With Hurricane Sandy raging last week along the East Coast, families in California were reminded to always be prepared for an emergency. While the beach cities won’t likely see a hurricane, an earthquake or a tsunami are potential threats.
When the “big one” comes, it is expected that Southern California cities will be without power for several days, and emergency help may only be available via helicopter, according to reports Mayor Jeff Duclos and Mayor Pro Tem Kit Bobko shared in September after attending California emergency preparedness meetings.
Luckily, one room on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Pier Avenue stands tall and ready to serve the community.
The Hermosa Beach Emergency Operations Center, housed in the Community Center, is ready to lead with reinforced concrete walls and generators. It is home to the city’s Amateur Radio Association, which occupies the northeast corner of the EOC, alongside police and fire communication centers, while the center of the room serves for training police, fire and emergency volunteer workers.
The Amateur Radio Association updated the room several years ago from a decrepit space that was falling apart with remnants of the old school that sat on the site to the freshly painted and carpeted room filled with modern-day technology that it is now.
There are 122 amateur radio licenses issued in Hermosa Beach, and several of those are members of the amateur radio association. The group oversees the EOC room, and has a permanent rent-free space. The licenses permit users to communicate via short-wave radio with other amateur radio operators. Members of the association said that on a regular day, amateur radio is a lot of fun, opening doors to different parts of the world.
“It’s a really great geeking out hobby,” said Phil Kumpis, HBARA member and Boy Scout troop leader. “We really get into it and it can be addictive. I can turn on my radio and talk to someone in South Africa one minute, then maybe lose the signal and talk to someone in New Zealand. You get to learn about geography and meet people all over the world,”
The club members check in with one another on a weekly basis to ensure their equipment is up and running and they keep connected. Amateur radio taps into longer waves than AM or FM stations, so users never know where they’ll be connected to. And sometimes in mid-conversation a wave may bounce off a satellite and land in a different country, meaning a conversation can fade in and out. Amateur radio users can use voice or Morse code to communicate.
It’s not as predictable as dialing a phone number, but in case of an emergency when cell signals may be down and homes may be without power, they may be the only ones who could communicate information from Hermosa Beach to other parts of the country, letting people know what Hermosans need, reassuring family members.
“We might gather messages for family members that we could send out via Morse code, and then whoever receives the signal could pass along that message,” said Ken Hartley of HBARA.
Kumpis said that the amateur radio association stays in close contact with the police and fire departments to discuss city emergency preparedness.
In addition to standing ready for emergency service, members of the Amateur Radio Association can be seen educating members of the community on any given weekend.
Last weekend, the Hermosa Beach Disaster Service Workers hosted a free Red Cross Shelter training at the Emergency Operations Center.
Recently, Hermosa Beach Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts got to peek at the amateur radio operations while they participated in the annual Jamboree-On-The-Air. Boy Scouts from around the country spend the weekend learning about short-wave radio, studying electrical systems and Morse code, and reach out to one another over amateur radio waves.
The scouts were able to speak to another troop in Utah, which one Cub Scout said he could place because of a recent geography lesson.
“It’s where you can stand in one place and be in four states at the same time. I think I am going there next summer, it’s really cool,” he said.
At first the boys were shy to talk, but with a little prompting from Kumpis, they swapped names and ranks.
It was the first time many of them were exposed to amateur radio, but troop leader Steve Staso said as they grow older, they may remember the experience and want to participate in a regional camping Jamboree. Or they may want to get an amateur license themselves and help Hermosa emergency disaster workers.
One older scout at the Jamboree and his mother hold amateur radio licenses and could help in an emergency, which is really what Staso said the scouts are all about.
“The boy scouts really stand for service to the community,” Staso said.
For more information about the Hermosa Beach Amateur Radio Association, visit http://www.hbara.org/. For more information about the annual scouts amateur radio day, visit http://www.scouting.org/jota/operators_guides.aspx.