Saturday, December 7, 2013

Freezing Rain, Sleet and Whatall

It was 80 on Wednesday afternoon when we did the December siren testing.  Freezing rain/ Ice was already accumulating on my car by 5pm Thursday.

I've got 1+ inches of solid ice (some of it formerly sleet) in my driveway. It happens so rarely, we just aren't prepared for that sort of weather around here in North Texas so, as you've seen on TV, traffic is a mess and I'm stuck indoors for the duration. A shovel won't work. I'd need a pick-axe to clear my driveway, then chop my way another 150 feet down the street just to get to the corner. 30% chance for more sleet or snow today. 

With the wintry weather predictions earlier in the week I'd already let people know if it was icy I wouldn't be there. "Oh no," they all proclaimed, "we'll proceed regardless of the weather!"  They've since all been cancelled. This includes some volunteer activties for and with  the City of Arlington's Christkindle Market, Fort Worth's Jingle Bell Run (since lots of people don't register in advance, they are $100,000 short this year - for an online donation you can "Jingle in Your Jammies" and they will send you a cute T-shirt), Dallas's Marathon and Children's Christmas Parade (I wasn't involved, but they were cancelled none-the-less losing $ for their sponsors as well), and church on Sunday (our special English/Spanish service - we are "nesting" a new Puerto Rican/Hispanic congregation who was going to provide lunch - all moved to moved to next Sunday) . And pretty much every other activity taking place in North Texas was cancelled as well.  Starting tomorrow high temps should slowly rise through the 30's, but lows will remain in the teens and 20's until Wednesday. At least one can hope it might warm a bit by then.

Either is is going to be a horribly cold and wicket winter across the country, or spring will arrive before the end of January. Last Christmas we had weather like this - for the first time in 83 years. Maybe this year it will be 75 and gorgeous!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Walk to End Alzheimers

Had to be in Fort Worth at 6:00 am this morning to help with radio communications for the Walk to End Alzheimers. It was bad enough having to set the alarm for 4:45. It was worse when I realized I'd already been up 30 minutes and it was really only 4:15. The typical pre-Walk or Race confusion: the RACES van wasn't where I was told it would be just yesterday, (though I was sure the settings were correct I was on simplex rather than the repeater) so it took some time to track down where it really was (same place it's been for for the past several years - except LAST year which is where I was told it would be THIS year.) The initial radio frequency in the repeater set up in the RACES Van had some sort of, what was described to me as, heterodyne interference because the same frequency, but different tone, was also being used at the Texas Motor Speedway for radio communications for the No Limits Half-Marathon, some 20 miles away. Someone trying to reach THAT repeater had such a powerful signal it was interfering with OUR radio communications - in addition to the heterodyne interference. As soon as Gary, KD5TDC - a CommT - realized what was happening we switched to another frequency entirely. As for the Walk the usual issues: some of the Police barriers that should have already been in place weren't so a bit of traffic got on the course - sorted out just after the Walk started.  One of the water stops was cancelled, then reinstated. The necessary need to restock and redistribute water along the 2.5 mile walk. Far less than usual need to pick up worn out walkers and take them back to Start or to the parking lot, up a hill 2 to 3 blocks away. The walk started at 9:00 on a cool and cloudy Autumn day. The last walker had finished, the course had been cleared of supplies and signs, police barriers taken down, all the participants and almost all volunteers had departed, when we shut down the radios at 10:40. I came home and went back to bed. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

AuxComm & 2014 NTx SKYWARN Schedule

I knew it had been a while since I posted, but May???

The NWS-FWD has just posted its 2014 SKYWARN Training schedule. (A current work in progress as the Page Title needs to be updated and part of the 2013 schedule needs to be deleted, but scroll down. 2014 is actually there.) Tarrant County will be on Saturday, January 25th at South Hills High School.  The word "Sharknado" was used in relation to it, or perhaps that was a just humorous quip added by the local RACES coordinator.

Weatherwise, this has been an extremely slow year here in DFW. Looking at my notes, the last RACES activation was in May - the night of the previously described tornadoes, during which I was manning the amateur radios at the Arlington EOC.  The City of Fort Worth has been utilizing RACES and CERT radio operators to monitor certain public safety agency communications and log during large public events. Interesting but thankfully uneventful. I continue to assist with the semi-monthly RACES Renewal and New Member Training and attend the monthly Leadership meetings.  I am trained and log in both WEB EOC and ESponder.

