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The History of SEPAR

Part 2

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 

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