HDSCS Hams Help Hospitals Handle Hector


We Don't Wait for Government Activation!

By Joe Moell KØOV

The Hector Mine earthquake (Activation #69) occurred at 2:47 AM on October 16, 1999 in a remote part of the Mojave Desert. Measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, it shook a wide area of southern California, Arizona, and Nevada. It seemed like a non-event to most ham operators in the Los Angeles area, because few were activated by authorities to provide emergency communications support. But to one hospital, the temblor brought on a crisis that was made less stressful because hams were prepared and acted quickly.

Following established procedures, the Hospital Disaster Support Communications System (HDSCS) activated. Because minutes count when hospitals need help, this ARES® group doesn't wait for calls from health care facilities or governmental agencies. Instead, HDSCS immediately checks on the hospitals, gathers status, and provides it to Orange County Emergency Medical Service Agency. If hospital phones or other communications links fail or are overloaded, ham responders discover it and are in position to provide immediate backup.

Net control was on the air within five minutes of the quake. Thirty-eight members quickly began to assess the condition of the county's 34 hospitals. In addition, one went to the radio room at the county Emergency Operations Center. (Because RACES usually does not activate immediately in these situations, HDSCS provides its own operator to the EOC, in accordance with established procedures.)

Members provided the first status reports within ten minutes. Status of all 34 medical centers was determined within 75 minutes. At Los Alamitos Hospital, the responding hams (Dennis Kidder WA6NIA and Phil Glumm KD6TJT) discovered that commercial power had failed. The hospital was using its generator, but that didn't power some important diagnostic equipment, such as X-Ray and CT-Scan. HDSCS members remained at the hospital for six hours to provide backup communications as the facility was forced to close its Emergency Department to incoming patients.

Hospital officials were unsuccessful in contacting Edison Company by telephone, so WA6NIA contacted Rosie Falcon N3IVO at the EOC for assistance. N3IVO relayed the request to county officials, who were able to make tie-line contact with Edison and initiate a high-priority response.

This event was reminiscent of the Landers and Big Bear earthquakes of 1994. During the immediate HDSCS response to that temblor, Gary Holoubek WB6GCT was first to arrive at Buena Park Hospital, where both commercial and generator power had failed, plunging the entire facility into darkness. The problem of overloaded Edison phone lines was overcome in that case when another ham spotted an Edison truck and gave the message to its driver, who called it in on his mobile radio.

"Portability, flexibility and speed are the keys to successful response to hospital emergencies," says April Moell WA6OPS, Coordinator of HDSCS. "If we had not checked on our supported hospitals within the first hour, we would not have been aware of problems and been able to help. In disaster and potential disaster situations, hospitals must be a first thought of hams, not just an afterthought."

Most HDSCS members have ready-to-go "Bug-Out Boxes" so they can "grab and go" when an emergency occurs. They carry enough gear to rapidly set up a complete station for internal and external hospital communications in any part of a hospital.

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This page updated 24 November 2008