In addition to weather watching, storm reporting, damage assessment and responding to the communications needs of the community during emergencies and disasters in Calhoun County the Calhoun County RACES had participated for several years in the CSEPP (Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program) exercises involving the storage of chemical weapons at the Anniston Army Depot in Anniston, AL. With the final destruction of those deadly chemical weapons in September 2011 the CSEPP exercises are no longer conducted.
The Calhoun County RACES has also been very active in many public service events such as the Cheaha Challenge, Woodstock 5K Run and the Alabama Yellowhammer Endurance Horse Ride. As well as Red Cross shelter communications for evacuees from hurricanes Katrina (2005), Rita (2005) and Gustav (2008) that had been set up here in Calhoun County. Since 1999 the Calhoun County RACES has assisted in 4 Presidential declared disasters.
What is the Cheaha Challenge and what does it have to do with amateur radio?
The Cheaha Challenge, which is labeled as “The toughest ride in the South” is where 500 to 600 cyclist from around several different states and other countries experience the many levels of riding of up to 102 miles starting in Piedmont traveling up and over Cheaha Mountain to Adam’s Gap and all the way back to Piedmont.
Riders from the Cheaha Challenge.
During this event there are 35 to 40 amateur radio operators needed to line the entire course to help ensure that the riders and everyone has communications needs in the event of an accident or an emergency. The Calhoun County RACES members, as well as others from the Ham Radio community, always look forward to this event each year providing a most invaluable service by volunteering their time, talents and services.
Willie Wilson, AK4TF, (seated on left) Frank Andrews, KG4VBS, (standing in purple shirt) and Ed Willis, KI4NEM (seated on right) working Rest Stop #5 at Adams Gap.
The positions along the route that amateur radio operators will handle include 5 Rest Stops, Overlook, Mobile Patrols, Traffic Control Points and “ride-alongs” with Bike Shop Repair vehicles. The Rest Stops is where an amateur radio operator will pass along to others about the first riders in and out of the rest stops as a way to continually keep up with who may be leading the race. The Overlook position will be at stationary points throughout the course to monitor traffic and be near if any rider may need assistance. While the Mobile Patrols will travel between certain designated points along the route to help ensure the safety of any rider that may be in need of assistance and to help let other drivers along the route know that there are bicycle riders on the roads.
Tracy Stephens, KI4OZG keeps a watchful eye on the riders as they pass his location at TCP #2.
Traffic Control Points, just as the name implies, helps control and direct traffic at main intersections of roads along the route. In the past near TCP #2, at the intersections of AL Hwy 281 and Cleburne Co. Rd 24, there have been many minor accidents as this is where the riders are coming down a steep downgrade around a curve just to the north of this intersection.
Bike repairs being made along the route of the Cheaha Challenge with Mike Phillips, KI4KOT, standing far left, who was a "ride-along" with the Bike Shop Repair vehicle.
With the many hundreds of riders participating in the race, of course there will be many needed bicycle repairs. Those amateur radio operators riding with the Bike Shop Repair vehicles provide a quick and efficient means of communications contact so those riders can get those needed repairs and get back on the route to finish the course.
James Brown, KG4HXN (left in reflective vest) and Ken Yates, KI3N (background near trailer) at the Calhoun County RACES Emergency Communications Trailer at Rest Stop #3 that is used as the "Net Control" station during the Cheaha Challenge.
On Wednesday April 27, 2011 the state of Alabama experienced a severe weather outbreak of historic proportions. There were 29 confirmed tornadoes reported that devastated several areas throughout the state resulting in damage in 42 of the 67 counties in Alabama. There were 9 fatalities in Calhoun County, with 238 fatalities statewide.
Picture taken by the Calhoun County EMA of some of the damage from the April 27, 2011 tornadoes.
Alabama was affected by two waves of widespread severe weather, the first one moved through during the early morning hours across northern portions of the state and produced widespread damaging straight line winds and isolated tornadoes.
During this first wave of severe weather many local amateur radio operators from the Calhoun County RACES was activated by Tracy Stephens, KI4OZG, when the county had been placed under a severe thunderstorm warning around 6:30AM. This was a fast moving storm and there was no reported damage from this storm in the local area. Once the storm had passed and the warning had expired the group was placed on standby since the area had been placed on a High Risk possibility of more severe storms and tornadic weather later in the day.
