What happens during a disaster?

Earthquakes, fires, landslides, all make trees fall into powerlines. This takes out the power, the landlines and wired internet (Comcast, ATT). Once the power is gone, within 24 hours the cell phone towers and Comcast will fail. As long as you have a generator, wireless communication will still work. This includes satellite and microwave based internet, as well as radio. Given our mountain setting, few of us have wired internet, so it turns out the internet is almost as useful as radio is. And if your internet works, then you cell phone will work as long as it's in Wifi range. 

There are multiple types of radios available for communication:

  • FRS (Family Radio Service):  Cheap walkie-talkies, of little or no value in our type of terrain.
  • ​MURS (Mulit-Use Radio Service):  Good for short distances.
  • GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service):  Longer range and works well in our terrain.
  • ​HAM (no specific acronym):  Very long distance radio; requires a test and a license to operate

For our purposes, GMRS  radios work well because of the low cost and the lack of need for a Ham license. SSEPO has installed a GMRS repeater, which allows GMRS to actually work across much of the South Skyline Area, and down to La Honda and Middleton Tract. SSEPO has also provided grants to allow many of the neighborhoods to purchase GMRS radios for those who want to participate in radio communications. At the same time, Ham radio is very useful for longer range communication, especially given our large and often challenging terrain.

When there is a large scale event, the fire department will activate a Department Operation Center (DOC) at the fire stations for communications.  The DOCs are staffed with ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) HAM operators and CERTs. Communications from the neighborhoods requesting assistance will come to the DOC via GMRS radio or HAM radio.  The ARES operator will then relay this information to the Emergency Operation Center (EOC).  This will allow GMRS and HAM traffic to be brought to emergency services outside of calling 911.  

In practice during an emergency:

  • Watch Duty notifications about wild fire
  • Official communications via County Alerts (SMC Alert, etc), 911 and law enforcement driving door to door
  • Neighborhood communications on local mailing list, text, WhatsApp, phones and GMRS radios
  • Ham Radio and Satellite/microwave internet bridge gap between neighborhoods and outside world leveraging work of ARES at Fire Department DOC's. 

Get Prepared Now

  1. Work on your Neighborhood Directory and plan your Neighborhood Communications
  2. Sign up for Watch Duty
  3. Sign up for County Alert Messages
  4. Sign up for mailing lists.
  5. Get a radio and program it  with the appropriate frequencies: GMRS/MURS for neighborhood use only, or the complete emergency communications plan including HAM/GMRS/MURS
  6. Print out the emergency numbers and communications plans.

Staying Informed During a Disaster

  1. Monitor Watch Duty and County Alert Messages
  2. Monitor Mailing Lists and Neighborhood Communications
  3. Turn on your radio
  4. Fires are especially confusing, and multiple websites need to be watched: Getting Fire Information

Get Help During a Disaster

  1. Always try 911 first
  2. Contact your neighbors by email, text, phone. 
  3. Use GMRS radio to talk to neighbors
  4. Use Ham Radio to contact Fire Department DOC

Stay Informed and Communicate