Imagine Hurricane Hanna, a strong category-5 storm is just off the coast of Cape Cod and ready to make a direct hit on most of Massachusetts. With winds in excess of 110 mph, the storm has already caused major destruction on land: power outages, downed trees, structural damage and fires burning from Bedford to Gloucester. Streets are flooded with rainfall over two inches an hour, and people are in desperate need of rescue. Public safety officials around the Commonwealth are receiving more calls for help than they can handle.
This was the drill scenario played out at , as well as in other communities Sunday night to prepare volunteers and government organizations in case such a disaster becomes reality.
The drill was conducted by the National Weather Service in Taunton and amateur radio operators from volunteer emergency service groups such as SKYWARN, RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service) and ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service). These groups provide critical information to municipalities about storm damage, fires, power outages and citizens in need of rescue. Volunteers work out of an emergency operations center such as the Clay Center at the Dexter-Southfield School--a centralized "control point"--while others monitor fire and police scanners or HAM radios from their homes, intercept and pass on information to these emergency operations centers.
More courageous volunteers may actually venture into the storm. Their duties may include patrolling areas with mobile radios to report incidents, or assisting with evacuations, rescue efforts and transport to hospitals.
To become a member of this network, operators must first study and pass an exam to operate HAM radios. They also become a student of weather, fire and police operations, and search and rescue teams, as well as develop a keen sense for detecting hazardous situations. All this while working at the scene of the disaster. Volunteers must also be prepared to work for up to 72 hours continuously, and maintain auxiliary power to the Operations Center in case of a failure.
The Town of Brookline is fortunate to have an active group of trained volunteers, such as the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Under the direction of Brookline Police Officers Mike Raskin and Caset Hatchett, CERT members undergo an intensive eight-week course to learn skills such as sheltering in place, evacuations, CPR and First Aid, search and rescue and fire safety techniques.
The Town also operates the Medical Reserve Corps under the direction of Dawn Sibor of the . Members of the MRC are trained to respond to health related hazards and pandemics. Many members of each team are licensed HAM radio operators and can step in as a liason utilizing their communications equipment and skills to save as many lives as possible.
The National Hurricane Center recently updated its forcast for the remainder of this year's hurricane season--which runs through Nov. 30. The NHC has also significantly upgraded the predicted number of named storms which may form in the Atlantic. With this change, the potential for Massachusetts to be hit by a hurricane also increases.