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If disaster strikes

Local 'ham' operators should be able to cover our area by radio
by: CLIFF NEWELL Larry Goff, left, assistant chief of the Lake Oswego Fire Department, observes as Russ Garrett demonstrates radio equipment used for communication in emergencies.

Nobody wants an earthquake to hit, but if the worst happens the Lake Oswego Amateur Radio Emergency Service will be ready.

Thirty amateur, or 'ham,' radio operators are prepared to go into action when the quaking starts and life-or-death situations start happening.

'We've looked at a lot of disasters,' said Larry Goff, assistant chief of the Lake Oswego Fire Department and the city's 'guru' on disaster preparedness. 'The first thing they always say afterward is that communications could have been better.'

With LOARES, Goff believes Lake Oswego would have excellent communication in the event of an earthquake.

'We have 30 active members here, and there are 160 amateur radio operators in the Lake Oswego area,' Goff said.

'Given the size of our city and the number of operators, we're pretty covered,' said Russ Garrett, assistant emergency coordinator. 'It's probably better than most cities.'

The term 'ham' for amateur radio operators came about in the early days of radio, originated by professional radio operators, and it was not a compliment. But there are endless stories of ham radio steadfastly staying on the air through many disasters.

In Lake Oswego, the amateur radio operators became organized in 1996. LOARES was a natural follow-up to Citizen Emergency Response Training, which was started by Goff in 1995.

Garrett, a lawyer by profession and a public servant by choice, showed up at the very first meeting.

'I've been involved, off and on, ever since,' Garrett said. 'My neighbors laugh at all the antennas on my roof.'

Every third Wednesday of every month there is an LOARES meeting at the fire station on B Avenue in downtown Lake Oswego, and attendance is excellent, with up to 25 radio operators on hand. One item of business is to eat the cookies provided by Goff, but the main purpose is to hone their radio skills - for when the big one hits.

'It's a great group,' Goff said. 'What's neat is we have a real mix of different kinds of people. Some have been radio operators almost their whole lives. Some got their licenses just so they could help on emergencies.'

'We're set up to come to a fire station and immediately hook up,' Garrett said. 'If the power is out, we have our own batteries.' Plus, 'A lot of our people live within walking distance of each fire station.'

'Our members and their families have to be the first ones who are prepared,' Goff said. 'I'm confident most of this group would show up in case of an emergency.'

It would be nice to assume that the LOARES volunteers could continue to meet once a month, work on cool radio equipment and eat cookies. But experts assure us that an earthquake will strike the Northwest sooner or later.

'Oregon is seismically vulnerable,' Goff said. 'An earthquake is our first scenario. We also have to be prepared for ice, wind and power outages.

'In case of an emergency I think this group would be very effective.'

LOARES will hold its annual Field Day June 25 - a national day for all such groups - during the Lake Oswego Farmers' Market. The public is invited to watch the radio operators in action.

For more information about LOARES, go to the website at www.cioswego.or.us or call 503 635-0275.