This month, Oregon ARES® members will complete the state-wide installation of Winlink, thanks to a $250,000 grant from Governor Ted Kulongoski. In 2007, the governor was impressed by the hams' ability to handle emergency communications when severe winter storms wreaked havoc on Oregon's North Coast and flooded the City of Vernonia, knocking out 911 services, Internet and phone service for an extended period of time.
The Oregon Office of Emergency Management said that during the storms, the radio operators were "tireless in their efforts to keep the systems connected." When even state police had difficulty reaching some of their own troops, ham radio worked, setting up networks so emergency officials could communicate and relaying lists of supplies needed in stricken areas.
"I'm going to tell you who the heroes were from the very beginning of this...the ham radio operators," the governor said at the time. "These people just came in and actually provided a tremendous communication link to us." Because of the service rendered by Amateur Radio operators in providing communications support, the governor allocated funds for the installation of a Winlink system to integrate Amateur Radio with the Internet.
The equipment will be installed in the Emergency Operating Center in each of Oregon's 36 counties. Once the monies were distributed, ARES® members researched and purchased the equipment that would be needed, formalized and signed contracts between the state, counties and ARES®, and allocated space to install the antennas and equipment within each EOC. The project is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2009 ARRL Simulated Emergency Test (SET) scheduled for October 3-4.
"Using Winlink equipment and other amateur equipment already in place at the EOCs, ARES® teams will have to quickly create a communications network, in some instances without depending on other infrastructure such as telephones or Internet," said ARRL Oregon Section Public Information Coordinator Steve Sanders, KE7JSS. "Many will not use commercial electric power. Despite these limitations, the ARES® teams should not only be able to quickly pass local messages, but also communicate with other regions of the country. The ability to pass information in and out of disaster areas is crucial to the effectiveness of emergency responders."
When Oregon's State Office of Emergency Management was activated on December 3, 2007, hams over the course of the next four days used Winlink to pass message traffic. "The Winlink system performed perfectly, and the ARES® team at the OEM was able to pass approximately 200 messages into and out of the State of Oregon Emergency Operations Center," said Marion County ARES Emergency Coordinator Dean Davis, N7XG. "The only mode of communications for several Oregon counties for the first two days of the storm was the Winlink system."