While it’s hard to imagine a wired city like Seattle having a communications blackout during a crisis, it is a realistic possibility. A group dedicated to preparedness has a plan — and some geek friendly hardware needs — for helping Capitol Hill stay in touch in a serious emergency.
“The telephone and cellular networks are vulnerable to failure in certain extreme circumstances, such as a high magnitude earthquake. For example, a 7.1 quake in 1949 centered between Olympia and Tacoma disrupted the telephone and electric power systems in Seattle,” said Jeff Coleman, a member of CHiPP. “If that were to happen again and phone networks were unusable, how would residents of Capitol Hill summon police or fire in the event of an emergency?”
Capitol Hill Preparedness People’s Radio Communications Committee is a handful of amateur radio volunteers who will use their own equipment in case of emergency. DeShiell said they are looking to add about six more licensed radio operators to their roster, in addition to volunteers willing to convey messages to the community using walkie-talkies.
These radio hubs will be at sites across the hill – most likely in Volunteer and Cal Anderson Parks. CHiPP hopes to purchase additional radio equipment by the end of the year for each hub.
“The committee will explore the possibility of grants to purchase additional resources in the future,” said CHiPP member Coleman. “In our early discussions about the logistics, we considered that the radio equipment would be in the possession of the responsible committee members, who would bring it to the communications hubs in the event of catastrophic phone network failure.”
In a major disaster, the plan is for these volunteers to act as liaison between the city and neighborhood emergency services, and all Hill residents. The Radio Communications Committee will contact the Seattle Emergency Operations Center and the downtown Office of Emergency Management, who will then dispatch appropriate fire or police services.
“If Seattle is hit with a major earthquake or other major disaster, it is highly likely that city emergency services will be completely overwhelmed by the amount of people needing help,” said CHiPP member Kate DeShiell. “I think many citizens imagine that when something catastrophic happens, the city will just take care of them, but did you know that at any one time there are only 208 firefighters on duty in the City of Seattle?”
Mark Sheppard, EOS Communications Coordinator and Seattle Auxiliary Communications Services (ACS) director, will be at the July CHiPP meeting to discuss the function of ACS in an emergency. He’ll also discuss the equipment in-depth, talk about radio systems theory and hub setup.
“Currently we are working on mapping out a plan of action for Capitol Hill’s emergency radio communications and bringing everyone interested up to speed on equipment use, radio systems theory and some basic training with the system,” said DeShiell. “It would be wonderful to get as many people interested in radio communications on Capitol Hill as possible to this meeting, as he will lay out some pretty fundamental information to the group.”
CHiPP and the Radio Communications Committee meet next on July 14th at 7 PM in the East Precinct police station community room. For more information on CHiPP and how you can get involved, visit their blog.