High school to be site for emergency communication center
February 1, 2024
Four members of a local ham radio club were at the Wahkiakum School District Board of Director’s meeting last week to talk about plans that could potentially make Cathlamet, and the more specifically the school district, an Emergency Operations Center.
According to Ron Wright, who is a member of the club, and acted as spokesman for them that day, the club has been working with the school district and the county emergency service to install a “very capable emergency radio system” on the school campus.
They expect the project to be completed in two phases, beginning with a minimal installation to assess if it will work, using existing facilities near the football field. If all parties decide to move forward, the club will complete a more extensive installation with possible structural modifications to the concession stand near the track and field.
Phase 2 expected to be completed by August 2025, while the first phase could happen in the next couple weeks.
“In a Cascadia event or some other large event, what do we think is going to happen?” Wright asked.
He believes the county will be working from the River Street meeting room, and that the high school and middle school would be a likely place for locals looking for shelter. But he also believes that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could use the property as a hub to serve communities up and down the coast, with zones on campus for landing, sorting, and materials.
“This is the place we want them,” Wright said. “We want to be ready to be the host for the west coast of Washington and Oregon. So when something happens, they are going to want to have someplace to come in and base everything. If they come here, we get fed. If they go somewhere else, we are so small, we will be the last on the totem pole. We want them here.”
“While our local folks are taking care of our county, this complex will be taking care of us and everybody else,” he continued. “That’s our vision.”
According to a powerpoint provided by Wright, “This project will install a very complete amateur radio station in the upstairs of the little-used concession stand on the north side of the football field. When completed, this station will connect to the big loop antenna, and to the high school station, dispatch at the Sheriff’s office, the Wahkiakum County EOC, all fire halls in the county, the State EOC at Camp Murray, and anywhere in the world via Amateur Radio communicating on the internet via Winlink.”
The club plans to provide all the necessary equipment and do all the labor. The school district only needs to provide the space.
“There is an incredible amount of expertise in this group,” Wright said. “These guys know their stuff.”
“This is such a wonderful thing you are doing,” Superintendent Brent Freeman said.
Freeman shared an update on grants including a Healthy Kids Grant for $198,000, which the district has received. It will be used to turn the old wrestling room into a weight room, complete with cardiovascular machines and more. Some work still needs to be completed to make that possible. Water is coming up through the flooring and they need to bring electricity to the upper veranda, the superintendent said. They also need to add ventilation to the windows and buy equipment.
Roughly $94,000 of the Healthy Kids Grant will go towards that, while another portion will be used to purchase new playground equipment at the grade school, to improve the covered areas, and possibly to rehabilitate the tennis courts, or turn them into pickleball courts.
Freeman said the Department of Health would be down on Feb. 9 to conduct a lead test of their water system for free, and if it is found, they will apply for a Lead in the Water Remediation grant that is due on June 27.
Director Bobbie Stefan gave a legislative update. At one point she mentioned that “ample funding” and “equity” had become part of the vernacular at the meetings with legislators.
“They use it just about every time in everything,” she said. “Those have become the words. I think that’s great. It was not part of the conversation three or four years ago and now it is.”
She thanked Freeman for making that happen with the school’s lawsuit.
In other news, the board gave blanket approval to overnight trips associated with students’ extracurricular activities for the school year.
The district is looking at pricing for a new trip bus, which they expect to purchase and have delivered later this year. It will be a couple years before they look at buying another one again, Freeman said.
Directors approved the hire of a new bus driver, Fred Hoven. They also approved Alice Paulson as a robotics coach, and accepted a resignation from Trystan Mendez from his position as a wrestling coach. Garrett Miller was terminated from two coaching positions: middle school head football coach and high school head softball coach.