Members of Ste Genevieve County ARES in Missouri pulled together a variety of resources to pitch in when the Mississippi River threatened to crest at a record level in late December. Ste Genevieve County Emergency Coordinator Norm Gallup, KD0HHM, reached out to the county’s emergency manager to offer the ARES group’s assistance, and the ARES team was tasked with patrolling the north levee. Gallup was familiar with the system of levees and earthen dams that keep the river from overflowing its banks. With only a handful of radio amateurs at hand, AEC Jody Odem, NR9A, said the ARES team soon realized it would have to expand its pool of volunteers to non-amateurs who would be willing to patrol the levee. He suggested providing Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) VHF radios to support unlicensed levee walkers, to supplement ham radio and the Ste Genevieve County Amateur Radio Club repeater.
The ARES team set up shop at the Ste Genevieve Public Works Department, which overlooks the Mississippi. A county-provided, trailer-mounted crank-up tower was pulled into service to mount antennas. Gallup’s “Go Kit” was packed with a broad complement of radio gear. To obtain Internet service, Odem used a modified wireless router that could be used as a repeater to borrow a wireless signal from a local residential care facility.
As the patrols got under way, MURS radios were issued to all levee walkers, with one also going to the local police department to monitor the ARES team’s traffic. The command post also monitored local law enforcement as well as county fire and EMS repeaters.
While all this was going on, Odem’s wife Ana, N0ANA, took to Facebook, e-mail, text message, and telephone to secure additional volunteers. Fortuitously, a ham, Don Pritchard, W6ZPC, is the news director and an on-air personality for the local radio station, and he was able to put out the word via that medium.
“As the operation progressed, volunteers came out of the woodwork to walk the levee,” Jody Odem said. Throughout the operation a total of 37 volunteers walked 4-hour shifts on the levee, looking for “areas of concern,” which were called in and plotted on a map using Google Earth. Many volunteers returned to walk multiple shifts, Jody Odem said, and with temperatures dipping into the 20s at night, no one complained.
None of the areas of concern that levee walkers spotted turned out to be of great concern, as the Mississippi River reached its second-highest level at Chester, Illinois, since records have been kept. The ARES team officially stood down on January 4.
“A number of volunteers expressed interest in obtaining their Amateur Radio licenses and becoming active in ARES,” Jody Odem said. “This event turned out to be quite a public awareness opportunity for the ARES group and Amateur Radio as a whole. Hopefully we will increase the number of hams in the community and add members to the ARES group.”
The ARES team also obtained access to the public works building to use as a command post for future operations and to store equipment and hold meetings. A videographer for Ste Genevieve Community Access Television interviewed ARES members for “Flood Control Watch.”