AUXCOMM: In August I took a 2-day Introduction to AuxComm course certified by the Texas DPS for deployment in Texas.  AuxComm will provide radio communications (RADO) and assist otherwise as requested as part of the Department of Homeland Security COML and COMT programs to assist public safety agencies when communications are down or severely limited .  See the DPS informational sites here and here. This course was held at the Denton OEM. Additional training sessions will be held elsewhere at later dates. A list of names of Certified COML, COMT, and AUXCOMM certified radio operators will be kept by the Texas Department of Public Safety for deployment as necessary. AuxComm requires a General license, FEMA 100, 200, 700 & 800 and some emergency communications experience.  A second course was held at the JEOC in Fort Worth 10/11 & 12, which I sat in on and assisted as a gofer.

CERT CLE has picked by up under the temporary auspices of the ACDN - Arlington Christian Disaster Network, a faith-based organization of CERT trained volunteers. I totally missed the class last week on Terrorism. DRAT!!  Arlington CERT members no affiliated with ACDN need to set up their own board and propose their own programs, but while it was something I was willing to do and proposed last year, now I'm not so sure.

Train the Trainer:  Some months ago I was encouraged to take a CERT "Train the Trainer" course with the promise I would be advised in advance so that I could register.  However, I wasn't and only found out about the one to be held the end of August at NCTCOG (North Central Texas Counsel of Governments) 2 days after registration closed. It was then I learned I needed to register on the Texas Emergency Management Preparedness website - which I since have. There may, or may not, be another course before the end of 2013.

VOAD Volunteer Reception Center training:  Also last weekend (Saturday morning session overlapped with AuxComm but I managed both).  VOAD - Volunteer Organizations Assisting in Disaster. The training was to familiarize the local CERT members with VRC set up and operations to handle the numerous (often hordes of) spontaneous unsolicited and untrained, but generally well-meaning, volunteers who want to help following a disaster. The proposed operational details will be provided to the Arlington OEM for pre-approval so as to be in place when needed.  Personally, if Amateur Radio assistance is necessary, I will be at the EOC and not at a VRC.

Siren Testing: Still handling the observation reports via radio for the OEM.

Slow weatherwise but otherwise an interesting and educational summer.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

May 15th North Texas Tornadoes / Weather Channel features Arlington OEM and Sirens

Granbury tornado: EF4
Cleburne tornado: EF3

At least 6 fatalities, dozens injured, 7 still unaccounted for. 

Link to NWS Preliminary Map pinpointing location of 10 tornadoes along with radar images and a few photos. There may have been more than 10. [UPDATE: 5/16 8:44p.m. CST) 17 tornadoes - see latesed NWS update.) Most counties in this area were under tornado warnings at some point during the evening. RACES activated at request of NWS at 1835. I was called into the Arlington EOC to serve as Net Control for K5OEM and passed on RACES and NWS updates to the EM several seconds before they were officially announced and the same info passed on by media, who get their heads up from the same source. Thankfully for us, but so unfortunate for others, the worst of the weather stayed just west in Parker County and southwest or south in Hood and Johnson Counties. And to the Northwest as well. (See Maps of North Texas) Because most severe activity remained out of county, Tarrant County RACES members primarily stood by, though a few headed in the southern section headed toward the storms in Johnson County (Cleburne). Also see Mike Smith Enterprises blog for additional radar images and information.

The Weather Channel recently did a piece on the Arlington Siren System and interviewed Chief Carrol of the Arlington Fire Department, Irish Hancock - Emergency Manager, and Kwa Heri Harris - Emergency Management Coordinator. This is the OEM and some of the people I do volunteer work for and with assisting with siren tests, severe weather and sometimes public service events.

Monday, May 13, 2013

New (to me) Yaesu Receiver

When the husband of my best friend found out I'd upgraded my radio license he shipped me his father's Yaesu FRG 7700 receiver, for which I am most humbled and grateful. I still need to figure out whether the speaker-type 16 gauge wire he used as an antenna in his residence at the top of a hill over-looking Seattle will be sufficient here at the low point in my heavily wooded, hilly neighborhood. The receiver was manufactured between 1981 and 1986 but looks to be in excellent condition. Will take it to the Radio Club meeting Friday and get some advice.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Upgraded My Ham License!

From Tech to General. Just passed the test a couple of hours ago. With no background whatsoever in electricity, circuits, electronics, circuits, etc. I didn't think I had a snowball's chance. I haven't studied that long and that hard since  ... well, I don't think I EVER studied that long and hard. No snowball's chance I'll even attempt the Extra!

Cowtown Marathon in late February was interesting. My job this year was to enter significant events into the City's computer system. Saturday was typical and over by noon. Sunday I arrived by 0430. All the entrances to where I needed to be had been blocked off so drove around several blocks to several entrances just trying to get in. Finally one of the guys managed to move a barricade. Then we couldn't get the generator on the Van to start. It was 36 degrees and I was dressed for the warmth INSIDE it. We finally had to bring the small van over and plug into that generator, but there wasn't enough power to run the heater. As a result I shivered for 3 or 4 hours until the sun was high enough to at least take the worst of the chill off. Eventually it got up to 70 and I finally got warm.

