Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) volunteers have been pitching in to support communication at some Red Cross shelters in south Texas in the ongoing aftermath of catastrophic and unprecedented flooding resulting from Hurricane Harvey, now a Tropical Depression. ARES members also have been serving as net control liaisons to the Harris County Office of Emergency Management (OEM). At mid-week, some 3 dozen volunteers were assisting at shelters. Another dozen were on tap to serve as OEM liaisons. ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U, said the Red Cross is in need of Red Cross-trained shelter managers and volunteer management specialists.
A variety of emergency, health-and-welfare, traffic, and tactical nets in south Texas have been active on HF at various times of the day as well as on a wide array of VHF and UHF repeaters, which remain available as needed. The Salvation Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) has been convening on 14.265 MHz, while the Military Auxiliary Radio Service (MARS) has been using the 5.330.5 (USB) MHz interoperability channel on 60 meters.
On August 31, the National Hurricane Center reported that flooding rains were continuing across far eastern Texas and western Louisiana, with heavy rainfall expected to spread northeastward through the lower Mississippi Valley and into the Tennessee Valley over the next day or two. ARES volunteers are on standby in Louisiana.
Harvey from the vantage point of the International Space Station (ISS). NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston has closed to all but mission-essential personnel through Labor Day, due to the effects of Harvey. Most US astronauts live in the Houston area. JSC said closing would allow the center to focus on its priorities, including the return to Earth this weekend of ISS crew members Peggy Whitson, ex-KC5ZTD; Jack Fischer, K2FSH, and Fyodor Yurchikin, RN3FI. [Jack Fischer, N2FSH, photo]
"During the storm response, all Amateur Radio operators -- and perhaps especially those involved in contest activity -- are advised to listen first and respect any frequencies in use for emergency response communication," Corey said. He cited the SATERN Net on 14.265 MHz and the South Texas Traffic Emergency and Health and Welfare nets on 7.285, 7.290, 3.873, and 3.935 MHz. Digital emergency and health and welfare frequencies are 3.5925 and 7.095 MHz.
Earlier this week, ARES team members were advised that the impact to the region's communications infrastructure had been relatively minimal, considering the strength of the storm and the magnitude of the flooding. The storm did ravage cellular service in some Texas counties, however, especially Aransas (84%) and Refugio (73%) counties, the FCC reported. Overall, however, the FCC deemed the cellular system 95% functional.
ARRL South Texas Public Information Officer Mike Urich, KA5CVH, told ARRL on August 30 that "hardening" of the telecommunications infrastructure to make it more immune to storm damage has diminished the need for Amateur Radio communication support and altered hams' traditional role there. Urich pointed out, however, that the Amateur Radio telecommunications infrastructure in South Texas has remained analog, as "the lowest common denominator" of technology -- VHF/UHF FM, and HF -- and has the highest degree of interoperability. "That's what we train to, that's what we teach, that's what we practice," he said.
Urich spent more than 40 hours alternating shifts at the Harris County Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Urich said the area's extensive system of repeaters makes it possible for local radio amateurs to serve as "another set of eyes and ears" in spotting and reporting problems that may require official attention.
The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) suspended operations for Hurricane Harvey on August 26 after 51.5 continuous hours of activation. The VoIP Hurricane Net, and WX4NHC, the Amateur Radio station at the NHC in Miami, also activated as Harvey approached landfall in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane. The VoIP Hurricane Net has been informally monitoring EchoLink 7203, IRLP 9219, and AllStar *33007203 for requests from the affected area at the request of Humanity Road, said Lloyd Colston, KC5FM.
He said a station checked in via EchoLink to request the rescue of a grandmother and children. "That request was relayed to the United States Coast Guard Houston," Colston told ARRL. He said hams in the affected region needing to relay rescue needs should first call 911, then their local emergency operations center, and, if those aren't available, then the US Coast Guard -- in that order. He also said individuals in the flood zone are reporting cellular telephone degradation.
ARRL South Texas Section Manager Lee Cooper, W5LHC, told ARRL on Monday that the disaster would remain in the response phase for several days, although needs may change later in the response phase or when it transitions to the recovery phase. ARRL South Texas SEC Jeff Walter, KE5FGA, said ARES members could participate in any nets related to the storm response from home.
"Harris County and the City of Houston have issued a shelter-in-place order," Walter pointed out over the past weekend. "The local region is paralyzed. Resources are stretched to accommodate all calls for assistance. Take care of your family first, then if you are able to help in the recovery phase, contact your local Emergency Coordinator or District Emergency Coordinator for instruction on what to do. Do not show up without approval from your local EC."
As of August 31, some 195,000 customers were without power in Texas. American Red Cross shelters were reporting more than 34,000 occupants in Texas; more than 980,000 people have been ordered to evacuate. The Texas Emergency Operations Center is at full activation, and Governor Greg Abbott has declared a state of disaster for 50 Texas counties, while evacuation orders and advisories are in effect for eight counties and several independent communities in Louisiana, where the state EOC is fully activated. A state of emergency also exists for all Louisiana parishes in preparation for widespread flooding.
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