The distorted voice in the otherwise quiet radio room of the Ridgefield Emergency Operations Center (EOC) tells the story. Whipping wind and other weather related challenges have wiped out Internet, cell phones and landlines statewide. The only form of communication that remains is via amateur radio, popularly known as HAM Radio. Regional and state representatives are asking Ridgefield’s experienced team of handlers for input on shelter status and the state of the town as they participate in a nationwide drill sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the nation’s largest amateur radio organization.
Real time drills like the one Ridgefield’s Emergency Operations Radio Team participated in on October 6, give them an opportunity to test equipment and to hone skills. This is the fourth that they have participated in this year.
“We assisted Region 5 of the State Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security in testing the radios of their Mobile Command Vehicle stationed in Danbury,” says Tony Markert, Ridgefield EOC’s Radio Communications Leader and ARRL’s Amateur Radio Emergency Service’s local coordinator. “We also tested radios at the town fireworks and participated in a Region 5 drill.”
Ridgefield’s operators are all CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) trained and Markert is part of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). They are FCC licensed and have experience in message handling, communication technology, administrative procedures and disaster preparedness. They also assist at public service events.
“This is a drill …this is a drill” streams across a computer screen of WinLink, a program that can send email to multiple users using amateur radios or the Internet. This time saving program allows operators to input information rather than rely on voice only. It is one of the many technological improvements the town’s OEM has implemented since activations for Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Mapping, drones, and a new phone system are just a few of the ways the OEM has improved both communications and problem identification. The OEM is also currently working with WAZE, the popular community based navigational App, which will allow road closures and hazards to be input into the system.
Along with Markert, other participants were Carl Kristoffersen, Thomas Kimball and Sean Dodd. Also present were Richard Aarons, the Town’s emergency manager, and Sean McEvoy, the director of Ridgefield’s CERT operations. Their input enabled the radio team to provide real world information about Ridgefield’s resources.
For more information on CERT or Amateur Radio, contact The Town of Ridgefield at 431-2700 or email email@example.com.