A New Way to ARES®
Dan Fisher, AI4GK
Like many locales, Brevard County, Florida is working to redefine its commitment to emergency operations, communications, and aerospace. Brevard, also known as Florida’s Space Coast, is home to the United States Space Force, and rockets are being launched on a near-weekly basis-sometimes daily. Brevard also is home to many high-tech firms, large and small. Embraer assembles business-class jets at Melbourne International Airport. Another startup plans to manufacture supersonic business-class aircraft. Two companies perform maintenance on jetliners, and two others maintain smaller, business jets. Brevard also is home to Port Canaveral, ranked as the world’s second busiest cruise port in multi-day embarkations.
Brevard has no fewer than eleven amateur radio clubs, for a population of approximately 600,000. Its geography is unique, in that it is 72 miles north to south, and about 20 miles wide. This makes coordination among all these clubs difficult, at best.
For years, Brevard’s ARES® was supported by these clubs, to one extent or another. Because of the number of clubs in the county and the difficulty with interacting with all of them, EOC manager Bob Lay asked the clubs to establish a single point of contact with the amateur radio community. Brevard Emergency Amateur Radio Services (BEARS) was incorporated in 1996.
BEARS was not an amateur radio club, but rather a consortium of clubs that would work together. Its membership consisted of a representative from each participating club. BEARS had a dedicated team of volunteers, who were able to obtain a fully self-contained motorhome. Through the assistance of a manufacturer of command center vehicles and with the dedicated work of several volunteer hams, most of them engineers in space-related industries, the motorhome was transformed into a state-of-the-art communications facility, dubbed BEARS-1. Because BEARS existed to serve the county’s emergency management and public safety functions, BEARS-1, in addition to HF, VHF, and UHF amateur radio and Citizen’s Band equipment, had 800 MHz trunked transceivers that could communicate not only with the EOC, but also with any public safety agency in the county.
Fast forward a couple decades. As is commonplace, amateur radio clubs’ organizational priorities change. Public safety agencies’ management changes. In the absence of significant emergency events, amateur radio starts to take a back seat to other priorities. BEARS seemed to have a decreasing relevance in county emergency response.
Enter Amateur Radio Emergency Service of Brevard, Inc. In late 2020, the space program was ramping up, again. It wasn’t just NASA and the Air Force-turned Space Force launching. Private companies were sending vehicles (literally, with Elon Musk’s Tesla cruising the cosmos) into space. Humans were being vaulted into orbit by one of these companies. Brevard is the random target for hurricanes, tornadoes, and other severe weather. With its extremely high-tech environment and a nuclear power plant slightly over an hour’s drive away, the county is a potential target for nefarious activity. It was clear that something needed to be done to bypass having to deal with the myriad of area clubs.
Training and Professionalism
Over the years, ARES®-Brevard had been developing a database of amateur radio volunteers, willing to donate time, talent, and equipment to the cause, and registering their qualifications and equipment to provide communications needs in time of emergency or public service events. So, a group of amateurs, including JD Shaw K7LCW, ARRL Brevard County Emergency Coordinator, along with Ricky DeLuco K4JTT (north Brevard AEC), and other stakeholders, decided to follow in the footsteps of two other organizations in the U.S. and incorporate the ARES® group into a not-for-profit corporation.
ARES®-Brevard is not a club. “We are a team of responders dedicated to serving Brevard County and the communities by working hand-in-hand with local, state, and federal agencies with whom we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding as well as with other organizations as requested,” said. “When an individual volunteers with ARES®, they are making a commitment-a commitment to training and operating as an ARES® member.” According to Shaw, commitment and professionalism are the key to being a member.
ARES®-Brevard has developed a ten-week training academy that meets on Saturday mornings in Mims, a small unincorporated community at the extreme north end of the county Subsequent training will be held in other parts of the county, to facilitate attendance by all Brevard hams. Currently, ARES®-Brevard has twelve individuals attending the course of study, which is the ARRL EC-001 class, along with an unknown number of people doing self-study. Before taking the final exam, members must show proof of completion of FEMA classes IS-100 and IS-700. Members are encouraged to expand their skill levels by taking additional independent classes. Other classes to be taught will be First Aid/CPR, CERT, NTS, and RACES.
And training is not a one-off with ARES®-Brevard. The group has plans for training and exercises throughout the year, and these will encompass all areas of the county: north, central, south, and beachside. “I have band plans for each of the areas in which we will operate,” said Shaw. “Each AEC in the county has the band plan for that area.” In addition, the group has produced 300-plus page operations manual.