The second wave of severe weather involved numerous super cell thunderstorms and produced long lived, strong to violent tornadoes across the northern two-thirds of central Alabama. As a result of this second wave of severe weather the Calhoun County RACES was once again activated, this time by Randall Landers, KG4EUD, after the county had been placed under a tornado warning around 7:00PM
Picture taken by Randall Landers, KG4EUD of some of the damage from the April 27, 2011 tornadoes.
Several members of the group had already been deployed out to areas around the county in order to track and report the storm*s location. Randall Landers, who is the Commander of the Calhoun County RACES was using a computer based weather radar program on his laptop computer and it included street level mapping and he was able to place members David, W4EMG, and Lisa Spinks, N3LUE, in a safe position to observe the storms as they approached the Ohatchee area. They did have to reposition once when the storm changed directions and Lisa was able to capture the tornado on video and it was posted the YouTube website and can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCZP7QPJhCo. After the video was shot and the storm had passed the area they were in they both began to assist with the search and rescue mode where multiple injured persons were located including one that had been thrown into the river. Ken Yates, KI3N, had also been deployed to other parts of the county after the storm had hit.
Picture taken by Ken Yates, KI3N as some of the first 1st Reponders arrive after the tornadoes struck Calhoun County on April 27, 2011.
Over the next several days some members of the Calhoun County RACES group were able to volunteer to help with communications needs in the Big Oak, Webster's Chapel and Ohatchee areas at local command posts that had been set up. Then on Saturday May 7, 2011, there were four members of the group that helped provide the communications needs at the Salvation Army Aid Distribution Center that had been set up at the old commissary building on the former Ft. McClellan, located in Anniston. David Spinks, W4EMG, and Tracy Stephens, KI4OZG, were at the Salvation Army Aid Distribution Center while Joey Dodd, KJ4CYK, and Randall Landers, KG4EUD, worked from the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency Emergency Operation Center.
Tracy Stephens, KI4OZG working at the Salvation Army Aid Distribution Center May 7, 2011.
Landers wanted to thank all of the Calhoun County RACES members that responded and reported that there had been almost 300 hours worked by them and it had been submitted to the Alabama ARES Section leaders so that those volunteers could be recognized for their service.
Source: Article written by Tracy Stephens, KI4OZG, Public Information Officer Calhoun County Amateur Radio Association for the club's newsletter the "CCARA News".
The following article appeared in "The Anniston Star" on May 9, 2011 about the Calhoun County RACES response to the April 27th tornadoes: Amateur radio operators contribute to storm preparedness, response
NOTE: In April 2012 as we approached the 1 year anniversary of the April 27, 2011 tornadoes Lisa Spinks, N3LUE, made a tribute video and it can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GavhdoslE4
On Wednesday March 2, 2011 the Calhoun County RACES participated in the very last Chemical Stockpile Preparedness Program Exercise (CSEPP) / Anniston Community Exercise (ACE) in Calhoun County.
David Spinks, W4EMG, and Dave Dostie, AE9Q operated from the RACES Communication Trailer located at the Jacksonville Medical Center in Jacksonville. Mike Phillips, KI4KOT, was also at this location and helped support the Decon Team.
The Calhoun County RACES Emergency Communications Trailer at the CSEPP/ACE11 exercise.
Dave Dostie, AE9Q (seated) and David Spinks, W4EMG (standing) working inside the Calhoun County RACES Emergency Communications Trailer during the CSEPP/ACE11 exercise.
Ed Willis, KI4NEM, and Tom Wilson, KI4WGK, were stationed at the SIM CELL, while Ron Turner, KI4IPX was with the Calhoun County Water Authority and John Davis, W5AUB, was assigned to the Red Cross Shelter at Hillcrest Baptist Church.
Randall Landers, KG4EUD, Joey Dodd, KJ4CYK, and Ken Yates, KI3N, all operated from the RACES station KD4CAL located at the Calhoun County EMA Emergency Operation Center in Jacksonville, AL. Tracy Stephens, KI4OZG, worked at the Joint Information Center on McClellan in Anniston, AL.
Station KD4CAL at the Calhoun County EMA EOC in Jacksonville, AL during the CSEPP/ACE11 exercise.
Tracy Stephens, KI4OZG at the Joint Information Center (JIC) during the CSEPP/ACE11 exercise.
The Alabama Department of Public Health had a mobile hospital set up at the Jacksonville Medical. This mobile hospital is one of seven temperature controlled 50 bed units that has enough supplies for 7 days.
