‘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

Talk to us

More in Local News

Clyde Shavers, left, and Greg Gilday.
Shavers wins by narrow margin as Dems flip seat in 10th District

Democrat Clyde Shavers won by 211 votes against incumbent state Rep. Greg Gilday. It’s close enough for a recount.

Arlington
Edmonds man hospitalized after shooting in Arlington

The man, 30, was found Monday night in the 500 block of N. Macleod Avenue after reports of an assault.

Snow lingered outside the office building of Receivables Performance Management on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood data breach exposed sensitive info for 3.7 million across US

Lawsuits allege lax security at a debt collection agency led to the attack. It wasn’t announced for over a year.

The Washington State Patrol was investigating a fatal crash involving multiple vehicles Thursday on Highway 530 near Oso. (Washington State Patrol)
Highway 530 reopens after fatal crash east of Arlington

There was no detour for several hours Thursday afternoon as detectives investigated the crash.

Teen killed in Everett crash, shooting identified

No arrests have been made in the Friday night killing of 17-year-old Gabriel Kartak, of Seattle.

The crab doughnut at Market in Edmonds is a strange delight, with a sweet and dense glazed doughnut topped with bright and briny dungeness crab salad, nutty browned butter and a shower of smoky bacon bits. (Taylor Goebel / The Herald)
This idyllic dining destination is right in Snohomish County

Edmonds boasts fresh seafood, Caribbean-inspired sandwiches, artisan breads, cocktails and more.

Marysville Jail (City of Marysville)
Man with hepatitis C accused of spitting on Marysville jail staff

Hepatitis C is usually spread through blood. The suspect, 28, faces allegations of exposing the officers to a contagious disease.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of Washington state.
Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7

Find information and resources to help make the best choice for you.

Sunlight illuminates a framed photograph of Mila and Wilfrido Sarmiento while their daughter Rowella Sarmiento cries reading her statement to the court during Caleb Wride’s sentencing on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
At sentencing, family mourns parents killed in fatal DUI crash

Caleb Wride, 23, of Everett, was sentenced Monday for the head-on crash that killed Mila and Wilfrido Sarmiento.

Most Read