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Friday, June 28, 2019

The History of SEPAR


Part 2 

https://separs.ampr.org/

The first installment in the history of SEPAR began in 1994 and covered the years through to 1997; this month will cover the period from 1997 to 2006.  The first article covered the setup of the SEPAR volunteer organization, the installation of amateur radios in the schools (receptions centers) and the management of the area teams.

In 1997, the first coordinator for SEPAR, Ken Boles, moved from SEPAR to take a position with the Provincial Emergency Program (PEP) and James Longley, VE7JMS, was appointed by the Surrey Emergency Planner to the position of SEPAR Coordinator.  James was very active with Surrey Fire as a volunteer fire fighter and was well suited to carry on the work which began in 1994.  James was an amateur radio operator, he had knowledge of the workings of Surrey Fire and he had been involved with PEP, so with this background James was well suited to take SEPAR to the next level.  As it turned out, the next level in the progress of SEPAR was not easily achieved.

In 1998 SEP decided to relocate the school radios from the gymnasium area to the administrative offices in a number of the schools.  This required removing and re-installing cables and radios into new secure enclosures located in the school offices, all of which was done by volunteers. The only school that did not have the radio station relocated was Queen Elizabeth Sr. Secondary in Whalley. This was due to an earlier removal before school construction. All schools were completed in 1996 or 1997, with Semiahmoo being completed on July 3, 1996. The school that later received a change was Whalley area’s Queen Elizabeth Sr. Secondary. The equipment was removed from this school and stored at Hall One storage lockup on September 1997 due to school construction work and the need to protect it from any damage. The plan for this equipment was a future installation at L.A. Matheson Secondary. This may have been in part because large turnover of Emergency Planners within the Surrey Emergency Program (SEP).

James had his work cut out for him but fortunately for him he had the support of Jim Hurrell, VE7HUR, who became James’s right hand man.  Jim was the SEPAR volunteer who, “got things done”. As Jim explains, “James would decide on the projects and I would make it happen”, and it worked well.

Despite the many volunteer hours put in by James and Jim, SEPAR did not expand or move forward during the years between 1997 and 2000.  Many proposals were made to the city, in which SEPAR would plan to improve existing installations, add new communications equipment and provide for improved training, however none were completed.  This may have been due, in part, because during that period of time there were six (yes six) different Emergency Planners.  The six planners, during James’s term as SEPAR Coordinator were, Jim Bale, Len Garis, Stefan Gherghinoiv, Jim MacDonald, Natalia Skapski and Tom Lewis.

From the beginning SEPAR had a seat at the quarterly ESS meetings.  These meetings, which are still going on, provided an opportunity for all players in SEP to exchange experiences and keep an accurate record of key people within the volunteer organizations. The current schedule for ESS meetings is bi-annual but the benefits of the meetings are still extremely valuable. The role of SEPAR within ESS has always been to provide communications between reception centers and the EOC.  In the early days the reception centers had their own radio installations but due to a change of policy within SEP the radio stations are now portable kits. 

In the years 1996, 1997 and 1999 SEPAR had a display booth at the Safety Fairs Fire Combat Challenge.  The booth consisted of static displays of SEPAR activities with an active demonstration of HF, VHF and UHF using SEPAR radios and antennas from the EOC package. This required a lot of time and hard work on the part of many SEPAR volunteers. It was considered good EOC setup practice, as a large earthquake may have required setup in tents under similar conditions. While some members operated the station, others gave out information on the role of amateur radio communications during an emergency.  It seems these Fairs ended around 1999.  It may be that Canada Day and CN Family day now provide the venue for displaying emergency preparedness within Surrey.  SEPAR has been a participant in both these events since 2007.

In addition to the Safety Fairs SEPAR put on demonstrations along with Surrey Fire and ESS in malls and the ice arena within Surrey.  They set up 2 or 3 radio stations as a display.
SEPAR made presentations to Delta and Langley emergency programs. During these presentations the Delta Emergency Planner Robin Gardiner complimented SEPAR on their work within Surrey.