March 9th I helped with the newest Arlington CERT trainees' disaster drill. My roll was to distract, get in the way of, impede, anything I could do to keep them from their appointed tasks - which I did very, very well indeed.  I'll never live it down.

The April 3rd siren test was cancelled due to clouds. It was also the 1st anniversary of last year's F2 tornado, so I think the desire not to upset the public may have been the primary factor behind that decision.

April 18-21 I volunteered at the Fort Worth JEOC with regard to the Main Street Arts Festival.  On Saturday morning I was scheduled to be Net Control for the March for Babies, held in Trinity Park, but that didn't work out as anticipated and I ended up as back-up with very little to do.  I wasn't scheduled but I had intended to drop by the JEOC on my way home, but I was too buzzed and irritable from all the coffee I'd been drinking.

Mayfest is May 2-5th.. RACES members will again be weather liaisons for the event organizers. They've been doing this since the horrendous 1995 Mayfest hailstorm. 4" hail stones injured dozens or hundreds and  caused millions in damage across the DFW Metroplex. .My neighbor had 2 broken hands from trying to shield his head and his car looked like a sledge hammer had been taken to it. I wasn't there but watched that Supercell moving in from the West and will never forget the putrid yellow-green-brown color, which was enough to really frighten me. Mayfest is held in Trinity Park along the Trinity River. Police and Event Coordinators now can safely evacuate everyone from the area in under 30 minutes, which is why weather liaisons onsite to monitor incoming storms so they can do so well in advance. I think it was last year they shut down early because of an incoming storm. I signed up for the first time to assist on site, but was late in doing so and doubt I'll be scheduled. UPDATE 4/29/13: The County RACES liaison wants me at the JEOC. I was hoping to be posted in the park.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

This Time a RACES Award

To my GREAT surprise, I was named as a recipient of one of the Tarrant County RACES 2013 Service Awards on 1/26 during the NWS SKYWARN class: the Jan and Ulis Hair Volunteer of the Year award.  Quite an honor!

Other recipients: Second from left is Gary Cooper "Net Controller of the Year," who coincidentally was RACES Net Control in 2000 when the tornado hit downtown Fort Worth and a second went through parts of south Arlington, and then again during the 2012 Arlington tornado - totally unflappable guy! Harold Reasoner "Meritorious Service Award" for his 40 plus years of service to what is now Tarrant County RACES - he was one of the original members - a tech and electronics guru extraordinaire. To my right is Matt Hayden, RACES Liaison to the Texas Motor Speedway.  There is always a localized ARES net on one of the back-up repeaters and operators on duty for weather or other purposes during major events. Matt organizes it all. When weather gets involved, they also join the RACES Net on 146.940, the main RACES repeater. For some reason, TMS gets a lot of bad/potentially severe weather. The awards are etched on clear acrylic, which means against out clothing you can't really see them.That's the newer, fully-outfitted-for-radio-communications (3 or 4 radios plus police and fire radios, desks, chairs generators, A/C and heater plus storage and small fridge) tall-enough-for-most-of-us-to-stand in RACES van behind us. It has everything except a kitchen sink and one of those little necessary rooms.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Busy but Thankfully Uneventful Auturm and Winter

It would help if I actually posted what I mostly wrote before Christmas ..... Autumn was a nice, if strange, weather respite, but we sure could use MORE RAIN.  What I've done volunteerwise recently:

