News: When disaster takes out the phone and internet connections, military and local groups help make the link
Story by Spc. True Thao
VALDEZ, Alaska – The city of Valdez participated in Alaska Shield 14, a disaster exercise hosted by State of Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management with federal, state, local community, and Non-Government Organization participation. The exercise started with an aftershock that put the city into a communication blackout – no phones or internet connections.
Local officials worked with amateur radio operators to help re-gain communication with the outside world.
“We are providing amateur radio support for Alaska Shield 2014,” said Robert Rountree, president of the amateur radio club. “We have an amateur radio group here in town that provides emergency communications.” Rountree said that the group’s purpose is to respond to emergencies just like those in the exercise scenario.
Amateur radio communication allows local citizens to ask for emergency aid if needed. Once a message is received by the Emergency Operation Center, the group works closely with Joint Task Force Alaska to re-establish communication across the affected regions.
To aid the city, Joint Task Force Alaska, mobilized the Alaska Land Mobile Radio (ALMR) transportable system that was able to reestablish phone communications.
“We are here to provide the critical communications capabilities required for the citizens to do their jobs,” said Tim Woodall, ALMR military liaison with Joint Task Force Alaska.
The ALMR systems provide Alaskan public safety first responders with interoperable communications that are cost effective and reliable. Having this type of equipment allows citizens to have access to the Internet and use of their cell phones. The ALRM transportable also minimizes the wait time when trying to contact loved ones.
“During an emergency operation, we can bring this in and increase the loading capacity, which means we can allow more users to operate without having busy signals,” said Woodall.
The state of Alaska also assisted the city of Valdez by deploying the National Guard's 128th Air Control Squadron from Volk Field Air National Guard Base, located near Camp Douglas in Wisc., which reestablished secure communications using the Joint Incident Site Communication Capability system. JISCC provides on-site and reach-back communications capabilities for enhanced command and control and shared situational awareness among first responders, along with state and federal command authorities and centers.
“Our mission here is to help this emergency operation center do its communications,” said Senior Master Sgt. Charles Rydmark, the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of the 128th ACS team.
Using the JISCC systems allows the 128th ACS to cross-patch radios, according to Rydmark, enabling communication between the local law enforcement and the military. This type of equipment carries and enhances communication networks where it may be limited or where there is none.
“We’ve got to that day and age where everything is digital. And we can bring that communication to anywhere in the world no matter what,” said Rydmark. “That’s our mission.”
Working together, these military and civilian capabilities will help local authorities establish vital communications links to enable successful response, recovery, and ongoing incident management operations.
Alaska Shield is a State of Alaska, U.S. Government, joint military, and local government disaster exercise designed to enhance cooperation and response to a large earthquake in the region. The exercise is designed on the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake that devastated south central Alaska including Valdez.
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