Amateur Radio operators on the Kenai Peninsula provided communications support for both the Alaska State Troopers and the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency Management during Alaska Shield 2014. The Kenai Peninsula Borough activated its Emergency Operations Center in Soldotna to direct activities on the peninsula during the exercise.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough took the exercise scenario seriously and assumed that all long-distance communications, including telephone, cell phone, Internet and the Alaska Land Mobile Radio system (ALMR) would be unavailable. All communications during the first hours of the exercise would be provided solely by hams.
Moosehorn Amateur Radio Club members and hams from Homer and Seward activated all four emergency HF/VHF stations, two in Soldotna and one each in Homer and Seward. Three of the stations are located in community hospitals. The fourth is the main emergency station, located inside the EOC in Soldotna.
Kenai hams used the Narrow Band Emergency Messaging Systems (NBEMS) and W1HKJ’s Fldigi software suite to pass message traffic to and from the Soldotna EOC. Unfortunately, propagation conditions only allowed communication between the three Kenai Peninsula locations on 80 meters. During the first hour of the exercise, Soldotna was able to pass traffic to both Homer and Seward, but HF conditions worsened as the exercise progressed. Soon, only the Seward station could communicate with both Homer and Soldotna. As a result, Seward ended up relaying all message traffic between Soldotna and Homer.
On Thursday, approximately 10 messages were passed, and a half-dozen or so messages were passed between Soldotna and Homer on Friday morning. The City of Seward did not take part in the exercise on Friday.
In addition to challenging HF conditions, another big challenge was delivering the messages once they reached their destination. Operators had access to a Seward Fire Department handheld during the exercise, but it would not work from inside the building. Hams had to leave the building to contact the Fire Department. Similar problems were encountered in Homer.
Relaying messages in Soldotna was much easier, because the station was co-located with the EOC. Personnel at the EOC had trained in advance on the NBEMS Flmsg software and were able to generate ICS-213 messages. Incoming and outgoing messages were passed back and forth between the ham station and the EOC on USB thumb drives.
Another challenge was the high RF noise level in the EOC and the three hospitals. In addition to all of the electronic equipment in use at the hospitals, there were at least eleven laptop computers being used at one time in the EOC.
We actually had the problem of more hams showing up at the EOC than could comfortably fit inside the radio room, so some operators were not able to stay.
Here are some of the hams who did participate in the exercise on the Kenai Peninsula.
Ed Back, VE6NH/KL7
Max Carpenter, WA7B
Huck Huckabay, KL3IN
Dale Hershberger, KL7XJ
Ed Cole, KL7UW
Skip Calligan, KL7NN (drove down from Soldotna)
Pat Brown, KL3DB
Bryce Bressler, WA6DUV
Jeff Williams, KL2HD
John Pfeifer, WL7M (drove down from Soldotna)
Sue McClure, NL7DB
Craig Williamson, KL1UD