Draper ham radio operators answer the call
The message came in loud and clear: during an emergency, cell phones might fail and people could find themselves without a way to call emergency responders and city public works crews for help.
So city officials and local volunteers are planning for the worst-case scenario during an emergency by working out a backup communications system, with help from the members of the Draper Ham Radio Association.
“One of the biggest [emergency preparation] issues we have here in Draper is communication,” Draper resident Col. Gary Vaughn said. “Cell phones don’t work very well up here because of the hills. [Ham radio] is a very reliable technology, in case everything else goes down.”
Vaughn, a long-term resident of Suncrest and retired member of the U.S. Marine Corp, is the current chairman of the Draper Ham Radio Association. The all-volunteer group is made up of licensed operators that are working with the Draper Police Department and city officials to organized a “public safety net,” or communication network for use in the event of a public emergency.
The radio operators can be called for help to relay messages during search and rescue operations, and are developing a network for use in emergencies.
Most of the members are also working with city leaders on official emergency preparedness operations. The group is part of a plan put in place by city officials last year to organize resident volunteers to communicate the needs of neighborhoods to police, fire, public works and other emergency first-responders.
The Draper City District Representative Program establishes a network of volunteers to represent their neighbors and work with city officials operating from an Emergency Operations Center based in Draper City Hall.
There are about 45,000 people living in about 16,000 residences in Draper. For the purposes of the program, the city is divided into nine districts with a representative responsible for the area.
Each district is further divided into smaller areas and individual blocks, each with a volunteer responsible to organize and communicate information about the status of the neighborhood and residents’ needs during an emergency.
Volunteers for the program were recruited from community, church and civic groups – such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Juan Diego Catholic High School - that already had an established emergency preparedness plan.
The ham radio system will be used by the city during a crisis as a back-up communication system using multiple dedicated frequencies, with repeaters placed around the city, so that district representatives and other emergency responders can report and receive information when other means are unavailable.
Vaughn said the Draper Ham Radio Association has a goal to see that a repeater, or tower that amplifies radio frequencies, be purchased and installed to aid in communications efforts near the Point of the Mountain.
The emergency communications program was tested during the flooding and mudslides in Draper, the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill last spring, and also used to help find a missing woman in January.
Vaughn said residents can get involved in emergency preparedness plans by getting CERT training, volunteering to help in their city district area, or by joining the radio association.