September 29, 2004 Presentation to San Diego County Counsel

by Dr. Don Compton, KG6NDX and Dr. Howard White KY6LA



Madame Chairwoman and Honorable supervisors,

I thank you for the honor of speaking here on behalf of the amateur radio operators about our participation in the fires and what we have done since then to improve our response.

My name is Doctor Don Compton and I reside in the County at 1764 Hidden Mesa Road, El Cajon.

I am the Assistant Section Manager for the American Radio Relay League for San Diego/Imperial Counties and liaison to VOAD, the Voluntary Organizations Active In Disaster.

Today I am accompanied by Doctor Howard White, an engineer and secretary of Coronado Emergency Radio Operators Inc, which represents the Metro District Of The Amateur Radio Emergency Service.

During the recent fires, you are all probably aware that the first communications to fail were cell phones, followed almost immediately by land phone lines and power lines.  But you may not be aware of the fact that smoke particulates from the fires also blocked the County 800 Mhz Radio communications systems used by emergency services such as fire, police and California Department of Forestry.   As a result of this communications emergency, more than 180 volunteer amateur radio operators sprang into action to provide communications for the Office of Emergency Services (?) , Red Cross, Salvation Army and as shadow operators with Battalion Fire Chiefs.  For several days, we provided the only reliable communications to outlying shelters and remote fire fighting units.

The fires provided a severe test of our amateur radio emergency systems.   Several of our radio repeater systems were destroyed by fire, others which had backup power systems designed to operate for 48 hours ran out of fuel and could not be refueled because of the fires, our solar powered units were blocked by smoke, by the end of the fires we were ultimately down to a single operational repeater but we still maintained reliable communications throughout the County.

Calling these operators, amateurs is somewhat of a misnomer as the dedicated men and women have long left a history of their skills in disasters.    We train for disasters through weekly radio nets and monthly training programs.   We practice our skills at special events such as “I Love A Clean San Diego,” Miramar Air Show, Special Olympics, Marathons the "100 Mile Desert to Ocean" trail run, as well as local and state emergency drills.

Since the fires we have increase our training programs to coordinate more closely with groups such as CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams), Red Flag Patrol from the California Department of Forestry, Harbor Police, California Amateur Radio Emergency Service with public health, Red Cross, Salvation Army, EMS teams with hospitals. 

You have to understand that we are an entirely volunteer organization and are virtually self funded.  We are trying to raise funds to equip more portable deployable systems with radios, generators, batteries and antennas.  We are looking to raise funds to deploy an Email over Amateur Radio system, called Winlink, which will provide “Last Mile” email connectivity when the Internet fails due to fire or earthquake.    Recent experiences in Florida and the Carribean have shown Winlink to be invaluable.  Our neighbors to the North in Riverside County, under the auspices and funding of the County Fire Department have already installed a county wide Winlink System.    We would hope that the County might consider Winlink for San Diego.

Going forward we have two concerns. 

First, despite both Federal and State Legislation restricting the ability of local government to regulate amateur antennas, local regulators seem to go inordinately out of their way to obstruct the installation of amateur radio towers.  

Second, local power companies, (such as SDG&E) are considering a technically unsound technology called “Broadband over Power Line” (BPL) which generates noise and radio interference that will seriously hamper our ability to provide emergency communications in disasters. 

In summary, we, the Amateur Radio Operators of San Diego County, are here to provide you with communications when all else fails.

Thank you