Jocelyne Colbert, SEP Executive Assistant, was a key person in the Surrey Emergency Program.  Jocelyne kept track of many volunteer organizations including SEPAR.  To become a SEPAR member you had to register with the City, have an RCMP background check and it was desirable for you to hold a valid amateur radio licence.  The entire SEPAR roster had only one or two unlicensed members and was kept up to date by Jocelyne. 

One of Jocelyne’s tasks was to organize the annual Volunteer appreciation dinner in the fall of each year. At these dinners awards were handed out for long service, outstanding contributions and leadership roles. Over the years there were many SEPAR volunteers who received awards at these dinners.

During James’s term as SEPAR Coordinator he managed the SEPAR volunteers in an exercise named “Thunderbird”. This exercise covered the South West Region and Vancouver Island and was a two day event. Ken Boles, the previous SEPAR Coordinator, was then “Provincial Regional Amateur Radio Coordinator” and also had a role in this wide area exercise.  During this exercise the office we now know as the PREOC was the Provincial Field Response Center (PFRC) and located in an old building at the Green Timbers site.  

The Radio Room at hall number 1 came into being in 1998 and slowly added antennas, radios and operating positions.  However, as previously stated, it was difficult to complete plans for improvements so the room largely sat incomplete.

Things were moving forward with PEP and it was decided in 2005 to move the then PFRC to a new facility renaming it to the Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Center. It would still be located on the Green Timbers property.  At this point James was Coordinator for SEPAR, a volunteer firefighter and station manager for the new PREOC facility as well as his role with Surrey Search and Rescue.  Moving into the new PREOC facility, selecting equipment for the new radio station and getting it all up and running was, in itself, a full time job.  James decided to step down as SEPAR coordinator in order to spend as much time on the PREOC project as possible.  I was approached by James and Jim Hurrell and asked if I would take on the SEPAR Coordinator position and I accepted.  My name was then put forward to the Emergency Planner, Tom Lewis, and finding me acceptable appointed me to the position. This was the summer of 2006. 

Having accepted the position I needed to quickly get myself up to speed on the SEPAR operation.  I needed to make contact with the SEPAR volunteers, meet with the Emergency Planner and find out what Surrey expected of the radio amateur emergency volunteer communicator. 

Next installment I will continue on, with the construction of the grab and go kits, the radio room renovation, BCWARN and the many exercises and events that followed. And what happened to the radio that were removed from the schools?  You may be interested in knowing that we made very good use of them and they are still available for emergency communications.

~Fred VE7IO
Retired SEPAR Coordinator


SEPAR produced a promotional video in 2015. You can view it at https://youtu.be/6B-qFOTtqoQ 




Monday, June 24, 2019

Surrey Emergency Program Amateur Radio



The 'Other' Surrey Amateur Radio Communications Group

https://separs.ampr.org/

SEPAR has been serving the City of Surrey for the past 20 years and it all began in 1994, when the Provincial government legislated that every municipality must have an emergency plan.  In Surrey, that was the beginning of the Surrey Emergency Program.  At the request of the City, amateur radio was included in the plan, as it is today.  

Some radio amateurs, who had been part of the Provincial Emergency Program, assembled and formalized the relationship with the Surrey Emergency Program and the organization became known as the Surrey Emergency Program Amateur Radio, SEPAR.

Ken Boles, VE7FYB, who had been actively working with the Provincial Emergency Program, PEP, took on the role of the first SEPAR Coordinator.  His team was Doug Barry (VE7WLF), Ken Clarke (VE7EZV now VE7BC) and Mike (VE7IDD).

The Surrey Emergency Program (SEP) designated six reception centres, located in schools, and gave SEPAR the task of installing amateur radio equipment at these locations.  The reception centre schools were located around the city in the south, north, west and east.  The Surrey Emergency Program required SEPAR to provide communication from the schools to the EOC located at Fire Hall Number One, 132nd Street at 88th Avenue.