The Alabama Department of Public Health’s mobile hospital that was set up and used during the CSEPP/ACE11 Exercise on March 2,2011.
Randall Landers, Commander of the Calhoun County RACES was very pleased and proud of the Calhoun County RACES members that participated in this exercise. One of the more interesting things to take place was when David Spinks, located at the mobile hospital, provided a live-stream video from that location and Army and FEMA evaluators at the EOC were able to see that operation on a big screen monitor.
View from inside of the ADPH's mobile hospital as seen on one of the many big screens at the Calhoun County EMA EOC.
Source: Article written by Tracy Stephens, KI4OZG, Public Information Officer Calhoun County Amateur Radio Association for the club's newsletter the "CCARA News".
The annual Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) exercise was conducted Wednesday, March 17, 2010 in northeast Alabama. The six CSEPP counties are centered around Calhoun County where the Anniston Army Depot at one time housed 7% of the nation's stockpile of chemical weapons. (Congress has directed that the U.S. Army destroy certain kinds of chemical weapons stockpiled at six U.S. Army installations in the U.S. over the next several years. Experts believe the chance of an accident involving these obsolete chemical munitions is remote. However, local officials and responders have to be ready for such an emergency today and every day until the stockpile in their community no longer exists).
It was a multi-hazard exercise this year. In Anniston, at the primary hospital, the Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center, a mock fire at 7:30 AM destroyed several wards. A mobile hospital was requested from another CSEPP county. The hospital had just received new Amateur Radio equipment through a grant from the Alabama Department of Public Health. The hospital had five RACES operators Tracy Stephens, KI4OZG, David Whilhoite, KM4DLW and Peggy Whilhoite, KM4MPW who were all in the radio room while Mike Phillips, KI4KOT operated the "Decon" Site. James Adams, W4FMI operated the Mobile Hospital.
Tracy Stephens, KI4OZG (L) and David Whilhoite, KM4DLW (R) operating station KJ4RVG at RMC Hospital in Anniston, AL.
The second part of the exercise involved a mock tornado in the northern part of Calhoun County hitting two schools, the Pleasant Valley Elementary and Pleasant Valley High School with structural collapse and many trapped, injured, and killed. Calhoun County RACES members David Spinks, W4EMG, and AEC James Brown, KG4HXN operated the Alabama Department of Homeland Security Region 7 Communications Vehicle. They were dispatched to the Staging area and set-up the communications and camera system for the EMA to view the staging area scene. Jacksonville Fire Chief Wade Buckner, KD4TFS played a big part in the exercise as well.
At 9 AM the CSEPP part of the exercise began with a simulated release of Mustard agent from the Anniston Army Depot. The sirens and Tone Alert Radios alerted (simulated) citizens in the affected areas. Residents were instructed to shelter in place and wait for further instructions. Calhoun County RACES Commander Randall Landers, KG4EUD activated the Calhoun County RACES EMA staff and the Alabama Emergency Net on the state's highest repeater located on Cheaha mountain.
Ken Yates, KI3N (front), April Landers, AI4EA (back) and Lisa Spinks, N3LUE (far left) working station KD4CAL.
All six CSEPP county ECs were active on the Alabama Emergency Net: checked in were Landers, Clay County EC David Hester, KC4LQT, Cleburne County EC Randy Smith, W4AUB, Etowah County EC Dave Waits, K4VMV, St Clair County EC Steve Ayres, KG4VSH and Talladega County EC Jim McIlwain, W4LVT. Each EC managed their own operations to support Calhoun County, running their own nets as well as monitoring the main District wide net with Alabama State EMA station KF4LQK. The Calhoun County EMA Director Dan Long, KI4SUF requested EC Landers take over on 800 MHz so the EMA could manage the CSEPP. Landers performed dispatch duties on the 800 MHz Digital trunking system.
During the exercise, the D-STAR net had seven agencies represented. Twenty-four D-RATS messages were sent with many between the hospital and the EMA. Dave Dostie, AE9Q operated the Joint information Center.
Dave Dostie, AE9Q working from the Joint Information Center (JIC).
