Northern Florida ARES Teams Handle Hurricane Duty

Over the past week, Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®) teams in the ARRL Northern Florida Section went on alert and some activated to support emergency communication before and during Hurricane Michael.

Miller Norton, W4EMN, the Communications Watch Officer at the Duval County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Jacksonville, Florida, was monitoring SARnet — a UHF-linked repeater network in Florida — when he heard an urgent call for help that needed to be sent to the State EOC in Tallahassee. All other forms of communication were out, but Norton was able to relay the message to via Amateur Radio. He also passed along messages and requests from the Jackson County EOC to the American Red Cross. Norton said officials in Tallahassee and Jackson County were both “incredibly grateful” for the way the SARnet system functioned during the weather emergency.

Jackson County Emergency Coordinator Ricky Whittington, KD4AST, deployed to the county EOC in Marianna.

“We took a direct hit by the center of the storm at 140 MPH,” he told Clay County ARES Assistant Emergency Coordinator (AEC) and Public Information Officer Scott Roberts, KK4ECR. “[The] county maintenance building across the road from the EOC was picked up and slammed into the north side and over the roof of the EOC just prior to the eye passing over.”

The incident took out the HF antenna, which has since been restored. Whittington said the internet failed, as did cell service for a while. Hams have been passing material and resource orders to the State EOC via HF and SARnet.

Whittington reported “total devastation of Bay, Jackson, and Gulf counties,” with loss of electrical power and water service, in addition to damage in Franklin, Holmes, and Leon counties. “[The] only mode of communications after the eye came across was ham radio, until we got minimal cell service a few hours ago,” he reported on October 11.

ARES teams in other counties reported activations, although some teams remained in monitoring mode.

  • Escambia County ARES activated on October 9 at 2300 CDT to support two shelters — special needs and pet-friendly — until they closed on October 10 at 1700 CDT
  • Although the Alachua County EOC activated at Level I, the ARES volunteers never activated beyond Level 3. However, AEC Susan Halbert, KG4VWI, spent a day at the EOC coordinating with emergency managers in case they needed to open a shelter for local evacuees or for host county operation. No hams were needed for shelters, but one or two shelters opened for outside evacuees.
  • The Gilchrist County EOC activated at Level 2 and shelters opened. The local 2-meter repeater was excellent, and no power outages were reported. ARES primarily remained at Level 3 in monitoring mode. Daily nets were held for hurricane weather briefings and the Northern Florida Section Emergency Net on HF was able to provide up-to-date storm location information to the State EOC when it lost internet service.
  • Citrus County ARES was called to activate on Monday, October 9, at 5 PM CDT. At that time, emergency managers had opened four shelters, serving 38 clients (and 13 pets). Telephone and internet service remained operational throughout the weather event, although ARES volunteers staffed two shelters on a precautionary basis, as well as the EOC at activation. All shelters closed by 6 AM on Wednesday, October 11. Citrus County ARES volunteers covered two back-to-back 12-hour shifts at the EOC. ARES personnel stood down at 6 PM on Tuesday, October 10.
  • Duval County activated to Level 3 monitoring status along with the activation of the Duval County EOC. No shelters opened in Duval County, and there were no reports of serious damage.
  • Clay County also activated to Level 3 monitoring, when two tornadoes touched down in the county. No shelters were opened, and no official activations were requested.

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