The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Radio group forms last line of communication in disasters


Rick Nelson

Amateur radio operators Dave Basham, left, and Bud Condrey demonstrated Tuesday the communications capability of equipment they have set up in the county's emergency services center.

In times of severe emergency or disaster, a group of volunteer radio operators may be Wahkiakum County's last line of communication with the outside world.

It has happened before. Several days of heavy rain in1996 caused slides that blocked roads and wiped out traditional telephone and radio communication. County emergency services personnel were able to communicate only with cell phones for two or three days.

In 2006, slides from another series of storms wiped out roads, radio communication and the fiber optic lines that updated cell phones used. For another couple of days, only ham (amateur) radio operators were able to communicate with the outside world.

With that in mind, county Emergency Services Director Beau Renfro has been working with the amateur operators to establish an auxiliary communication service for emergencies or disasters. They have slowly set up a radio center in the county's emergency management center in the River Street Building.

Four of the operators and Renfro gathered Tuesday at the center for a demonstration of the system's capabilities.

Operator Bud Condrey led the demonstration. He showed the equipment, which is stored in a cabinet in the back of the meeting room. He explained how different frequencies and bands work, using different repeaters to reach different areas. One frequency connected directly with another amateur operator in the Cowlitz County Communications Center and later another in Clark County. Another link took them to the state emergency management center.

"These guys have put in countless hours getting the equipment set up and testing it," Renfro said. He added that the county purchases some equipment for the group, but members have donated much of it themselves.

One donation from the group is a batch of inexpensive mutual use radios which don't require licenses. They are much stronger than walkie-talkies and can be issued to officers or volunteers.

Condrey also demonstrated the use of high speed packets to send email. The message goes to another radio connected to the internet, and the receiving radio can forward the message. This is a preferred communication method for state emergency services, Renfro said.

"We've purchased equipment so that we can send packets from here or Johnson Park (in Rosburg)," Renfro said.

Working with Condrey on the demonstration on Tuesday were Dale Costich, Jerry Hogan and Dave Basham. Some other members include Ron Kimmel, Gordon Spalding, Dan Spalding and Pete Fleury.

Condrey and Renfro said the group is always looking for new members, and they would welcome youth interested in learning radio.

The group is known as Wahkiakum County Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES); Renfro has set up a page for it on the county's website. For information about the group, contact Renfro at 360-795-3242 or 465-2202.


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