The schools selected for reception centres were: Pacific Academy (Fraser Heights), North Surrey Senior Secondary (Guildford), Queen Elizabeth Senior Secondary (Whalley), Tamanawis Senior Secondary (Newton), Lord Tweedsmuir Senior Secondary (Cloverdale) and, Semiahmoo Senior Secondary (White Rock)

Funding was obtained from the city, and equipment was purchased for an EOC and six reception centers.

Amateur radio station call-signs were secured for each reception center, and EOC.

  • EOC-VE7HME
  • Portable EOC-VE7MOV
  • Guildford Reception Center-VE7AEJ
  • Whalley   Reception Center-VE7ADV
  • Cloverdale Reception Center-VE7ADR
  • Newton Reception Center-VE7ADQ
  • South Surrey Reception Center-VE7ADF
  • Fraser Heights Reception Center-VE7ADH

It should be noted that when the radios were first installed at the schools (reception centres) portability of personal calls was not allowed.  If you were using your own call in any location other than the address that was on your license you had to sign “portable”.  Therefore, each of the reception centres, the mobile unit and the radio room at the EOC required an amateur radio call so they could operate legally. 

The calls which were obtained by the founding members are still very much in use today by SEPAR members.

Due to insurance requirements, professional installers, were hired by the city to install one equipment box, antenna and, coax cable at each school per SEPAR request. A technical committee of SEPAR members, created the design and layout for a power supply/radio to be attached to each box lid! This would allow for easy unlock and deployment! A key to each site’s storage box was made available.

The EOC radio equipment was packed in several large metal boxes, and stored at Fire Hall One for portability to other possible EOC sites.
Several large mail-outs and many phone hours were spent on membership drives. This was followed by large member meetings to organize SEPAR structure. The result of these many hours of volunteer time was a volunteer organization that numbered close to 100 SEPAR members.

To allow an effective callout structure, members were assigned to the reception center closest to their address. A Captain and at least one co-captain were assigned to each areas reception center. Each reception center’s radio and antenna were VHF/UHF with on board filters for eliminating interference from other equipment. 

A program involving a Surrey Fire Department pager network was setup and key people were provided with pagers. The pagers were Motorola spirit, GE and Shinwa. They were setup on the fire department frequency. The page system was run from Hall #1, thus allowing Surrey Emergency Program to contact amateur radio operators direct, if the phone system was down. Also, since the Fire Department frequency was easy to receive on VHF, all Surrey SEPAR members could turn on scanners and 2 meter rigs, and hear a callout for SEPAR. It was considered that if an issue big enough to take the phone system out occurred, most available hams would have mobile, handheld, or battery operated base stations and listen in for instructions. This worked well, however, there were some gotchas.  Batteries had to be kept charged, the pager had to be with the person at all times while in Surrey and the pager size of the day was rather large. The program was in effect for many years.

SEPAR held a weekly net on Tuesdays. The net control operator was Mike Brolich, VE7IDD, who had a very good station set up with excellent coverage on VHF.  The net ran on a simplex frequency of 146.550, the same as we use today for net control.  It was not uncommon to have more than 20 check-ins.  The purpose of the net was to improve and sharpen communications ability, and as a way to increase member participation.  

Testing of the EOC package occurred during flood watch callouts and Safety Fair setups. Each reception center setup, was put to the test during a system wide exercise. This exercise required Fraser Heights, Pacific Academy reception center to act as EOC and net control using 146.550 simplex. It was very successful as all stations could reach EOC and net control. 

In the next chapter, in our look back at SEPAR, we will look at how the reception centres functioned, why SEP wanted to change the locations of the reception centres and what replaced them. 

Our portable kits have been written up in QST, TCA  and have had a place in the respected ARRL Handbook.  Our kits have been used in a number of training exercises, past field day events and public demonstrations.  The kits are a complete station and, because of the foresight of the SEPAR team, are still on the leading edge of communications technology.

Over the years we have had many inquiries into the construction of the kits and now it looks like the YouTube video is popular as well, as it has surpassed 10,000 views.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=E-a0yC--k6Q



~Fred VE7IO
Former SEPAR Coordinator




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