It is 2007 and SEPAR is about to take a new direction, we had a new Emergency Planner and the requirements of the City Of Surrey changed. In this installment we will look at the new direction for emergency communications and the changes needed for SEPAR to meet these new requirements. We had a lot of work to do.
Having just been appointed to the position of SEPAR Coordinator I needed to find out what the city expected of our amateur radio volunteers and how we would meet their needs.
To begin with, I reviewed that past organizational structure, looked at what we had in place with regards to radios and how many volunteers we had to work with.
Understanding these assets would allow me to meet with the new planner and Fire Chief and be able to work towards the City’s emergency communications needs.
The organizational structure, as outlined in previous articles, consisted of single VHF radios and antennas installed in schools, which were designated as reception centers. These were fixed installations and some were in need of repair, mostly antenna work.
There was a radio room at fire hall number one, the Surrey EOC. The radio room was mainly for storage of portable gear, however, there were antennas on the roof which I thought could be used, this was incorrect. The question, should we rebuild the schools sites, upgrade the radio room or start new, what did the City need?
In the first meeting with Dan Barnscher, the Emergency Planner, and Len Garis, the Fire Chief, I quickly discovered that the new direction for amateur radio emergency communications would require radio portability for reception centers. In order to meet these needs the fixed school installations needed to be decommissioned and new portable kits had to be put together in order to meet the City’s plan to use recreation centers as reception centers. Len Garis wanted flexibility, in setting up reception centers and on site communications. There would be more changes to SEPAR but in the spring of 2007 we needed to get to work on portable communications kits.
In order to get the ball rolling we needed a plan and financing, both being rather tall orders considering we had exactly zero in both categories. How much would we need, who would lead the design and development of the portable kits, how much radio capacity should the kits have... all these were immediate questions.
Well, without financing we could not move forward so I approached Surrey Fire and the City for funding. How much would we need? I will get into the numbers later in this article but for now I will just say that both Surrey Fire and the City gave us the green light to go ahead with the design and construction of three grab and go kits.
OK, we had the money, now we needed a kit design. The Coquitlam amateur radio emergency group had built several portable kits so I arranged for Ian Procyk to come to a meeting with Dan Barnscher and the SEPAR volunteers to demonstrate the Coquitlam kits. It was a big success with the City immediately wanting the same communications ability. We had the money, now we had a basic design goal, now we needed the human resources to get started.
The time frame was around January 2007 and we needed a team leader to lead the due diligence on developing the communications kit. Bill Gipps, VE7XS, stepped up and he called meetings of the SEPAR volunteers through, February and March to tap into the experience of our radio amateurs.
The first steps were to build a consensus of what the objectives would be. A subgroup was formed with some of the volunteers and many emails back and forth kept everyone on the same page. In addition to the emails coffee meetings were held at MacDonald’s and at John Brodie’s VA7XB on Sunday mornings, all this before kit construction began. There were literally dozens of meetings focused on building a consensus of what we were trying to achieve.
There were presentations made at the SEPAR general meetings and to the Surrey Fire management. Ideas were put forth, discussed and explored. Surrey Fire had a keen interest in the development of the grab and go kits as they were expensive and had to meet their requirements. We worked mostly with subgroups, vetting designs to come up with design considerations. Some of the considerations were, how many hours of run time, protection of radios that were not connected to an antenna and how could we separate the workstations for practical operation. Many hours went into these discussions with white boards being used to compile the information. At round table meetings we discussed options, solutions to problems others had experienced and at the end of the design process we were very happy with the outcome and ultimately the kits themselves.
In the next article we will get into the actual construction and commissioning of the three portable kits. We will look at the response from other emergency groups, PEP, ARRL and RAC to the design and operation of the SEPAR communications kits.