Lessons Learned From A Derecho!

Radio tower down
As a new Ham John, KE0ZOW found himself and his community in a severe weather event, know as a Derecho. The heavy wind event brought down power and communications a crossed the state. Which left his community isolated and unable to stay up to day with the storm’s track. In this episode, we will talk about what John learned and how he used amateur radio during this storm.

On today’s episode of the last wire podcast, we’re joined with Keelo echo zeros, zulu, oscar whiskey. Thank you for joining us, John. Hi. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with ham radio and what inspired you to get your license? I actually got involved because it’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time.

I had Done a lot of CB work when I was younger back in the 1980s and just kinda always had a little bit of an interest in it and got more interested in it of late when I learned that the, the licenses were available without any code tests and the local Club in our area was offering a technician class with a test the same day.

And I thought, you know, it sounds easy. It sounds fun. I think I’ll just give it a try. And they. Got us prepared. They gave us a book to study ahead of time. They walked us through the class, even provided us with some inexpensive Boafeng radios to make sure that when we walked out the door, we were, we were with radios that were programmed and had a basic understanding of how to use them.

So that was a great experience. And, and that kinda got me interested in learning more about ham radio. Buying a little bit nicer radio building my first antenna and all this, and really the last nine months. Now you found yourself in a very interesting predicament, a severe weather event that happened in your community that brought down power brought down communications.

Can you tell us a little bit about that event? Sure. On August 10th of this year, we experienced A severe weather event called a duration a term I had not heard of before that event. But all it is is a very powerful storm involving straight-line winds. And, and this system hit us about mid-afternoon.

I happened to be home at the time working from home because of the COVID-19 situation. And the, the amount of damage was, was really remarkable. We had a greater than a hundred mile, an hour straight line winds roofs blown off trees, blown down. And almost immediately we started losing our communication paths our cell phone coverage, which is not normally the greatest where I live immediately.

Went significantly worse to the point where I had no signal whatsoever at my home. Within a few hours, we had a lost also your landline phone and we’re back basically without any form of communication whatsoever, except for two-way radio. I went around to my neighbors, knowing that nobody else was going to have two-way communications either made sure that there was nobody injured, nobody that needed immediate assistance distance, and and then went back to work.

Starting to move trees and things so that transportation would be possible. Without internet, without landline phone. We turned to a am radio broadcast and our ham radio listening to the local area’s net. And, and traffic on the repeater to understand what was happening and to to see if there was assistance needed.

Because of where we were quite far out of the immediate vicinity of, of the major metropolitan area. I did not get called on to provide any assistance, but it was really nice to know that if we needed assistance or one of our neighbors needed assistance, that we knew how to get it. And then there was a lifeline there available for us.

Now event like this, where were you surprised by it? Was there weather warnings? Was it like a tornado that just dropped down and all of a sudden you have this significant event or was there buildup leading up to the day? A little bit of buildup. In fact, we had warnings earlier in the day to expect severe weather and to expect high winds.

In fact, the the local weather service did issue Warnings that were equivalent to a tornado warning just before the event. And we had, Oh, I would say maybe a half an hour’s notice that it was going to get really, really bad.

Now from an infrastructure perspective, what was the, the information being transferred? Was it via the repeaters? Was it via a weather network? How were you getting information at that point? Before the disaster happens? Before the disaster, we were listening to national weather service radio, and a Watching the information on the national weather service website as the events unfolding, we turned to the area’s net on the, the local repeater for a while.

Unfortunately the the repeater was offline for a short while during the event. And then we went over to simplex frequencies to, to try to get more information about what was happening. Now were you successful using just us a bovine radio or heat? Did you have a different type of a communication at work?

I was using for that event. I was using primarily about finding one of the eight watt handheld units with a quarter wavelength ground plane antenna that I have mounted in the attic. That was more than adequate to keep up with the simplex, the Little nigga seven 71 antenna was, was fine when the repeater was operating.

But when we were on simplex, I had to have a little bit more antenna to to be able to hear traffic. Now, at this point in time, are you part of a club that deals with these emergency events? Where was there a network of hams that you’re able to connect with? Or was it purely just a serendipitous that you’re able to connect to these other hams in your community?

There is a network, the local Lynn County emergency management network is a chapter of the ARRL Aires network all specifically trained individuals who are facilitating communication in the event of. Things like this, any type of emergency situation. Not the first time this club has been active in providing emergency communications.

We’ve had other natural disasters in the past. This was just the first time that I got. To to listen in on those conversations and really understand how they worked being a new ham. I haven’t gotten that involved in the area’s network yet. But I hope to, as I get more emergency management training be able to help serve our community that way.

