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Blog | (Emergency) Test Run

If you've read my Survival Guide for the New Millennium, you may remember my discussing re-becoming a ham (amateur radio operator), and recommending that one of the first things you should do is to take a Red Cross first aid course. Remember?

I've been working on an update for the second printing of the Survival Guide to include the latest corrections and additions. In this, I tell about other ways to prepare for the upcoming disasters, by getting involved with the Red Cross Disaster Services. I mention the courses I've taken (Damage Assessment and Mass Care I) and that I'm on the Dallas Area Disaster Action Team (DAT).

Well on Mother's Day, May 9, 1993 it all came together for a disaster "test run." Twin tornados struck the Texas cities of Sachse and Wylie, both about 30-miles northeast of Dallas. The tornado killed one person in Wylie and injured about 60 others. It destroyed numerous homes and businesses.

The following is an article I wrote for the Dallas Amateur Radio Club (DARC) Newsletter. I've edited it to add comments so non-hams can understand some of the buzz words. And of course I didn't play up the real importance of preparing to the readers of this newsletter they are not ready yet!

"The Wylie Tornado"

About 2:30 PM on Mother's Day, May 9, 1993, I noticed the weather getting nasty outside. I had just turned on my monitor (radio) to the Dallas Amateur Radio Club (DARC) sponsored "88-repeater," when my son Brian, also a ham (KB5TDJ), called to wish his stepmother a happy Mother's Day. I told him that it sounded like they had "brought up the net," meaning the RACES Skywarn Net (RACES means Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service).

Brian and I are both members of the Dallas Area Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT). It was Brian's weekend to be on call for the DAT team, and I told him "sounds like you might be getting a page." I passed the phone over to my wife and Brian extended his Mother's Day greeting.

A few minutes later the phone rang again, and sure enough his pager had gone off he was to report to the Red Cross Central office in downtown Dallas. He asked, "Do you want to come along?" "Yes," I answered, and proceeded to get my jump bag out of the car and collect my gear. This included my 2-meter hand-held transceiver (ham walkie-talkie 2-way radio).

As we arrived at the Red Cross center, we noticed the activity. Other volunteers had arrived and they were loading the trucks. Shortly we were in-route to Sachse, Texas, about thirty miles northeast of Dallas, to assess what function we were to perform in this disaster.

The DAT team is the first to be called in local emergencies where the Red Cross is needed. If the event accelerates to a major disaster, it becomes a national event, and another Red Cross group (DSHR) takes responsibility. The DAT responds to local fires, floods, wind storms, chemical spills, gasoline explosions and other local disasters.

In the case of Sachse, we performed what is known as "damage assessment" to estimate the extent of the damage and what services might be needed by the disaster's victims, or "clients," as we refer to them. One of the standard services that the DAT performs is canteen service, serving refreshments to the clients, firemen and police personnel working the event.

As it turned out, the Sachse damage was fairly minor. The tornado victims all had places to stay. Either in their own homes or with friends or relatives. One of the services the Red Cross performs is to help victims find shelter, if their residence is not habitable. This was not the case in Sachse, so we completed our assignment. By this time, the Collin Country Red Cross had requested our assistance in Wylie, Texas, the next city north of Sachse.

Wylie was a different matter. As we drove north on Highway 87 we began to notice damage the tornado had wreaked on Wylie. We were directed to go to the Brookshire's (grocery store) parking lot as our staging area.

I had started out monitoring the weather related activity on the 88-repeater (frequency 146.88 Mhz). While enroute to Wylie I heard that the Collin County ARES (similar to RACES) emergency net was operating on 146.52 simplex. Net control was amateur radio operator AA5TR. I was really impressed by the professional manner in which the net was handled.

While at the Brookshire's staging area, a request came over the radio net attempting to locate baby diapers and baby formula for a displaced family with a small child. Our Red Cross van was stocked with the diapers, so I responded. This solved the problem of the diapers, but the need for the formula still existed. I contacted the management of Brookshire's and they donated the baby formula. They later donated a significant amount of food to the relief effort.

At this point, we got our instructions to proceed to the First Baptist Church, where the Red Cross shelter had been established. Two other hams were already there handling communications (KB5YIA and KB5BNK). The shelter was multi- functional. "Mass care" involves providing food and shelter to the disaster victims and disaster workers. "Damage assessment" determines the extent of the damage in the area to residences. You may have noticed on the television where the announcer says, "xxx-millions of dollars of damage occurred as a result of ..." This is partially a result of the Red Cross volunteer's efforts at damage assessment. Another function of the Red Cross is known as family services. This is helping the displaced families with their emergency needs to be able to recover from the disaster.

My other ham/Red Cross contribution was helping to relay the need of the shelter for another gasoline driven electric generator. By Red Cross standards this was a fairly small disaster, at least compared to Hurricane Andrew or Iniki (1992). As a relative newcomer to Red Cross, this was my first "major" disaster. The Collin County ARES is to be congratulated on their handling of the emergency. I also noticed how the people of Wylie pulled together as a true community to help. The people of the First Baptist Church did an exceptional job of assisting at the shelter.

In case you haven't noticed, weather patterns are changing, for the worse. The Dallas Morning News on January 2, 1993 (page 4A) noted that "'92 worst year on record for disasters." Time may prove that this incident was a "wakeup call." To use the Boy Scout motto, it may be time to "Be Prepared." You might want to ask yourself, "how would you handle a major local disaster to protect yourself, your family, or what can you do to prepare to participate with a group such as RACES?"

Fortunately the death, injuries, and damage in Wylie was not any worse than it were. Once again amateur radio comes through, even in the age of cellular telephones and super communications networks. To everyone who helped or participated in this effort in anyway I congratulate and thank you.

Byron Kirkwood, KJ5DB (my ham call)

When the major disasters all start happening at once, how to do damage assessment and such won't be the primary concern. The importance of getting involved now, is to help you prepare mentally and emotionally to handle emergencies. So you can get a feel for what goes on in a real emergency.

Sincerely Byron