MS Hope to a Cure

Bike MS Hope to a Cure 2016
2016 12 June

Perfect Storm with All the Planets Aligned.

It couldn’t get any worse. A/C Power is nonexistent. Cell phone coverage is out in most of the area. Raining with winds in excess of 40 mph at times. The area of operation has no operational repeaters but it does have massive mountains covered with rain soaked trees and snow. It also includes 55 miles of road winding through mountains from sea level to about 1,000 foot elevation and back to sea level. Some personnel would need to drive over 100 miles one way to get to their area of responsibility while others would fly 1,444 miles for 3 ½ hours then take a 1 hour drive.

The mission was to pass time sensitive routine/emergency radio messages to 8 fixed location and 10 mobile assets along EVERY mile of roadway within the area of operation. This includes the ability to communicate with 911 emergency dispatchers in the event of a traffic crash or medical emergency.

This mission was a critical part of a larger operation. Roughly 100 people were dependent on this smaller mission’s success. If the smaller mission failed, the entire operation would be scrapped for safety reasons.

As with most operations of this size, there was a Net Control. The location was picked to reach the maximum area and was actually 15 miles away from the “area of operation”. Net control was a mobile dual band radio with a mag mount on a SUV.

The seven other static locations were served by some of Alaska’s finest HAM operators. They also brought their stations with them in vehicles. Although we only used 2 meter and 440, many more bands were represented in the vehicles. There were 3 portable towers. Without the elevation gain of the portable towers the mission would have failed. One station was solar powered.

Only two of the mobile assets were permanently set up for HAM communications and were operated by local Anchorage HAMs. The other 8 mobile had to be “built” the day of the operation with mobile dual band radios, power adaptors and mag mount antennas. Of the 10 mobile assets, 4 were shadowing Directors, medics or mechanics. One was actually mobile on a bicycle. The others were “mobile HAMS on a mission”; as support, sweep or other duties as assigned.

Throughout the day, any one listening to the radio traffic would have a mental image of the operation as it played out of the 110 mile route. Each HAM painted a picture with words about what was happening in their immediate area. The Directors rarely had to ask where an asset was located because they could visualize it.

The day wasn’t without its challenges. Very early in the day a stuck mic necessitated switching to UHF until the problem was resolved. Connectors were shared amongst HAMs to connect HTs to mobile antennas and more than one person was aided by another with programing radios. Some of the “fixed” locations discovered that by moving 15-30 feet in any direction dramatically changed their ability to communicate on a wide area. Teamwork and troubleshooting solved both small and large issues throughout the day.

The event that I have described was not an earthquake recovery, a search and rescue mission or even a plane crash operation although it could have been. The event was Bike MS Hope to a Cure 2016. A fundraiser for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Approximately 100 bicyclists as individuals or teams ride between 25-110 miles to raise money in support of the Northwest Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in its efforts to find a cure for the disease and support those
suffering with it.

The day was a huge success. The MS Society made lots of money, promoted awareness and reached out to many new donors and volunteers. The HAM community did a real life test of its abilities to create a pop-up operation with HAMs from multiple states and successfully passed all radio traffic.

Events like this are vital for the HAM community to test our equipment, communication skills, net control skills, program coordination skills and, most of all, to collect another tee shirt. We must maintain a presence at marathons, walks, triathlons, dog jogs and the like. We need these events (sometimes more than they need us) so that we can be prepared for the earthquake, wildfire, ice storm or flood.

All of the HAMs that took a part in this fantastic full day event need to be thanked. Three individual HAMs work with the MS Society year round to plan Bike MS and Walk MS events: Jan Abbott KB1QCD, Allen Abbott KB1QCE and Dan Goode KC7UVK. Also TJ Tomlinson KB8JXX work multiple years in the background driving the route and testing signals to find the best spots for Net Control and possible repeater locations. This year’s players were:
Alice Baker KL2GD
Joe Malin KF7LPY
Eric Dowell KG7DTP
Lara Baker AL2R
Jim Wardman AL4W
Kerry Field KE7ODS
Carol Bush KL2FA
Gary Nevlius KF7NFB
Don Bush KL7JFT
Jon Ramsey K7RMZ
Joel Spivey N4ERF
Bill Westlake KD7KVA
TJ Sheffield KL7TS
John Clark KD7OVQ
George Wilkinson KL1JJ
Vickie Fontaine W7VSF
Our HAM radio club supports a number of events like this each year, with different members stepping up to take the lead on each of them. If you haven’t participated in these support efforts in the past, I encourage you to find one or two that pique your interest and join in on the fun and the challenge. The tee shirts are always a nice perk, but the real satisfaction comes from using your skills and getting warm thanks from event participants and organizers.