The Wake-Up Call

I haven’t felt much motivation to write here or on any of my other blogs (Peter West Photo, Peter West Public Relations, Toastmasters, Yoga, Coaching, VE3HB) what with the holidays and contests and general busyness.

So as I nurse a very sore shoulder injured in a fall down the stairs (I’m okay but I’m considering giving up my house cleaning chores) and waiting for four video renderings to upload to a private DropBox folder for my Toastmaster club (First Oakville Toastmasters) where we record the three speeches of the night and the subsequent evaluations, my eye was caught by a headline in this morning’s Globe and Mail.3465

The article was subtitled “Disaster Preparedness” and the main headline read: “Victoria earthquake an urgent wake-up call.” Here Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at U of BC and a former public safety adviser for the PMO wrote that when, not if, B.C. gets hit with a bigger earthquake than the 4.7 magnitude Christmas quake, the results will likely be overwhelming and deadly.

Perrin suggests that the poor state of schools and hospitals in the area will likely cause those buildings to collapse in the face of a magnitude 9 or greater quake snuffing out the lives of school children and hospital patients and staff.

Of course, Perrrin is saying something should be done and he’s right.

Here in Canada we get lulled into a sense of “it-can’t-happen-here” thinking right up to the time it does happen here. I’m thinking of the Quebec ice-storm and Barrie, Ontario tornado. Both were unexpected and deadly.

With our national organization thankfully on death’s door when it comes to growth let alone the ability to plan for any future perhaps it’s time for those who care about emergency preparedness to start to reorganize on a national basis?

Oakville ARES Report

We’re approaching our second season of reorganizing and revitalizing our ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) here in Oakville and the future is looking bright.

ARES groups are formed at the local level and most often sponsored by individual clubs which can provide insurance protection for members. While there is some organization to ARES, almost all of the initiative and energy comes from the bottom and flows upwards.

This means at the local level your ARES group is open to any licensed Amateur Radio operator and clubs can make a decision about whether to insist that all members of their ARES group are also club members.

Here’s a link to a PDF from the Grey County ARES group that can provide some useful insight into ARES.

Normally it’s considered good practice to join the local club especially if you’re a regular user of the club’s assets such as the repeater system.

Here in Oakville we run a VHF and UHF repeater plus a new D-Star repeater. All this costs the club money in materials and insurance and we’re always appreciative of users who have enough self-awareness to chip in. Some do not and that’s unfortunate and costly to the club.

Whoever is representing the ARES group, called the Emergency Coordinator needs to be someone with sufficient communication skills to work with people.

It’s especially nice if they’re presentable and mentally stable. That’s not always been the case. (RAC has been having a fairly major breakdown of its ARES organizational structure with many key people leaving in frustration with the lack of leadership and vision within the organization and the anti-social behaviour of some of the participants.)

When it comes to your local EC it’s great if they’ve got some current business experience so they can make a good impression on municipal officials and fit into the municipal government environment as there’s going to be meetings. 🙂

What you want to avoid in your EC is someone who is impressed with the own title and but doesn’t get around to doing any of the work or providing any leadership. This has happened in the past and nothing gets done.

Being an EC isn’t real hard and most of us learned by doing as it isn’t rocket science and can actually be a lot of fun.

And it doesn’t take much to make an ARES group work either. A call-out tree of names and telephone numbers combined with attendance at a few community events and you’ve got more training than most.

The really eager beavers might even build their own quick response box (called a Go Box) so they can be ready at a moment’s notice if they get a call and take some first-aid training.

Here in  Oakville we’re proceeding with the installation of our MESH network which will help us expand our ability to provide communication services across the entire municipality.

The Burlington group is considering doing the same and there is some activity in the Mississauga and Peel clubs.

If you’re a licensed Radio Amateur or you want to become one and you live in or near Oakville, Ontario consider joining the Oakville Amateur Radio Club.

We meet on the second Tuesday of the month (no meeting in December as its our annual festive Christmas dinner) at Abbey Park Secondary School 1455 Glen Abbey Gate or join us every Saturday morning at 6:30 for breakfast at Cora’s restaurant on Dorval Drive north of the QEW.



Last night Geoff Coulson, Warning Preparedness Meterologist for Environment Canada, spoke to a full house of eager participants in Canada’s CANWARN program.

The meeting was held at the Halton Regional Centre appropriately just hours after a small tornado had touched down just north of Toronto near Tottenham.tornado-wichita-e1373055853734

(Actually as I learned last night, saying a tornado has touched down is a redundancy as by definition a tornado is a rotating funnel cloud that involves swirling winds at ground level.)

I learned more than just that. Coulson’s excellent training session focused on three main points:

First was how to identify a tornado. Second was how to report the sighting of a tornado. Third was how to avoid becoming a casualty during a tornado or thunderstorm.

Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself during a thunderstorm with or without a tornado attached to it.

First seek shelter at the first sound of thunder. All thunder storms involve lightening discharges. Run if necessary to a nearby building and get inside. If your only possible shelter is a car, sit in it with your hands in your lap (so you don’t accidentally touch anything metal). Do not park under a highway overpass as you’re likely going to be struck by flying debris. Motorcyclists take note.

If at all possible avoid shopping malls, arenas or other large open-structure buildings. Coulson showed a security video of a high school gym being utterly destroyed inside of 20 seconds by a tornado in the US. Fortunately all the students and teachers of this mid-American school knew better than to use the gym as shelter and all survived a category 5 (massive destruction) tornado.

If you’re in your house, close all the windows and doors (It’s a myth that you should open windows and doors to equalize air pressure. An open house allows high-speed winds to enter the house and exit usually after removing the roof.) and go to the basement.34_houston_rd_woodbridge_tornado_damage

Finally, and this is important, do not venture outside especially into open spaces (like soccer fields) until 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder.

