicity and functionality,” said Skip Fedanzo, HAM radio operator with RCV. “We want to help local community organizations operate and communicate in an emergency while letting them focus on doing what they do best: serving vulnerable residents.”
The pilot program is going through structured tests and simulations to determine which radio frequencies and communications protocols are most efficient and reliable under different situations. Such decisions are being done in conjunction with best practices developed over the 70-year history of worldwide HAM radio usage.
The volunteers have been running scenario-based drills with the selected organizations to provide proof of concept. The results of the drills and the general operational protocols are expected to be presented to Marin County Board of Supervisors before the end of 2021. If the pilot is successful, the program could scale up to accommodate other community organizations in more locations around Marin such as Marin City, other areas in West Marin and greater San Rafael.
Participation in the potential future of this RCV program would require that a community-based organization have its headquarters or an operating branch located within Marin County. To meet the needs of additional organizations, the RCV would seek more volunteer HAM operators. Email RCV to be kept up to date on the potential program and to request to be notified when new volunteers are needed.
Andrew LeBlancTelecommunications Manager and MERA Operations Officer Department of Public Works
3501 Civic Center DriveSan Rafael, CA 94913(415) 713-2070CRS Dial 711Email: Andrew LeBlancwww.marincounty.org/pw