ARES Oakville

The Oakville Amateur Radio Club has had an ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) group since the earliest days of the club which goes back at least into the 1960s.Ares125

I can remember back to the 60s (honest) when a bunch of us who were on GRS (Citizens Band) got so fed up with the behaviour of some the CBers who were members of local REACT groups (Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams) who were routinely running linear amplifiers, running off frequency and had really unprofessional operating procedures (foul language was the least of the issues back then) that we started the ALERT group.

We hoped to provide a more professional and better trained and equipped volunteer group to work with local officials. We were actually washed and shaved and we bought ourselves some pretty neat bight yellow jackets with A.L.E.R.T. in big letters on the back. We thought we were so cool. Funny none of us got many dates in those days but maybe if we hadn’t been wearing the jackets and matching hard hats (I kid you not.) and took the yellow flashing lights off our vehicles we might have had more luck.

ALERT stood for Associated Light Emergency Radio Teams. There were about 40 of us at our peak and we aligned ourselves with the Ontario government’s Emergency Measures Organization where we took training in first aid, light rescue work (we once lowered a member from the second floor of the EMO building on Dundas St. near Burnhamthorpe Road. He was tied to a gurney and I can still hear him scream as we lowered him by rope.) and all of us studied and passed the government’s Restricted Radio License.

How many ARES folks today have their Restricted Radio License?

The highlight of our EMO experience was the weekend we spent at Camp Borden running the provincial government emergency repeater system. The low point was when one of our guys took the big EMO rescue truck to Harvey’s and lifted the overhang from the roof off the building. We never got to drive the rescue truck again.

Over the years we participated in a ton of events including searches for missing people, road races involving bicycles, cars and people. Our top event was the annual 30-mile Miles For Millions Walk-A-Thon which at its peek had 100,000 walkers and went for over 18 straight hours. We met in planning meetings for six months every week to get this job done.

I was in charge of communications and one year we had over 300 mobiles on four separate services (CB, Ham Radio, mobile phone which was brand new, and commercial business radio). We even had a helicopter at our call and police staffing a radio in our communications room which was on top of a 20-storey building at Eglinton near Avenue Road.

As time went on we grew up and moved to other communities (some of us even got married) and the old ALERT group sold its converted Eaton’s van. We had HF, VHF, UHF and police and fire radios installed in this bright yellow delivery truck. I got to drive it once up Hwy. 400 and yes it had flashing yellow lights everywhere. HI.

I joined the ARES group up in Peel Region and participated there in events with fellow club members of the Peel Amateur Radio Club (which I hear is doing really well these days).

Here in Oakville the ARES activities have been on and off over the years and it’s wonderful to see the Oakville ARC reforming their ARES operation as they focus on the needs here in the Town of Oakville.

At one of our Field Days (which is coming up June 28-29) I arranged for every participating club in the province to send a message to the Office of the Premier advising the government that local ARES groups were deployed across the province on this emergency exercise. It was a pretty good public relations effort if I do say so myself.

There are other ARES groups which were formed out of existing clubs (Burlington being one) and they provide excellent community service when it comes to times of need or during community events. Clubs also often have liability insurance for their members which may or may not be available to ARES groups.

ARES is administered here in Canada by Radio Amateurs of Canada.

If you want to become an ARES member or start an ARES group in your community it’s a pretty easy process and the RAC administrators are always asking for more members.

Here’s a link to the RAC info.

ARES has a 300-page manual available online which is actually pretty good (especially if you avoid some of the over-the-top language about “tactical vests and tactical debriefings” – I didn’t make this up.  – and RED teams and “ground truth reports” and the bit about how Ham Radio is considered by the authors to be an archaic term and how amateur radio operator is much preferred – Seriously?)

I can appreciate the authors were trying to cover all the bases (This is a four volume training manual!!) and if we ignore the overly militarized language and thinking, it’s actually pretty good and worth reading. There’s a lot of the old EMO thinking being revisited here._main_52There was a time I would have been critical about the over-the-top preparation for terrorist events (and then we had the Boston Marathon) or mass evacuations (like what happened during the Mississauga Train Derailment) or floods (Winnipeg) or Ice Storms (Quebec).

Having said that most ARES guys (and gals) just want to use their radios in the service of their local community.

For the most part all they need is a VHF or VHF/UHF portable unit or an FM rig in the car, appropriate clothing for the day, water and lunch (if they’re not being feed) and the desire and openness to learn a few new things. Sure there’s more to it than this but this is a good start when you’re new to ARES and maybe even Ham Radio.

I believe in training on the job.

I’ve run ARES nets where we passed formal, informal and even emergency (life or death situations) traffic was passed. The participants on those nets learned what to do and did so by following the simple direction of the experienced net controllers.

It’s quite gratifying to be on a well-run net that transitions from loose, informal communications to a net handling only formal or emergency messages and then to witness the controllers take the net back to informal communications when the crisis has passed.

One of the best ways to learn how to run a net is volunteer to be the talk-in station at your club’s next flea market or similar event. Trust me you’ll have your hands full and it will be fun.

The Oakville ARES group is looking for new members and we have a meeting this evening at the Tim Horton’s on Bronte Road south of the QEW at 7pm and if you’re in the area guests are always welcome.

We will be talking about our upcoming Field Day operation and the possible integration of a MESH network (which I commented upon in a past post) and the progress around the installation of a D-Star digital communications systems to our existing FM repeaters.

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About Peter West

I am retired. I'm invested into bike riding, guitar playing, yoga and Ham Radio. I am a former photojournalist, newspaper and magazine editor and public relations practitioner with national, regional and local experience. A long-time member of Toastmasters International and an active Amateur Radio (Ham) operator here in Canada I am taking on new challenges.

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