Expect the unexpected.
That’s the one guarantee during an emergency situation: first responders often have to deal with a number of unanticipated situations and scenarios. So, it was appropriate that on Saturday when members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) had scheduled a simulated emergency training exercise, they had to deal with their share of obstacles.
“That’s how disasters go,” said Edward Misciewicz of Perryopolis, Fayette County’s ARES emergency coordinator. “They very rarely go as planned.”
The exercise, which in Fayette County’s case involved the emergency response to a tropical depression settling over north West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania, had unforeseen challenges right from the start, Misciewicz said.
Those challenges including everything from a change in venue to technical issues at the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh. Some of the obstacles were discovered just seven minutes before the training exercise was to begin.
“As you can see, it’s hectic, very hectic,” joked Misciewicz, who said in a disaster it just gets worse, not better.
In the first phase of the training exercise, amateur radio operators focused on reporting real time weather condition reports, followed by setting up mock shelters and generators, a staging area, and delivering of supplies to shelters, such as cots, blankets, pillows and personal hygiene products. In Perryopolis, Misciewicz said, the fire hall, community center and field house at Frazier High School would all be tapped for emergency shelters if needed.
As a former paramedic and fireman, none of this is new to Misciewicz.
“I’ve witnessed so many disasters. The power of weather never is surprising to me,” he added. “That’s why I chose this scenario for Fayette County.”
The purpose of the exercise is the stress interoperability between other amateur radio operators, agencies and other ARES groups across Pennsylvania. He encourages members of the community, especially younger men and women, to get involved, because they need citizens to continue on this important “hobby.”
Misciewicz is working on holding an event this month to demonstrate “go-kits” to scouting clubs either at the fire hall or police department. A “go-kit” is a compact and portable set of radios in a case to show young people a little bit of what is possible with a radio.
Misciewicz is the fourth emergency coordinator in Fayette County, and said he isn’t going anywhere. In fact, his wife Connie also shares in his passion as an amateur radio operator.
As the exercise was progressing, Misciewicz had to return a text on his flip-phone. Although he loves talking on the radio, he said he isn’t a fan of texting. Especially, because he pointed out, in the event of an emergency when power, WiFi and cell service becomes limited or even eliminated, cellphones won’t do much good.
“I love the radios, but I hate texting,” said Misciewicz.
Amateur radio operators like Misciewicz have battery backups connected to their systems, along with solar generators to ensure communication doesn’t come to a halt in the event of an emergency.