Madison ARES wishes to thank Rick Palm and ARRL for this fine
The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is a central,
usually hardened facility from which government agencies
provide inter-agency and emergency support function (ESF)
coordination. During an emergency or disaster, the EOC is
where the executive decisions are made concerning the best
ways to respond to the incident. The emergency manager keeps
the elected officials informed of these decisions in
preparation for any policy decisions that may be necessary-
The EOC is involved with strategy. It typically does not
provide command or control of the active responders themselves
or other aspects of the on-scene response. These functions and
frontline tactical decisions are left to the incident
commander and his/her general staff.
The EOC collects and evaluates information, sets priorities,
and manages resources.
Communications is the key to an effective EOC operation,
which must have current information on the various aspects of
the incident in order to be effective in its management.
Amateur Radio has historically had an important, longstanding
role in this regard.
The EOC is often organized based on the various ESFs; for
example, the Communications function is ESF #2 (see Table l).
Physically, each ESF manager has a desk or seat at the main
table in the conference room. Public safety dispatch/911 and
public warning systems are often located together. Various
communication systems are in place, and Amateur Radio
operators often provide alternate communications between the
different ESF managers in the ﬁeld, and between the emergency
manager and his or her counterparts at the incident command
post or other locations.
I took readers on a tour of a large, modem county EOC in this column in October 2007.1
More recently, I provided a context for Amateur Radio in the
EOC in the February 2012 column? In March, at the invitation
of Madison county (Florida) ARES Emergency Coordinator Pat
Lightcap, K4NRD, I toured the county EOC and gave a talk to
the ARES group there.
Madison County, Florida EOC
With a population of 19,000 in 716 square miles of bucolic
farmland, beautiful rolling hills, forests, and rivers in the
northern Florida panhandle, Madison county is rural and
sparsely populated. Its EOC is in a small (roughly 2000 square
feet) but attractive brick building on a hill. A radio
communications tower and antennas are located on the grounds.
Alan Whigham, KI4IFH, the new EOC’ director, has an ofﬁce on
the right as you enter.
The Madison EOC is nationally accredited by the Emergency
Management Accreditation Program (EMAP).
The main conference room takes up most of the building and is
positioned in the innermost area, for protection from
potential storms. Surrounding the main conference table are
desks for each emergency support function.
The Communications Room is adjacent to the main conference
room so that messages can be passed back and forth
efficiently. EOC communications systems include SATCOM
data/voice radios (12 channels), with links to the county
sheriff’s office. A VHF repeater system (there is no 800 MHZ
trunking system) handles public safety communications. There
is a “hotline” (a red phone with no buttons or dial) to the
Governor’s office. There is also a low-band VHF radio for
communications with American Red Cross shelters in the county,
and another low-band radio for communications with the state
Amateur Radio in the Communications Room
The communications room includes a well-equipped amateur
station. An HF radio (see Figure 1) gives the operators the
capability of communicating with the amateur station at the
state EOC in Tallahassee, the various state and regional ARES
nets, and other emergency/disaster nets on 80 and 40 meters.
With VHF and UHF radios in the communications room, EOC/ARES
operators have access to the county’s three repeater systems.
The primary link is the UHF: repeater that links into the
Florida Statewide Amateur Radio Network (SARnet) repeaters.
SARnet repeaters are positioned throughout the state and are
connected by a state DOT microwave network (wwvwusametﬂ.com).
A UHF repeater located near the EOC in the county seat of
Madison, and a VHF repeater in the small town of Lee provide
Madison County ARES
Emergency Coordinator Pat Lightcap, K4NRD, who has served in
the position for more than 30 years, leads the small but
dedicated and motivated ARES group (see Figure 2). Lightcap
was originally appointed by former Northern Florida Section
Manager Rudy Hubbard, WA4PUR Lightcap also worked with George
Thurston, W4MLE (SK), the veteran Section Emergency
Coordinator. I found Lightcap to be affable, experienced, and
a competent leader — all qualities of a good emergency
There are currently a dozen members of the ARES team who
attend 6 to 8 meetings a year. They are all SKYWARN trained
spotters, and have been participating in the program for 20
years. They are a diverse group with one thing in common: a
passion for Amateur Radio and emergency/disaster
In 2007, the group was activated for a major telephone outage,
which received coverage in a 2007 QST article 3 A damaged ﬁber
optic cable cut off long-distance and DSL Internet services to
Madison and other rural counties. The NOAA weather radio went
down, and when Lightcap called the National Weather Service
office in Tallahassee, he only received a fast busy signal.
Other calls to Tallahassee also failed. Lightcap was able to
contact the Madison county sheriff’s department dispatch/911
center, only to learn that their computers were also down. The
local hospital could not call out to arrange patient transfers
to the Tallahassee hospitals; law enforcement could not
contact Florida Highway Patrol for accidents, and no calls
could be made to medivac helicopters for trauma victims. In
response to this communications chaos, Lightcap offered his
group’s service to the emergency manager.
Lightcap contacted a ham in Tallahassee and started an
informal net on a repeater where other hams began to
accumulate. One of these hams was able to make and maintain
contact with the National Weather Service office and the
Florida Highway Patrol dispatch center, providing
communications access to these vital services. Another made
contact with the regional hospitals in the state capital to
provide communications for the local hospital, if necessary.
Others came up on the net frequency and the net evolved from a
spontaneous informal one to a more formal structure.
The next task was to establish backup communications, which
was accomplished via a cross-link VHF/ UHF system.
The sheriff ’s office eventually found and tested an old
telephone landline to the state EOC, and ARES was able to
stand down. As a result of the rapid, spontaneous response of
many individual hams to the emergency, a solid relationship
was forged between ARES and the emergency manager, sheriff,
and other public safety officials.
Earlier this year, when severe Weather moved through
the area, the National Weather Service office in Tallahassee
took in local operators to take SKYWARN reports from the
surrounding counties, including the SKYWARN operators who are
the members of Madison County ARES.
This was my second visit with a rural northern Florida
club and ARES group in 3 months. I enjoyed both visits. All
were attentive, well-informed members who kept me on my toes
with some very good questions! When most of us think of ARES,
we tend to think of the larger county programs and a wider
array of served agencies, incidents, and events. My visits
with the Madison and Suwannee county groups showed me that
small, but passionate and dedicated ARES communicators can
supply critical safety of life and property communications.
They showed me that ARES and Amateur Radio are alive and well,
and vital in rural America. Notes
R. Palm, K1CE, “Public Service,” QST, OCT 2007, p 77 — 78. R.
Palm, K1CE, “Public Service,” QST, Feb 2012, p 88 — 89.
P. Lightcap, WD4ODB, “Public Service,” QST, May 2007, p 78 –
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