Terry Hoffman will always remember when he decided to become an amateur radio operator. It was 25 years ago in the aftermath of the Oct. 17, 1989, Loma Prieta earthquake that rocked the Bay Area with a 6.9 magnitude jolt, killing 63 people and injuring 3,757.
“I didn’t know what was going on during the Loma Prieta earthquake. I was in the dark, and I decided I wasn’t going to be in the dark anymore. I was going to be in the know,” says Hoffman, who is now co-emergency coordinator for the City of Santa Clara Amateur Radio Emergency Services.
Santa Clara ARES members are licensed amateur radio operators who train and prepare to offer their services as emergency communicators to the city. The volunteers register their qualifications and equipment, which they purchase themselves, with ARES and are on standby for duty when disaster strikes, from floods to earthquakes.
“The City of Santa Clara relies upon volunteers from ARES to provide critical communication services in the event of a large scale emergency such as an earthquake, when our communication infrastructure may be compromised. ARES volunteers are registered Disaster Service Workers and would be used in the field to provide critical information to our City’s emergency management team,” says Santa Clara Fire Chief and emergency manager Bill Kelly.
ARES chapters are organized by county, so in the case of the magnitude 6.0 South Napa earthquake on Aug. 24, 2014, amateur radio operators from that area would have responded as needed.
“We’re always preparing for the big one, and volunteering at community events is part of the preparation—the training and the experience,” says Hoffman. “The more people I can train, the better off the community will be.”
ARES volunteers serve at the city Easter Egg Hunt, 4th of July fireworks and Art & Wine Festival, where they set up a communications center and then fan out across Central Park with their “handy talkies” (hand-held, battery-operated radios) to report lost children, medical emergencies, or any other incident, to fire and police emergency responders.
Ric Olsen is a 4-year volunteer with Santa Clara ARES, which includes about 25- 30 members.
“I was a communications and electronics officer in the Navy about 60 years ago, so I thought I could make use of some of that skill in a volunteer setting,” says Olsen, who studied and passed three tests to obtain the highest license granted by the Federal Communications Commission, the Amateur Extra Class license. As a Naval officer, Olsen needed to know Morse code, but that is no longer required for amateur radio licensing.
“I’m proud of these volunteers for their dedication to emergency preparedness,” says Kelly. “Should there be a large-scale emergency in Santa Clara, I’m confident that ARES volunteers will be on scene to provide critical information that will be helpful to our citizens.”
“This is giving back to the community,” says Hoffman. “And I’ll never be in the dark again in an emergency.”
The next monthly ARES meeting is Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m., at Fire Station # 2, 1900 Walsh Ave. Meetings feature speakers and provide an opportunity to learn more about being an amateur radio emergency services responder. For information, visit www.santaclara-ares.org.