Red Cross tests communication capabilities with state, federal agencies

Written by John White, who has been volunteering with the Red Cross for nearly a decadeimage

On April 22, fellow volunteer Ken Boyd and I took the Greater Carolinas Chapter’s Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV) to the North Carolina Domestic Preparedness Region 6 Communication Exercise in Moore County. Organized by the North Carolina Office of Emergency Management, this exercise is intended to validate radio frequencies, equipment and procedures used to communicate between different counties and response agencies within Region 6 (which includes the counties of Anson, Harnett, Johnston, Moore, Randolph, Richmond, Chatham, Hoke, Lee, Montgomery, Scotland and Wake).

The ECRV is what the Red Cross uses as a communications hub during times of disaster. Equipped with loads of technology, the ECRV can generate power, connect to the Internet, host multiple phone lines and can acquire satellite signals – among other things. It’s important for the ECRV to be tested as it was during this exercise to ensure we can communicate with other state and federal agencies should a disaster occur.

In the past (pre-Sept. 11, 2001), interagency radio communication was a significant problem. Since that time, there have been large expenditures for up-to-date communication equipment, which allows much more flexibility but still requires coordination between the many different county, state and federal agencies on how to use the new technologies. The phrase overhead was: “put our mouth where our money is.”

Attending the exercise were mobile communication units from:

  • N.C. Highway Patrol

  • N.C. State Bureau of Investigations

  • N.C. Emergency Management

  • N.C. Forest Service

  • N.C. Department of Transportation

  • N.C. Emergency Medical Services

  • N.C. National Guard

  • Civil Air Patrol

  • Wake Med

  • U.S. Homeland Security

  • Charlotte Fire Department

  • the Greater Carolinas Chapter’s ECRV

  • Amatuer Radio Emergency Service (ARES)

    Most of the agencies gave presentations about their capabilities, operations and needs. The Red Cross got to brag about our fleet of donated ECRVs and our volunteer crews who man them. Of special interest was the N.C. Highway Patrol presentation of the relatively new VIPER (Voice Interoperability Plan for Emergency Responders) system. It’s an 800 MHz radio system with repeat towers throughout North Carolina and can quickly link different county and agency radio systems when needed.

    The afternoon exercise included each country trying to contact other participating counties, scoring either a “copy direct” or “no copy.” The after-action review then summarized the day’s activity. As these exercises continue, more “copy directs” can be accomplished.

    To this “radio geek,” the amount of mobile communication equipment and capabilities represented was amazing and impressive. We are much more capable now than we were even just five years ago. I also couldn’t help but notice that only the ARES ham radio operators and our ECRV were the only units there representing zero taxpayer dollars. That good Red Cross volunteer feeling was also there.

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