Amateur Radio Volunteers Ready as Deadly Hurricane Laura Makes Landfall
Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES®) teams along the Gulf Coast were ready to assist as needed after Hurricane Laura made landfall as a powerful and deadly Category 4 storm along the Texas-Louisiana border with sustained winds of 150 MPH. The National Hurricane Center (NHC)-predicted “unsurvivable storm surge” was in the vicinity of 20 feet or greater, driving Gulf waters inland into waterways and lowlands. More than a half-million people in Louisiana and Texas were told to evacuate ahead of the storm, but not everyone did — or was able to leave. One death has been attributed to the storm. Widespread power outages were reported. By Thursday morning, the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) had ratcheted its alert level up to 5 — Catastrophic Response Mode — and remained in operation even after the hurricane hit.
“Once Laura has been downgraded to a Tropical Storm, we will focus on helping to gather any post-storm reports from the areas that had been hit,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said. “This includes the relaying of any emergency or priority traffic.”
At mid-week, ARRL South Texas Section Emergency Coordinator Jeffery Walter, KE5FGA, said, “We have begun nightly Zoom meetings with North Texas, South Texas, and ARRL Delta Division leadership. The areas directly in the path of the storm may call for mutual aid support.” He assured that volunteers would be vetted and provided with the necessary information and a plan put in place to define the deployment period.
At 1200 UTC on Thursday, the NHC was reporting damaging winds and flooding rainfall overspreading inland areas in western and central Louisiana. “Life-threatening storm surge continues along much of the Louisiana coastline,” the report added. The storm was still packing 100 MPH winds. Laura was moving toward the north and expected that motion to continue throughout the day. A northeastward to the east-northeastward motion was expected Thursday night and Friday. Laura was predicted to move across southwestern Louisiana Thursday morning, and then continue northward across the state through the afternoon, with the storm’s center forecast to move over Arkansas Thursday night, the mid-Mississippi Valley on Friday, and the mid-Atlantic states on Saturday.
Voice over Internet Protocol Weather Net (VoIP-WX) Manager Rob Macedo, KD1CY, was interviewed on The Weather Channel on Thursday morning.
In Louisiana, ARES teams were in standby status for local emergency managers or served agencies, such as the Red Cross, to request activation. Louisiana Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC) James Coleman, AI5B, said earlier this week that activations would happen on a parish-by-parish or on a regional basis as support is needed. The Louisiana ARES Emergency Net activated on Wednesday on 3.878 and 7.255 MHz. The Delta Division Emergency Net was on standby on Thursday. Ham Aid emergency communication kits from ARRL Headquarters have been pre-positioned in Louisiana for such situations since last year.
ARRL South Texas Section Manager — and incoming ARRL Director of Emergency Management — Paul Gilbert, KE5ZW, was among those participating in an August 26 ARRL Headquarters Emergency Response Team (HQERT) Zoom meeting that also included Section leadership in Louisiana and Mississippi. ARES members were advised to stay in touch with Section Emergency Coordinators as well as district and local emergency coordinators for any activation plans, but the consensus of those at the session was that volunteers would be needed. Gilbert stressed that ARES volunteers should not self-deploy.
“Most staff members, including the HQERT, are working from home and communicating with each other via email and MS Team,” ARRL Assistant Emergency Preparedness Manager Ken Bailey, K1FUG, said, adding that W1AW is ready if needed.