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St. Louis ham radio operators practice response to major earthquake

Bob Gale speaks into a radio Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 at the St. Louis County Emergency Operations Center. He's been involved with ham radio for 40 years.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Bob Gale speaks into a radio Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 at the St. Louis County Emergency Operations Center. He's been involved with ham radio for 40 years.

If a major disaster were to strike the St. Louis area, odds are the St. Louis County Emergency Operations Center near Ballwin would be swarming with personnel.

On Saturday, a handful of ham radio operators reported to the center to practice their role in an emergency: getting the word out.

“This is an exercise,” Bob Gale said into his radio at the center as beeps and static sounded in the background. “District 2 police are requesting county officer help in redirecting traffic on Gravois as the bridge over the River Des Peres has collapsed.”

For several hours volunteers with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service program used different radio frequencies to communicate with places throughout St. Louis and St. Louis County from the county emergency center.

This year’s practice scenario is a 7.7 magnitude earthquake along the New Madrid fault.

“The initial response was to close roads just over and under every bridge, every overpass, every creek, every river. And there are a few of those in the St. Louis, so for the most part people would be stuck pretty much where they are and they would have to get by and find ways around,” said Janelle Haible a spokeswoman for the Amateur Radio Emergency Service.

If that were to happen, Haible would report to a police precinct near her house instead of the emergency operations center.

“The city would be in complete traffic gridlock, so knowing that I live a half mile from a location where I could go and serve my community and help get them the help that they needed at a time that they really need it is important to me,” said Haible, whose call sign is November Zero Mike Tango India.

“If, heaven forbid, phones were to go down and people were not able to use their cell phone to call for help, they could find an amateur radio operator in their neighborhood," she said. "I would be at the police station and able to take that call for help.”

According to Haible there are more than 2,000 licensed amateur radio operators in St. Louis and St. Louis County. She said they are good at getting signals during emergencies because they have their own equipment and experiment with different channels.

The New Madrid fault produced a series of major earthquakes in 1811 and 1812 that measured above a magnitude 7 on the Richter scale. Those earthquakes were felt for hundreds of miles, and produced massive waves on the Mississippi River.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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