During the hot wash the FEMA lead evaluator said that communications was by far the best part of the exercise with so many systems employed. The Alabama District 7 team did a great job. -- Randall Landers, KG4EUD [Landers is District 7 District Emergency Coordinator; Calhoun County EMA RACES Commander; Calhoun County Citizens Corps Council Chairperson; Calhoun County ARES Emergency Coordinator; Alabama Association of Emergency Managers; Calhoun County Amateur Radio Association Trustee]
Source: ARES E-Letter 03-24-2010
The Calhoun County RACES group and many amateurs in surrounding counties and across the state was involved in a mach Weapons of Mass Destruction Exercise. Randall Landers KG4EUD the Calhoun County Emergency Coordinator for ARES and Assistant District Emergency Coordinator for District 7, coordinated the ARES and RACES operations from the Calhoun County EMA. The exercise was held at the Anniston ARMY Depot, that houses seven percent of the Nations stockpile of chemical weapons that was mandated to be destroyed by congress in 1986. The destruction of chemical weapons is called CSEPP, Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program.
The drill started when a mach helicopter crashed into an igloo that housed VX Nerve Agent. That caused a plume of VX Nerve Gas to be released into the air. All residents in Calhoun County have a Tone Alert Radio that goes off if an accident ever occurs at the depot. The residents would be told to either evacuate or to shelter in place. Also the entire region is broken into grid zones. After the first call went out that a level IV event has occurred at the depot.
Calhoun County RACES members responded to predetermined locations, agencies and hospital's and the EOC. Once the EOC staff was set, the group was handed Emergency Alert System Messages that told which zones we're to evacuate, and which zones we're to shelter in place. The EOC staff comprised of Ken Yates, KI3N which was primary net control for the exercise. Lee Green KG4GQT was the radio relief and computer grid zone mapping. While Randall Landers KG4EUD was in charge of operations, he also used D-STAR radio and computer with D-CHAT software to use Digital Data to stay in touch with other agencies and keep voice frequencies free. He also used the D-CHAT software to stay in contact with the back-up command center.
Tracy Stephens, KI4OZG, went to the Joint Information Center for FEMA Communications Support. Jim Norton KG4WFO went to Regional Medical Center, Calhoun counties largest hospital for communication support and to give up to date information as it come through the EOC. KI4GLX David Craig manned Stringfellow hospital for communication support. Dave Dostie AE9Q was at the Anniston ARMY Depot at the SIMCELL giving injects for all surrounding counties during the exercise.
The group used 80 meters on HF, VHF D-STAR for D-CHAT Digital Data, VHF repeaters for communication support for Nextel two-way communications and 800 MHz Digital Trunking system.
Surrounding counties were involved in the exercise, however the plume never left Calhoun County. The exercise had all agencies involved and many elected official's. The entire exercise was evaluated by federal evaluators. FEMA Region 4 Director Phil May and FEMA CSEPP Project Manager Terry Madden K5ZFN was on hand at the Calhoun County EOC. Terry Madden was amazed at the new technology of D-STAR and the use of D-CHAT and it capabilities.
During the after action meeting, the federal evaluators had nothing but great remarks to say about the Calhoun County RACES. How they have solved previous issues at the hospitals with using Amateur Radio as another communication tool to receive fast accurate information.
This was a very real and successful exercise for the Anniston ARMY Depot and over 100,000 residents of Calhoun County Alabama, noted Randall Landers KG4EUD, Calhoun County RACES Commander. Residents that live just hundreds of feet from the Depot property. The Depot has safely destroyed thousands of chemical munitions over the past several years.
Source: ARES E-Letter 03-21-2007
Calhoun County, Alabama, ARES/RACES participated February 9 in a communication drill in which the scenario was a nerve gas release, and Amateur Radio the only communication system available to the local emergency operations center (EOC). The exercise, the annual Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) conducted by the Anniston Army Depot and the Calhoun County Alabama Emergency Management Agency, was aimed at checking the coordination of communications at the EOCs. Calhoun County Emergency Coordinator Randall Landers, KG4EUD, managed his team's activities from the EOC, while Alabama Section Emergency Coordinator Jay Isbell, KA4KUN, and staff headed up communications at the US Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Noble Training Center at Ft McClellan. A mission of the Anniston Army Depot is to incinerate stockpiles of chemical weapons. In the exercise scenario, 36 land mines explode releasing VX nerve agent. The ARES/RACES team provided updates and deployed volunteers to hospitals and schools and to Emergency Activation System radio stations, where they disseminated official news releases. "A FEMA Region 4 representatives said that the Amateur Radio group was the best they have evaluated, and that their knowledge of radio and communications was excellent," reported Alabama Section Manager Greg Sarratt W4OZK.
Source: ARES E-Letter 02-15-2005