Saskatchewan is first in tornados in Canada closely followed by southern Ontario. Hundreds of tornados form across Canada but many, if not most, go unreported as they take place in non-populated areas.

And for those amateur photographers out there don’t think first of grabbing a camera. Think first of finding shelter.  Coulson showed videos of people naively filming dangerous tornados as they approached and then when the tornado encroached on their property they continued shooting from inside behind windows or glass

A shot from the category 3 storm that ripped up downtown Goderich in 2011 showed a pickup truck that looked like a pin cushion with multiple tree limbs and other debris that had punctured the body.

Flying debris is deadly, especially so if it’s crashed through your glass door with you standing there an open target.

But so is lightening as a group of photographers almost found out as they had setup their cameras on tripods to shoot images of a storm on the horizon a few kilometres away.

Coulson’s video showed a lightening bolt, literally out of the blue, which struck a tree a few meters away from the photographers who kept shooting rather than having the sense to run away as fast as they could.They were lucky the bolt hit a tree rather than their metal tripods.

BTW ARES groups from around the region were well represented at the training session.

ARES Day at RadioWorld

You’ve got to hand it to the nice folks at RadioWorld in Toronto. A few weeks ago they hosted RAC Day at RadioWorld and this Saturday (June 21) it’s ARES Day.

Presented by what’s left of RAC’s Field Operations ARES Day is a special opportunity to take in a series of workshops on ARES-related technical topics. VOIP over MESH, RMS Express by WL2K and FLDigi are just a few of the workshops (see poster).

So why should you come out to ARES Day?Ares125

First if you’re not part of an ARES group you should be. Why? Because Amateur Radio is a service and since the earliest days of radio, Hams have unselfishly provide public service activities to their communities in times of need.

Residents in Angus Ontario for example suffered damage from this week’s tornado that 300 people are still unable to return home. Some of those homes will never be occupied again. (The photo is from the Toronto Sun website.)1297573330813_ORIGINAL

But what if, instead of 300 homeless, the tornado had done more damage? What if the number was 3,000 or 30,000?

Remember the Mississauga Train Derailment? I was there when civiil authorities decided to evacuate 250,000 people over night.

Remember the Hagarsville Tire Fire? I was there too. The tire yard fire was melting hundreds of thousands of tires and the resulting leachate was so severely contaminated that there was some thought of possibly evaluating everyone from Hagarsville to Lake Ontario.

So what would happen?

Easy. The Canadian Red Cross would have been called out to provide shelters for those forced to move and setup a registration system to keep track of evacuees.

The Red Cross (I was there too as I worked for both provincial and national offices.) is well trained for this function and RAC / ARES has a formal letter of understanding that in a time of need Canadian Amateur Radio operators will assist the Red Cross by providing communications.

It doesn’t matter if we supply communications using handheld units like we did for the St. John Ambulance exercise last weekend at Humber College or we provide a new MESH network. You’ve got to come to ARES Day to learn all about this system that creates essentially a private long-range WiFi network on Ham Radio frequencies that can host digital communications including data, voice and even video.

Hope to see you at RadioWorld on Saturday.

(On another note: I sent in my RAC Certified EC Exam late in March. It’s now late in June some 90 days later and I’m still waiting to hear if I passed. Boy if this is how fast RAC ARES HQ works we maybe in more trouble than even I thought. (See post below).



Oakville ARES Deploys

York Region ARC ARES requested help from neighbouring ARES groups to assist with communications at last Saturday’s (June 14) St. John Ambulance’s Ontario Medical First Response Competition held at Humber College.

Oakville ARC’s ARES sent four members to help out.

This was the first time out for our newly reformed ARES group under the direction of our new EC Todd, VE3LMM, who along with Ontario South RAC Director Rod, VE3RHF, and long-time OARC members Greg, VA3GGF and Peter, VE3HG, spent the entire day providing communications for the event organizers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For some of us 🙂 who have been participating in ARES or club-related community service activities since the time when AM was king on 80 meters (I kid you not!) the day was like many others in the past.

(In photo above: The morning briefing and walk-around.)

For example, everything seems more complicated when it’s first explained compared to immediately after it’s first experienced. In other words, no great plans survive the first transmission and everything works itself out as the day progresses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The nice part of this event is the Amateur Radio operators were escorting the teams to one of four sites where three separate emergency scenarios were played out.

So instead of sitting at a communications desk for the whole day the operators got a full day of exercise as well.

(In Photo: St. John Ambulance first responders came from across Ontario. There were three levels of team competency from new teams made up main of teenagers to more competent mixed-level groups to teams which could include members as highly trained as nurses or even doctors.)

And as usual at these sort of events, we got feed and watered and thanked and all in all we all learned a great deal and had a good time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thanks to Russell, VA3WTR, the Director of York Region EmComm (ARES) for inviting us and getting us organized.

(In Photo: OARC EC Todd, VE3LMM and RAC Ontario South Director Rod, VE3RHF at the St. John Ambulance competition.)

Helping out in the local community or assisting other agencies such as St. John Ambulance, the Red Cross or local government in times of need has been a tradition that started in the first days of Amateur Radio.

ARES teams around the world provide countless hours of community service whether called out for major disasters such as the recent tornados and mudslides in the US or internationally during hurricanes and earthquakes which seem to be in the news so much more often these days.

(In photo: Event organizer Russell, VA3WTR who is the Director or York Region EmComm (ARES), on left, and RAC Ontario South Director Rod, VE3RHF worked together to make the day a success for all.)