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Thomas Fire Response Also Demonstrates Amateur Radio’s Social Media Value: –

Thomas Fire Response Also Demonstrates Amateur Radio’s Social Media Value:


The ARRL Letter

January 11, 2018

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Thomas Fire Response Also Demonstrates Amateur Radio’s Social Media Value:

Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club (SBARC
members kept a close watch on the Thomas Fire after it broke out in
early December. Using a variety of the club’s analog and digital
Amateur Radio assets, radio operators were able to observe
fire-fighting efforts first hand and pass along immediate information,
often before it was reported by official sources or by local news
media. SBARC operates five communication sites in Santa Barbara County,
including sites on Diablo Peak on the mostly uninhabited Santa Cruz
Island, and on Santa Ynez Peak.

“These two sites host [Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast]
ADS-B receivers that are connected via a combination of amateur
microwave IP links and mesh networking and were used to track and
monitor airborne firefighting activities,” Levi Maaia, K6LCM, co-chair
of SBARC’s Telecommunications Services Committee, told ARRL.

Starting in mid-December, a round-the-clock emergency net convened on 2
meters, as commercial power for much of Santa Barbara County was cut
and the fire descended on residential communities in Santa Barbara
County, prompting multiple evacuation orders. With repeaters on
generator power and many operators running on battery power, net
traffic consisted of official information, including evacuation orders,
live reports on the rapidly approaching fire line from operators who
remained inside the mandatory evacuation area, related traffic about
firefighting efforts, and wind and weather conditions. SBARC volunteers
set up an ad hoc remote receiving station to stream live fire ground
and air communications audio over the internet and mesh network.

As fire crews came off duty, one firefighter and Amateur Radio
operator joined the net to offer a firsthand account of operations from
an insider’s perspective. SBARC members also assisted visiting fire
crew members with mobile radio antenna repairs in the field.

Maaia said social media proved to be a valuable communication asset, as
most official organizations, such as incident command and emergency
management agencies, were disseminating official information via
Twitter immediately upon release. “Amateur stations without power, cell
phone or internet access could be kept informed of important
information including evacuation orders, via the Amateur Radio net,”
Maaia explained. “SBARC also served as an aggregator for Thomas
Fire-related information by featuring tweets on the club website.”

The largest in modern California history, the Thomas Fire caused
devastating losses in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. “Although the
Santa Barbara ARES group never activated, Amateur Radio proved to be a
valuable mode of communication, especially when coupled with social
media, amateur mesh networking, IRC chat (over mesh and internet) and
live audio streaming,” Maaia said.

In Ventura County, the Thomas Fire damaged or destroyed some Amateur
Radio resources normally available to provide emergency communication.
It was an Amateur Radio TV camera that caught the first images of the
Thomas Fire on December 4. A fundraising effort
now is
under way to help a repeater system operator to replace gear and to
bolster the rest of the system for future such emergencies. Fundraising
sparkplug Ben Kuo, AI6YR, said the fire demonstrated the difficulty of
keeping equipment running in remote locations during fire emergencies.

“We also discovered

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