Learning in the Field: Coordinating with the Oakland Marathon

Two members of our local group were involved in ORCA‘s ham radio coverage of today’s marathon, relay and half-marathon in Oakland. It was a learning experience on many levels.

ORCA arranged a cadre of volunteer HAMs (amateur radio operators) to be situated at various points along the routes of the races. There was also a smaller group of HAMs on bicycles, motorcycles and in vehicles, following the procession of runners and walkers as they made their way along the routes. We logged each of our sites as the first and last runners passed, and we secured relief when a runner needed help or bike fell, or when there were traffic problems. I worked at Net Control, a first class seat to all of the network conversations. We clearly had the best communications system at the event, even when our signals were weak.

Collaboration and actual on-site event logistics knowledge were, in my experience, lacking. Clearly the event organizers would benefit from learning about Incident Command System. A few times we had to rely on our sneaker-net to walk across the park to the volunteer booth or over to the Oakland Police Dept. booth with a problem.

One of the lessons I learned very clearly at this event was that a lack of established coordination and communication between the event organizers, the Police Dept. and our communications group made things more challenging. As speedy traffic became hazardous, coordinating the proper response took time. We were not instructed about cone placement or blocking roads, so when things got dangerous someone from Net Control walked across the park to notify the proper people at the PD.

Another lesson was that people are curious about what we were doing, and asked questions about walkie-talkies, safety, CERT training, and other related topics. A couple of us took turns being the information officer for the booth.

When the rains came, we were happy to be under a tent while we tracked some of the stragglers. After a while we moved camp across the sidewalk to our Net Control Chief’s van, where we set up a table, connected an antenna, and carried on. That’s when I signed out and headed for home.

Reflecting now on our local efforts to find ways of collaborating with the many and varied members of our community, it feels right that we’re starting this discussion. We have a long way to go, and emergencies are so very uncertain. The sooner we have these conversations with our community, the more prepared we will all be.



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