Morse is a retired merchant marine radio operator and a member of the Wahkiakum Amateur Radio Group (WARG). The all-volunteer group of radio operators is dedicated to improving the county’s emergency communications link with neighboring counties and the state.
So far volunteers from WARG have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars of their own time, effort and money to help build Wahkiakum’s county-wide emergency communication network that links the county with places like the State Command Center at Camp Murray near Fort Lewis, and Astoria’s amateur emergency radio system.
“We started a few months ago,” Morse said, “and today Wahkiakum is linked with most of the state’s emergency services.”
Morse said he’d spent over $2,500 dollars of his own money to buy a radio repeater for the county’s new radio grid and that other volunteers are building cabinets and buying coaxial cable to finish off the new emergency radio operations center at the PUD in Cathlamet.
“Even Wahkiakum PUD donated space and put up a tower for us in their building in Cathlamet,” Morse said.
Morse said when he and the six other volunteers started building the countywide network, Wahkiakum was like a “black hole.”
“We had the Beachnet System in Pacific County and the Longview Amateur Radio Club in Cowlitz County, and the Astoria club but nothing in Wahkiakum. It was like we weren’t here,” Morse said.
The network Morse and friends are building for the county will, when finished, be part of a much bigger statewide amateur radio organization named RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services).
And RACES along with ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services) are again part of a much larger nationwide volunteer emergency services network that’s been active since before WWII.
Think of the network as a spider’s web spread over the entire nation, waiting to detect a national disaster. Should a disaster or an emergency strike anywhere in the country, RACES volunteers spring into action in that sector and begin setting up communications links to run message traffic to the outside world.
The RACES and ARES volunteers proved invaluable during the disastrous winter storm of 2007 when 100+ mph winds knocked out power and phone service, and closed all roads in and out of Astoria for three days.
Clatsop County, Ore., was a total disaster immediately after the ‘07 storm. RACES and ARES volunteers went to work setting up their communications relay links that created a radio network throughout Clatsop County. These networks are what helped coordinate police, fire and emergency services in the region after the storm.
The RACES and ARES operators also sent messages to family members stranded in other parts of the state. The volunteers sat by their radios feeding emergency service information about food, shelter, and water to KMUN radio in Astoria, which then broadcast the information to people stranded throughout Clatsop County.
“That’s a good example of how our emergency system works,” said Morse, but when asked why he spent so much time and money on a hobby that essentially helps other people he was stymied.
“That’s a good question,” Morse said, “I’ve never thought about it. There are six of us involved here in Wahkiakum and I guess it’s the ‘feel good factor’ of providing a public service for people in need.”