‘Ham’ radio operators were called on to put skills to use

BRIER — It was Sunday, March 23 — the day after the Oso mudslide.

Volunteers from the Emergency Services Coordinating Agency in Brier got the call.

They were needed at the disaster, about 50 miles away.

Some of the volunteers are trained to operate amateur or “ham” radio. Some do basic emergency response. Some do both.

Those are the skills the volunteers brought to the slide, where they helped comfort people in shelters, catalog and organize recovered property, and keep things organized for the command staff.

There was little phone service in Darrington at first.

“They really needed the ham radios out there,” said Dan Good, who recently left the agency to take a job with the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management.

The team set up in Arlington, Darrington and Everett, to create a backup communication network.

Some of the group’s volunteers were assigned to the Arlington emergency shelter, to keep out those who showed up for the wrong reasons.

The team worked closely with the American Red Cross. Many of them volunteer with both organizations.

“We were out in the weather,” said volunteer Sally Page. “We operated from our cars or in some cases, handhelds (radios).”

They also helped people who came to donate. Neighbors brought the contents of emptied closets and freshly cooked meals. Small children lugged plastic bags of donations.

They escorted displaced families into the emergency shelters.

The ham radio operators worked in shifts. They arrived early and stayed late. They’d leave home at 3 a.m. to get to Darrington.

The volunteers helped stack donations and connect people with Federal Emergency Management Agency and other resources.

They wore bright yellow vests.

“We look fairly official. Some of the people just needed to talk,” said volunteer Tom Hawkins, 69, of Edmonds.

People searching in the debris field would come back, covered in mud, and Hawkins knew that everyone was working together toward a common goal, he said.

“Just how many people just came up and said, ‘Thank you for being here,’” he said. “That’s what made it worthwhile.”

They used the radios to relay information, like what supplies were needed and how many people were in each shelter at a given time.

The radio signals bounced off the mountains surrounding Darrington. So they’d look for sweet spots, where the signals were clear, said volunteer Leo Notenboom, 56, of Woodinville.

At one point, weeks after the slide, the team met with others who had responded to the disaster, to talk and to share their experiences.

“It was like unloading gunny sacks,” said volunteer Bill Westlake, 71, of Edmonds.

The group went around the room, letting each person talk.

Everyone had done something different — something that mattered — for someone else.

Good remembers helping a man who had lost his adult son in the slide.

“This man had the clothes on his back, lost his son, looked very, very beaten,” Good said. “There was no other place I’d rather be in the world than here helping him and other people like that.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

The Emergency Services Coordinating Agency, based in Brier, has dozens of volunteers, including ham radio operators, who provide services for charity events, such as bike rides and fundraiser walks, in addition to emergency-preparedness work and disaster response.

The group serves 10 cities in south Snohomish County and north King County. Ham radio classes and licensing tests are available.

More info: esca1.com, 425-776-3722

More in Local News

Within an hour, 2 planes crash-land at Paine Field

One simply landed hard and went off the end of a runway. Another crash involved unextended landing gear.

Mill Creek’s Donna Michelson ready to retire at year’s end

The city’s longest-serving council member says she has every intention of staying involved.

Leanne Smiciklas, the friendly lady who served customers of her husband’s Old School Barbeque from a schoolbus parked in front of the Reptile Zoo east of Monroe, has died at 64. (Dan Bates / Herald file)
Without her, beloved BBQ hotspot in Monroe can’t go on

Leanne Smiciklas, who ran the now-closed Old School BBQ along Highway 2 with her husband, died.

Foundation awards grants to Arlington schools

The Arlington Education Foundation on Nov. 13 presented a check to the… Continue reading

Snohomish County firefighters head to California for 18 days

They’re from Fire District 26 in Gold Bar, Getchell Fire and Fire District 7.

State commission reprimands Snohomish County judge for DUI

Judge Marybeth Dingledy had pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a day in jail.

Driver arrested after car strikes pedestrian in Everett

The pedestrian was crossing the road near 12th Street and Broadway. He was injured.

Active Casino Road volunteer honored for work

Molina Healthcare recently honored Jorge Galindo, from Everett, as one of its… Continue reading

Over $12K raised to InspireHER

InspireHER, a local organization that encourages female empowerment, raised over $12,000 at… Continue reading

Most Read