I was part of a four-person, disaster-recovery team dispatched to Butte County on November 17 to help restore cell phone service destroyed by the 2018 Camp Fire, which decimated the communities of Paradise, Magalia and Concow. Working there turned me into an "Accidental Advocate" for community and fire safety.
I realized that a disaster just like the Camp Fire could happen in my own home town of Placerville. It could happen anywhere in California. As a result of my experience working in Paradise after the fire, I now travel throughout Northern California and Western Nevada meeting with Fire Safe Councils, Amateur Radio Clubs, Civic Groups, and Homeowners' Associations to alert others to the dangers we now face from an over reliance on vulnerable communications services in the event of disasters.
Summary: This is an audio/video presentation about emergency communications planning and execution that failed during the Camp Fire and similar events, and suggests ways to help our communities stay safer in the event of similar disasters here. One thing is clear: We must find more resilient solutions to help ensure our communities get timely, life-saving information about fast-moving disasters, especially in light of our present-day over-reliance on cell phones and the Internet for everything - technologies which, in turn, depend on a trillion dollars of vulnerable infrastructure not to fail. The Presentation also offers suggestions on how we all can help to make our communities safer in the event of local disasters or emergencies. Outline:
- Time Line detailing events that unfolded on November 8, the first day of the 2018 Camp Fire
- Identifying catastrophic points of failure that impact emergency communications, alerts, and evacuations, placing peoples' lives at risk
- Our Team's role in restoring disabled cell phone communications
- Day-lighting cell-phone service vulnerabilities
- Steps we can all take right now to help support better emergency communications in our own, local communities
On April 18, 2019, I Presented "The Camp Fire – Phones, Fire and Failures" before the Placerville Fire Safe Council. You can see the 50-minute presentation here: dropbox.com/s/dgjako0uds900tt/Camp%20Fire%20Presentation-April%2019-Placerville%20Fire-Safe%20Council.mp4
"Radio For The Rest of Us" picks up where the Phones, Fire and Failures presentation leaves off. It details how to set up "Neighborhood Radio Watch Programs" in local communities to help keep us safer during disasters:
Summary: Most of us nowadays depend entirely upon cell-phone and Internet services to stay in touch with our friends and families. These services, in turn, depend upon billions of dollars of technology not to fail. The last few years have seen a dramatic rise in the frequency and intensity of storms, fires, power shutdowns, and other natural and man-made disasters – events which often disrupt these vital communications services, sometimes for days or weeks. With the ever-increasing impacts of climate change and political tensions, these disasters may only become more frequent and more intense – putting us all at greater risk. For years, Amateur Radio Operators have stood ready to use Radio during these kinds of emergencies to help restore communications when normal communications fail. This has worked well to aid First Responders. However, it has become increasingly critical for the average citizen to also have alternative methods to communicate when cell phone and Internet services fail. Getting an Amateur Radio license requires passing a technical exam beyond the interests or capability of most average citizens. But there are viable radio alternatives that average citizens can use without passing a test or getting a Ham Radio license. Radio For The Rest of Us highlights these cell phone and Internet service vulnerabilities, and how our unconscious over-reliance on cell phones for virtually everything puts us at serious risk. The presentation suggests ways how Amateur Radio Clubs might help "the rest of us;" our families, our friends, and our community, stay safer in the face of cell-phone and Internet service failures. Outline:
- Profiles of recent disasters and "PSPS" power shutdowns, and catastrophic points of failure that impacted emergency communications, alerts, and evacuations, placing peoples' lives at risk
- Coverage and comparisons of various communications tools, backups and alternatives to cell phones
- "Radio For The Rest of Us" programs to support citizen-to-citizen emergency communications in our own, local communities
- Information on how to get radios into the hands of Non Hams
- Tips on working with local civic groups to "Get The Word Out"
- The role of Amateur Radio Operators and Clubs to help implement and sustain Community Radio programs to keep our communities safer before a disaster strikes.
|Schedule (updated 11/15/2019):|
Sierra Foothills Amateur Radio ClubFebruary
Nevada County Amateur Radio ClubMarch
River City Amateur Radio ClubApril
Yuba – Sutter Amateur Radio Club
San Francisco Radio ClubMay
Mother Lode Lions ClubJune
Palo Alto Amateur Radio AssociationJuly
Oroville Amateur Radio SocietyAugust
Marin Amateur Radio Society
Sonoma County Radio AmateursOctober
Pleasant Valley Fire Safe CouncilNovember
Valley of The Moon Amateur Radio Club
Aukum Fairplay Fire Safe Council
"I thought you presentation was one of the best that I have ever seen in any venue. And I have seen a lot of presentations. That said, we want to invite you back next year. I think your message is clear and needs to be heard more often." - Ed Morales, Environmental Risk Specialist, Vice President, MDARC "Your expertise allowed us all to gain a much better understanding of the fragile nature of communications infrastructure. In addition, we appreciate you customizing the presentation to align with our direct experience during the Camp Fire Incident and your ability to craft the presentation in a way that fit the limited time we had available." - Doug Poppelreiter, KD6LOK, President, Paradise Amateur Radio Society w6par.org "An absolutely fantastic talk. Award winning! Well done and very scary." - Robert Hess, W1RH, El Dorado County Amateur Radio Club edcarc.net, Chief Engineer (Ret.), Channel 13, Sacramento sacramento.cbslocal.com "I found [your Presentation] well organized, and well presented. It was easy to grab the devastation and the scope of the fire. Well done! It is a wonderful service you are doing raising the awareness to communities that Cell Phones are not the cure all." - Greg Kruckewitt, KG6SJT, Sacramento Valley ARES Section Emergency Coordinator "An outstanding presentation last