Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®) volunteers in DeSoto County, Mississippi, devoted several days in January to assisting local emergency managers in responding to tornado damage in the region. Desoto County Emergency Coordinator Ricky Chambers, KF5WVJ; Assistant EC Gene Adams, KF5KVL; Tate County EC Brad Kerley, KG5TTU, and Andy Luscomb, AG5FG, reported at 3 AM on January 11 to the DeSoto County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to open a SKYWARN weather watch. After a tornado warning was issued for DeSoto County, Chambers activated an emergency net on a local repeater. Ten minutes into the net, however, the repeater went down, and the net switched to simplex. The net subsequently moved to another operational repeater.
Initial reports of downed trees blocking roadways and an eyewitness report of a possible tornado southwest of Hernando came in just after 5 AM. The ARES team at the EOC began taking damage reports, answering the telephone, and monitoring and taking calls from public safety dispatchers. When the deputy EMA director requested traffic control in Lewisburg, three of the ARES volunteers accompanied EMA director Chris Olson to Lewisburg. Chambers and Kerley assumed traffic control, and Olson asked that Chambers put out a call for ARES/RACES volunteers and EMA reservists to report to the EOC. The ham radio volunteers also handled welfare checks.
A dozen ARES/RACES and EMA reservists returned the next day to conduct door-to-door damage assessment. For the next 10 days, Chambers reported, the DeSoto County volunteers assisted in handling telephone traffic in the EOC, freeing up first responders to do their primary jobs.
“I attribute our effective response to the training we have conducted on a monthly basis,” Chambers said, noting that training included recommended ARRL courses. “We were able to see how the Incident Command System worked on a first-hand basis as the incident unfolded, based on the ICS training courses we have taken. My group went from 0 to 110 MPH in seconds, never missing a beat [and] everyone performed on a professional level.” — Thanks to DeSoto County and EMA Reservist Coordinator EC Ricky Chambers, KF5WVJ
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