Radio volunteers a key component of public safety | Editorials

Police, fire and medical personnel immediately come to mind when the citizenry thinks of emergency responders, and for good reason. They are highly trained, highly skilled professionals who put their lives on the line in times of natural or human-caused disasters. For government agencies, an essential link consists of dispatch crews that garner information and quickly get the word out about trouble spots. That critical function gets a huge assist from a group of volunteers who perform a key role on the airwaves.

In Yakima County, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service consists of a team of 20 ham radio operators who are very much in the loop during times of emergencies. In mountainous areas where steep terrain renders cellphone service precarious, the ham operators are able to communicate with search and rescue crews that are scouring the area for missing hikers, skiers or snowmobilers.

Agencies at the local and state level recognize the importance of the ham operators, who locally have been headed by Jo Whitney for the past quarter-century or so. Yakima County Sheriff Brian Winter, an amateur radio operator, coordinates with the group, and some operators are part of the sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team. The team also works with the Yakima Valley Office of Emergency Management and has a radio room at the county Emergency Operations Center in Union Gap. Both Yakima hospitals have amateur radio stations.

It doesn’t stop at the county level. Last year, a number of state agencies used radio teams for communications during the massive Cascadia Rising earthquake and tsunami drill. State emergency officials have recommended that local agencies establish a “habitual relationship” with the teams.

Fortunately, disasters are few and far between, but the operators still get plenty of work. Earlier this month, they were situated along…

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