night! Received many thanks for attendees. Thank you so much." - John Hess, Chair, Aukum Fairplay Fire Safe Council affsc.org "Thank you one more time for the excellent presentation you provided to the Paradise Amateur Radio Society ( w6par.org) on Phones, Fire and Failure during the Camp Fire incident." - Grant Hunsicker, KB6EC, Director, General Services, County of Butte buttecounty.net/generalservices "Another superb presentation. Hopefully it motivated the attendees to seek out neighborhood groups and youth organizations and stress to them the critical importance of radio communications in disaster plans." - Lou Steirer, WA6QYS, Chairman, Silicon Valley Emergency Communications System svecs.net "That was a great presentation you gave in Santa Clara this morning, and a tremendous amount of information." - Scott Bordelon, K6SLB, Training Officer, San Jose Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service sjraces.org "Thank you so much for your presentation last night... you held the group spell bound!" - Susan Keale, Concierge, Gold Country Retirement Community goldcountryretirement.org "As a retired teacher, I appreciate other good teachers, and you are one! Thanks again, riveting talk!" - Art Craigmill, K6ALC, Yuba Fire Safe Council yubafiresafe.org, U C Davis (Ret.) "Thanks for all that you are doing to raise awareness about being prepared for post disaster communication." - Rich Martin, Member, Eskaton Homeowners' Association eskaton.org/village-placerville.html "Thank you for providing such an informative presentation on the importance of community radio and emergency communications." - Daniel Leon, KZ6VT, President, Oroville Amateur Radio Society w6af.com "An excellent presentation at Eskaton. We definitely would like a presentation out our way." - John Hess, Chair, Aukum Fairplay Fire Safe Council affsc.org "You did a presentation of the Camp Fire for the River City ARCS that was marvelous." - Phil Sittner, KD6RM, Treasurer, River City Amateur Radio Club n6na.org "Thank you again for your talk last evening. I think it brought home to most of us just how un-prepared we are here in Placerville." - Mary Fatooh, Director, Gold Country Retirement Community goldcountryretirement.org "Thank you so much for presenting to our members. The feedback has been wonderful." - Dr. Antonis Papatsaras, AA6PP, President, San Francisco Radio Club sfarc.org, CTO, CLM & SVP Engineering, DocuSign "We thank you very much for traveling to Oroville, and presenting such valuable and relevant material, in view of the recent fire emergencies and spillway failures. We will definitely apply the topics covered to be better prepared, helping our families, friends, and community in times of emergency. We look forward to your next presentation, and the opportunity to network with you." - Daniel Leon, KZ6VT, President, Oroville Amateur Radio Society w6af.com "I really enjoyed the presentation you did on July 19 in Reno at the [NVCON] radio convention on the Paradise Fires. It's such good information that those in the security field would really benefit from hearing it." - Brian Foote, Marketing, ASIS International asisonline.org "I want to express my thanks for the wonderful presentation last night. It was extremely informative, and well-received by all who attended. Thank you again." - Paul Keeton, President, Amador County Amateur Radio Club k6arc.org "Just wanted to thank you again for your presentation to the Nevada County group on Monday. I found it to be very well presented, with some great points to think about." - Jan Woldseth, KB6FMZ, Nevada County Amateur Radio Club ncarc.org "Thank you again for such a great presentation. The group was very engaged. I recommended your presentation to the Marin Amateur Radio Society." - Robert Klahn, AD6I, San Francisco Radio Club sfarc.org "Great presentation!" - Michael Picco, K6MLE, El Dorado County Amateur Radio Club edcarc.net "Your presentation was excellent!! I appreciated all the material that you had put together. You were very thorough and great at presenting your collected information." - Anne Soule, Amador Fire Safe Council amadorfiresafe.org "I really enjoyed your Camp Fire talk, presented to the Western Placer Amateur Radio Club on Tuesday evening. The pictures, stories, video snippets, details, and stressing the need for fire safety on a scale that we are not prepared for today. It was thought provoking! Simply Awesome!" - Jey Yelland, KQ6DK, Western Placer Amateur Radio Club wparc.us
I don't charge a fee for these talks. This is my free, voluntary effort to help keep my family, friends, neighbors and community safer. El Dorado County Groups and attendees at local presentations have made donations to the El Dorado County Amateur Radio Club (EDCARC.net) to help support our volunteer efforts to implement Community Radio Safety programs in El Dorado County.
More distant Clubs and Groups have offered to help offset some of my out-of-pocket travel costs (gasoline), and to help with lodging for presentations at more distant locations (90 minutes or more drive time from Placerville). This is strictly voluntary and not expected.
If you would like more information about how to arrange a presentation for your Club or Group, please send an Email to .
Alan Thompson is a licensed Amateur Radio Operator, W6WN, who grew up and still lives in Placerville California. He's the Owner and Field Engineer for El Dorado Networks, and provides satellite Internet systems installations for businesses and governmental organizations including Facebook, Intelsat, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, the Department of Defense, Cal Fire, the U.S. Forestry Service, the Department of Health Services, and the Federal Aviation Administration. He is also a former member of Toastmasters International, and has led hundreds of presentations and workshops during his 35-year career in the satellite communications industry. In 2018, Alan was part of a Disaster Recovery Team that installed several satellite Internet backup systems to help restore cell-phone service ten days after the 2018 Camp Fire rubbed out electronic communications in and around Paradise and Magalia. What Alan witnessed there, turned him into an "Accidental Advocate" for community fire and communications safety. Since January, 2019, Alan has been traveling throughout Northern California and Western Nevada meeting with Amateur Radio Clubs, Civic Groups, Homeowners' Associations and Fire Safe Councils in an effort to alert others to the dangers we now face from an over reliance on vulnerable cell-phone and Internet communications services in the event of disasters.