When I look at the LG, a simple boafeng, it’s a great piece of hardware. A lot of people, you know, make, make fun of it or, or criticize it. But it’s one of those devices that I know I have four or five of them. My kids have them. We set them up with, with simple, a chat group, chat groups and. And the ability to program it.

It’s a really great piece of technology and it’s great for any go kit. I, I look at this disaster situation where you have the severe weather. It’s almost I think everyone should have one in their kit. And even if you’re not a ham, the ability to have one that, so you can listen to what’s going on. So you have those communication links it’s important.

And, and not only that to be able to have a few inexpensive radios lying around that you can provide to other individuals who might need emergency comms in a situation like this. You know, it’s really difficult to take a big base station antenna with you out, to the field when you’re looking for people who might need help.

But one of these little boafeng, you know, throw two or three of them in the car and, and you can create a network of emergency communications very quickly, very inexpensively. I think they’re also great for getting new people interested in amateur radio. You know, the cost of entry is so low that people aren’t afraid of spending a bunch of money and then figuring out they don’t like it.

They’re not afraid of, you know, Hey, I’m going to make this huge investment. And then that’s just not going to work out for me. Most people who buy the bovines get hooked. So I think if they’re, I think they’re just great. I think you hit on a key point there that when you look at the. The entry point, the cost of entry point and above Average is, is so low.

It makes it easy and accessible and it’s not a burden. And even that point of sharing that technology, no one really wants to hand over their walkie-talkie a Yazoo brand new with, with fusion radio connected to. The neighbour and say, here you take this and if you need anything, you call me after there’s an emergency.

But about Fang, you’re looking at less than 25 bucks. Here you go. I, if you break it, no big deal. And as an emergency organization, as a community, it’s a great investment. Oh, I agree. Yeah. What did you learn? You said you’re a new ham from this experience. What did you learn? What’s in your go kit now that may not have been in your go kit beforehand?

What things have you done to prepare for these events? One of the first things I learned was that well, my, my home base station antenna works greater on simplex. That little nigga seven, seven one R and a handheld is not really good enough where we live. For simplex usage. So one of the first things on my list was a, a better antenna for the vehicle.

Something that was a little bit better than, than a rubber ducky or, or just a standard mag Mount, so that I could actually get to some other hams when I’m operating on simplex. I think that’s a valid lesson and the ability to use simplex. A lot of people don’t even try it. And I think that’s something we should all be testing and exercising.

And I know the the national association has contests where you’re. If you get a a hundred contacts on simplex, you get a certificate. So there’s great opportunity for people to use those bands and to use those frequencies and not go through the repeaters, which on two meters, most of us, we go. Yeah, absolutely.

And I’m very fortunate that there is an act. Div simplex net in this area that I participate in regularly. And I have learned a lot from the other hams in the area about how to make contacts, how to, how to really make my signal reach further both with my home-based station and with the handhelds.

Your, your neighbors when this event was happening, you have a situation where you’re the only one that is getting information. Did that inspire anyone in your community? Did that make, give them comfort that you’re able to reach out and get information when needed? I think, well, I hope so. At least I know at the time of the event, everybody was, was really concerned about Securing their property, making sure their families were safe.

I think a lot of people maybe had a little bit too much faith in the land wines and the cellular networks and were a little surprised when we had an extended outage of our cellular network and of our landlines. We, we lost our landline communications for several days as a result of this event.

And I’m hoping that People seeing the, the ham community active and there to help out will inspire people to help in that respect, I actually started offering information to my coworkers and then saying, Hey, look, you know, this is, this is information that you guys might like to have. You know, we have these severe weather events and communications may be a little more vulnerable than you realize.

So these are your options. This is what. Ham radio is, this is what CB radio is, and this is what you can do with them. And, and hopefully we’re inspiring people to to look into those things and at least, you know, find out more about the hand community so that even if they decide not to become hams themselves, they know where to go to get help if they need it.

Yeah, no, I think that’s great advice. And I agree 100% when I look at the ability to communicate during any event, and even when you think of a New York with the power outage and other regions, we had. Relied so much on our cellular network and that one backbone of, of communication that when it’s gone, we really don’t know what to do.

And I think ham provides that alternative to multiple bands, multiple frequencies and multiple modes. So it gives us that opportunity to really reach people that we didn’t expect to be able to reach at least from a layperson’s perspective. Oh yeah, definitely. Yeah, well, John, I really appreciate you taking the time to share this event.

I learned a lot. I had never heard of this severe weather event before a straight line of wind that was significant and comparable to a tornado or hurricane. It sounds pretty, pretty terrifying. I’m happy to share my experiences and hopefully, your listeners will find a beneficial. Thank you.

Have self great day. You too.

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