WASHINGTON COUNTY – Whether answering a call for help or a fun afternoon of chatter, the Washington County Amateur Radio Emergency Service is sending good vibrations across Utah’s Dixie.
WCARES is the local chapter of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, a volunteer group of amateur ham radio operators who are activated following an emergency such as a natural disaster or blackout (their popular motto is “When all else fails, radio is there!”) During these times, ARES members collaborate with public safety departments and organizations including the American Red Cross, National Weather Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide communication when other means are unavailable. Its personnel have responded to countless crisis situations since the foundation of ARES in the 1930s. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, over one thousand operators assisted in the relief effort by serving as 911 dispatchers and the sole means of communication for citizens in southern Mississippi.
“The group is poised to react when called to (aid) the (emergency service) agencies of Washington County (with) communications needs,” WCARES public information officer Norman Smith said. “It is (our) goal to be ready to respond to all activations in a timely manner.”
Currently, 40 operators serve in WCARES, though leadership is concentrated on a smaller team of five to seven. Jim Ashby is the Emergency Coordinator, who serves as the liaison with local emergency services personnel and is also responsible for arranging meetings, training members and activating the group when crisis hits. A veteran of the United States Navy and electronics engineer by trade, Ashby has been active in amateur radio since childhood and previously served in ARES organizations in Texas and California before joining WCARES. He is also involved with Skywarn, a program developed by the National Weather Service to document severe weather occurrences to aid with future prediction and preparation.
To ensure the group’s continued readiness, Ashby coordinates weekly equipment testing and training. In the past, WCARES has trained alongside representatives from Intermountain Healthcare Southwest Region at Dixie Regional Medical Center and the Washington County Health Department, as well as various fire departments and cities across the county. The organization has also helped employees from these agencies obtain amateur ham radio licenses for faster and easier communication with WCARES.
In addition to emergency preparedness, the members of WCARES frequently serve as communications support in events such as Ironman St. George and the Zion 100/50 marathon.
This Saturday, Sept. 8, WCARES will appear at the 2012 Washington County Community Preparedness Expo in the Dixie Convention Center, where they also have an informational booth.
And WCARES will volunteer at the Huntsman World Senior Games and the St. George Marathon this October.
WCARES welcomes new members with open arms and joining takes little more than filling out an application. The only requirements, Ashby said, are an amateur radio license and a desire to serve for the benefit of both the group and the community.
“Amateur radio isn’t all about communications in times of disaster,” he said. “We also have a lot of fun. It’s a great group of guys.”
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