Pikes Peak Amateur Radio Emergency Service (PP ARES) volunteers provided communication support on May 2 for the 2015 Falcon 50 Ultra-Marathon. Competitors in the “military-heavy” 50-mile event carry 35-pound rucksacks while wearing boots and uniform, said Pikes Peak ARES PIO John Bloodgood, KD0SFY. He said 170 runners tested their mettle on the rugged terrain and high altitude of the marathon course at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
“Of those, 125 were either ultra-marathon or military-heavy marathon runners,” he said. “They were not alone. Supporting them was a volunteer team of Amateur Radio operators from the Pikes Peak District Amateur Radio Emergency Service. Twenty-two operators, one of whom was also a participant in the marathon, set up six stations around the course to track and report runner progress, coordinate supplies and transportation, and report any emergencies on the course.”
Bloodgood said this meant having everything up and running before the race start time of 6 AM and operating through the 8 PM finish line cut-off time. “Using radios in areas where cell phones often have spotty reception and the same techniques that make ham radio a huge asset in disasters, the ARES operators passed runner progress messages, tracking each bib number as it passed through an aid station,” he explained. The ARES volunteers used Fldigi in MT63 2000L mode, with Flmsg sending Incident Command System Form 213 messages over UHF FM radios. “This digital system is exactly the same as hams might use to support incident commands during disasters and emergencies,” Bloodgood said. “The team thoroughly tested and practiced this system under the guidance of Bill Hecker, KC0ET, in the weeks prior to the event.”
Messages were automatically compiled into the Bib Track software developed by Al Glock, KC0PRM, that was originally designed to track patients during a mass casualty event. “This software can even predict when a runner should arrive at the next aid station,” Bloodgood added. More than 1070 runner position reports were passed. The hams also used voice modes for general information, coordination, weather information, and control, and they used as APRS to track course sweepers and to provide an overall operating picture.
“As veterans of public service events will attest, these systems really become invaluable near the end of a race, as the directors try to find out who is left on the course and where those people might be,” Bloodgood said, “and the 2015 Falcon 50 was no exception.” Mission Coordinator Dan Martin, KD0SMP, said that when the race director was desperately trying to find one particular runner and faced the possibility of calling out search and rescue, the ARES team was able to show that the person had never started the race and had been listed incorrectly.
“It’s hard to describe the race director’s reaction,” Martin said. “When he saw the database evidence, you could see his relief. He knew he could get confirmation, and when it came, he literally jumped for joy.”
“I could not be more proud to be able to say, ‘No sweat, that’s what we do.’”
Bloodgood said the Falcon 50 gives Pikes Peak ARES members a valuable opportunity to hone their skills in preparation for for emergencies and disasters. This marked the event’s fourth year, and Pikes Peak ARES has supported it every year from the start. — Thanks to Pikes Peak ARES PIO John Bloodgood, KD0SFY