On a recent Wednesday morning, Lloyd Howard heard a crackle from the amateur (ham) radio in his kitchen, and then the voice of Keith Kasin, Plymouth Village’s executive director and chief incident commander: “There’s been a gas leak one block north of our campus.”
But Howard and other members on the resident radio communications team in Redlands, Calif., didn’t worry. These emergency response coordinators knew just what to do.
“Within minutes, our team had responded to a roll call and was briefed on the situation,” Kasin says. “Throughout the day, situational updates were provided to the team and team members were able to ask questions regarding next steps and situational scenarios.”
The June 11 gas leak prompted an unexpected early test run of the community’s new emergency radio response system. Plymouth Village has always maintained disaster response plans, but residents and team members have just started to communicate through amateur radio.
With the help of Fay Glass, Redlands’ emergency operations manager and a Plymouth Village board member, Kasin has been updating campus emergency and disaster plans to be consistent with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Incident Command System (ICS) standards put in place following Hurricane Katrina.
Kasin learned how to use a ham radio and earned his Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license. Last month, he organized a ham radio interest group and set up a private community network, where he holds weekly test transmissions at Plymouth Village. Thirteen residents took the technicians license exam and are licensed operators on campus now, and several others will take the test in July. The Plymouth Village Emergency Communications Team Club also earned its FCC call sign: KK6NRK.
Cities across the nation have relied on radio technology for years. Volunteers use ham radio when power and cell phone services are down to listen and communicate with emergency personnel, and the FCC has licensed more than 600,000 amateur radio operators in the United States.
Plymouth Village already coordinates its emergency communications system with Redlands, and Kasin hopes that the ham radios will enhance that partnership. “Then we can make contact with emergency officials using the county’s radio frequencies, share our resources and request assistance,” Kasin explains.
During the gas leak, residents Jim Dunn and Dick Rosenquist heard the announcement to shelter in place and monitored their radios throughout the afternoon. If the situation had escalated, they would have evacuated their neighbors, Dunn says.
Rosenquist says it’s a good idea to have an organized response plan. “If you don’t have a structure to begin with, everything falls apart,” he says.
The voluntary evacuation was lifted just after 6:15 p.m., and Lloyd says the process was an overwhelming success.
“It was my first exposure to ham radio, but it was kind of fun,” he says.
Rosenquist hopes the radios motivate other residents to get involved in emergency preparations.
“Who will take care of us?” he asks. “We should be prepared to take care of ourselves,” he says.