  • Brief RACES activations on 8/7 and 11/14, for which I was back-up net control only, meaning I just took notes for my own use and said nothing. One other brief activation in there somewhere, but I was unavailable.
  • Assisted with RACES Training Classes at the Fort Worth Joint Emergency Operations Center on 8/11 and 10/13.
  • August - January: Monthly outdoor warning siren tests held on the 1rd Wednesday at the Arlington OEM. No, I don't get to push the button.
  • CERT: September 8th I got to play a semi-hysterical, sneaky and uncooperative victim for the newest CERT final training exercise, slipping away from the Triage area instead of staying put as instructed. One of the 2 times I did this, the CERT trainees never realized I was even missing. The 3rd time, however, there was someone standing such that I just couldn't get away without being seen. Drat! CERT ConEd was cancelled in Sept and classes suddenly changed from Thursday to Wednesday nights. Matt, who arranges for and overseas CERT ConEd, was attending classes for his Master's Degree. In January, we had a presentation and instruction on using the radui Go Kits - kits outfitted with 2 radios plus bags with antennas and coax, etc. then distributed to designated locations during emergency events when regular communications are extremely difficult or impossible. They've also been loaned out to other cities in emergency situations.
  • Fixin' Fast food at Cowboy Stadium - The company that provides employees for Cowboy  Stadium arranged for a Staff/Employee "Kick-Off" Party on 9/21 with a sack supper, a short program with various prizes, and some other fun activities on the field. I was asked if I would like to participate. Well, sure! So Thursday the 20th I showed up early afternoon with several other volunteers from various other City departments with no idea what we'd be doing. Turned out we prepared  3,000 sacks in which to drop hot dogs the next day. We divided ourselves into 3 separate assembly lines and got the job done in about 3-1/2 hours. Friday, the 21st we were asked to be there by 1 - MUCH TO MY CHAGRIN  since what I really wanted to do at that moment was watch Shuttle Endeavour land at LAX . My brother had arranged the "Fanfare to the Common Man" for and played in the brass orchestra which welcomed it - I know you saw that on TV!  Instead of watch the live news feeds, I was there ON TIME then sat with everyone else doing absolutely NOTHING for the first 2 hours. Eventually we reassembled our assembly lines to assemble bun and "hot" dog, put dog into small sleeve/sack, then drop it a paper sack with the condiments and chips we'd assembled Thursday. Thankfully we got to quit long before we reached the 3,000 mark! As a reward we got a sack with barely warm, rather greasy over-sized beef hot dog (they charge the public $3.50 for it), a mini-bag of M&M's, chips and soda or water. Not hot "hot" dogs aren't that appetizing.  Then some were asked to direct arriving employees to the food area then down to the field. Most of us sat and did more nothing for a long time. Since some were directing and some had left to go home at that point, the 4 of us remaining in the private dining area where the food was being distributed were asked to prepare another tray of dogs, spent about 10 minutes and assembled 114 more. More standing around, then the 2 of us left still upstairs were asked to help the organizer to move the warming unit with dogs and a rolling stand of sacks down to the field for whoever wanted seconds and for vendors who had come to the party. Then we were told we could leave. I had to trudge up what amounted to 5 long flights of stairs to get from stadium floor to parking level. I could have tried to find the freight elevator we'd gone down on, but I'd likely still be wandering in the underbelly maze of the stadium if I had. To my surprise I didn't drop dead from climbing all those stairs, though they did a number on my knees. I can now mark "work in fast food" off my bucket list.
  • October 27th - I served as Net Control for the Walk Against Alzheimer's at Trinity Park in Fort Worth. I needed to be there around 5am. It was COLD and we had to turn on the heater to make the old van habitable. By 11 we were able to shut everything down. I came home and went back to bed. The same morning another group of RACES members were providing radio communications from the new van for the new "No Limits Half-Marathon" held at Texas Motor Speedway.
  • RACES Leadership Meetings in September, November. and January.
  • December 1st:  Jingle Bell Run. This year the course cut through downtown Fort Worth. It was VERY WARM and we had to turn on the A/C on in the van parked in the sun.I started as Net Control, then we started using 2 radios and someone else took over communications on Radio #2.
  • December also brought Christmas get-together-and-eat functions for the Arlington Radio Club, and CERT, and the RACES Leadership group.
  • The January RACES Training Class was cancelled, but since I'd slept through the Check-In Net on the 7th and no email notice of the cancellation was sent out (I checked one last time before I left home) I didn't know until I'd actually arrived and signed in to discover I was the only one around. It probably wouldn't have been nearly so irritating had I not had to get up at 6:15 on a Saturday morning order to get ready and drive the 15 miles to be in downtown Fort Worth 7:30. I came home and went back to bed. The next class is scheduled for February 9th.
  • Fort Worth SKYWARN - January 26th - 343 attendees registered for the morning basic session and another 40 registered for the advanced afternoon session. I don't recall having seen as many people who stayed or came for the second session since I started going to SKYWARN in the 90's.
  • UPCOMING:  Cowtown Marathon on February 24-25. I'll be helping both days with event logging and as back up Net Control. Last year it was mild but very windy with a sand storm out of West Texas coloring the sky. As weird as the weather has been lately, it'll either be freezing cold or way too warm. If it's snowy/icy, I'm not going. The TESSA: (Texas Severe Storm Asso.) conference is on March 2nd in Colleyville.

Abbreviation Key

AARC - Arlington Amateur Radio Club
- Amateur Radio Emergency Service
- Community Emergency Response Team
EMST - Emergency Management Support Team
- Emergency Operations Center - part of the OEM
FEMA - Federal Emergency Management Agency
- National Weather Service
NWS FWD - National Weather Service - Fort Worth/Dallas
OEM - Office of Emergency Management
- Public Service Event - ARES Net
RACES - Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services
- TExas Severe Storm Associaton