How are Relations with Brevard Emergency Management?
JD reports that, contrary to common belief, ARES®-Brevard has an excellent relationship with Brevard County Department of Emergency Management (DEM). He is in contact with DEM several times each month, planning how to support the local served agencies. With the new DEM Manager, there are better communications among the two groups than previously. DEM is working with ARES®-Brevard on co-locating the K4EOC repeater on DEM’s new radio tower.
Construction and Setup: Time, Talent and Treasure
Ares® Brevard is an entirely self-funded project to this date. The members have contributed about $5,000 toward completion of the station. They have focused on the mission, over money, although they realize that they are going to need a funding source in the future. As Ricky paraphrased Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come.”
Once the brand new Rohn 25 tower arrived, erection began. The assistant fire chief offered to attach the bracket to the wall of the firehouse. Using a laser level, it ended up being perfectly placed. One of the members is a concrete mason, and he took care of preparing the base. Another member is a professional tower climber. A woodworker designed and constructed the operating bench, even designing it to be accessible by a paraplegic member in a motorized wheelchair. Each member used his or her talent in bringing the station together.
One day, Ricky received a phone call from a friend, a fellow ARES® member in Texas. “I’ve heard what you’re doing,” the unnamed source said. “I’m sending you something. Keep an eye on your doorstep.” The next thing Ricky knew, a Yaesu FT-950 showed up at his front door. Totally free!
The focus right now is to promote the mission. Commitment, commitment, commitment. This is a bigger picture than just staffing shelters. ARES® Brevard is working with the Mims Volunteer Fire Department, which has generously provided a home for the group. They also are partnering with the Florida Division of Forestry. Not only will they provide assistance within Brevard County, but they will be offering mutual aid statewide-and beyond. Every member will be FEMA certified. They are already fully background checked by the county.
Dwaine Heroux KM4HCN began his amateur radio public service activities with BEARS, after retiring from the U.S. Navy. Dwaine also works with Launch Information and Television Services (LISATS), https://www.lisats.org/ providing live, real-time coverage of nearly all launches from Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center via two amateur radio repeaters. LISATS is active with Winlink, packet, HF and Amateur TV on its UHF repeater. Dwaine began working with JD when he became the ARRL’s EC for Brevard County and appointed Dwaine as AEC. Dwaine is taking the academy, along with several other people.
Hylan Boxer W4UTD is the Central Brevard AEC. Hylan is a recent newcomer to amateur radio, having been licensed for about a year and a half. Hylan spoke about his sort of roundabout entry into amateur radio. He had obtained a very inexpensive two-way radio for his personal “go-pack.” He started making the rounds of various clubs in the area, asking hams if they could program this radio for him. Understandably, all were quite reluctant to accommodate his request. However one ham, Dennis O’Quinn K4CXX, came up with an win-win idea. He told Hylan that a class was set to begin, where he could learn to do the programming-and more-on his own. Hylan registered for the class and emerged a Technician-licensed amateur.
Do not let Hylan’s seeming “rookie” status fool you, however. He is into all things emergency. During the last S.E.T., Hylan ran one of the locations. “This ARES® group is Ricky’s vision” Hylan said. “JD is supporting the vision.” Hylan continued, “Your group is not an ARES® team unless you formalize the process. Uniform response is based on training. It’s not up to a club to decide we’re not going to send volunteers to shelters.” This takes pressure off the local clubs and allows them to do what they do. The relationship between clubs and the ARES® team becomes symbiotic.
In the Pipeline
The ARES® leadership finished the academy and now have a team of 25 members who have completed ICS-100, 700, SKYWARN®, CPR/AED and First Aid, Net Control, EC-001, and CERT. They drilled on ICS Forms and NBEMS, and also highlighted WinLink.
They proctored the license exams and had eight sit for the testing. Six drove from Orlando to test. Two specifically took the exams for their Technician Class license just to join the team, because “A Friend” from the fire department told them about the program, and they wanted to be part of the team.
The next step will be to expand the team to south Brevard. JD is looking for an AEC for that part of the county.
“Anyone can come here and see that this is real. It’s more than an idea. You’ve actually done it.”
The astrological sign Aries begins the astrological calendar. Those born under that sign see themselves as trailblazers, the leaders of the pack. So, too, with Brevard ARES®, leading the pack of emergency communicators.
For further information on ARES®-Brevard, please contact JD Shaw K7LCW, email@example.com. Web Site: www.ares-brevard.com