CPARC Club Responds To SLO Power Outage

July 09, 2013

July 8th, 2013FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE For information, contact:Kenneth Finnegan, W6KWF(408) 6633324,

Cal Poly Students Respond to CountyWidePower Outage SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIFORNIA

On the evening of Sunday, June 23rd, 2013, over 145,000 customers in San Luis Obispo County experienced a major power outage that was caused by equipment failure at a PG&E substation. Several Cal Poly students and alumni from the Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club (CPARC, callsign: W6BHZ) mobilized to assist in the amateur radioresponse to the outage. This response consisted of collecting information from remote stations as to their current status, and broadcasting information obtained by net control from official channels.CPARC demonstrated the importance of amateur radio emergency communications support in a professional and timely manner, providing the most current firsthand reports to the community. At least one public radio station, KPYGFM[1], reportedly lost power and was unable to provide the public with emergency updates regarding the power outage. Several community residents also noted that “we have no local radio news stations reporting” [2] and that there was just “‘canned’ programming” [2] but no actual emergency updates. Fortunately, some residents have radio scanners and were listening to the radio net managed by CPARC on 146.67MHz quoted having “always been my source for independent reports of accounts throughout thecounty” and “providing the most updates” [2]. These statements all reinforce the need for moreeffective emergency response from the local news agencies and emphasize the necessity for a well developed amateur radio communications network such as the one supported in San Luis Obispo County ( San Luis Obispo county maintains several emergency communication centers throughout the county, including ECC16 located on the Cal Poly campus and operated by the Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club in the Electrical Engineering Building, Room 123. In addition to both short and long range radios, ECC16 equipment includes emergency backup batteries and generator power to ensure that communication equipment and room lighting are kept online during any event which includes power loss. Initial reports of power outages and brownouts in San Luis Obispo occurred at 2120 on the local W6BHZ club repeater (146.760MHz and 442.300MHz). Once it was ascertained that this was nota momentary glitch, a group of CPARC members started heading to campus to activate the club’s radio room as ECC16.While these operators were enroute to campus, a temporary“ECC16 portable” was assembled from personal equipment by Marcel Stieber AI6MS and Kenneth Finnegan W6KWF near Santa Rosa Park. This allowed CPARC to quickly begin acommunications net to begin collecting information as to how many amateur radio operators were available to assist and how far the power outage spread. No other ECCs had yet stepped up as net control on the countywide SLOECC repeater (146.670MHz), so ECC16 portable opened the countywide net as well.Once the generator at ECC16 was brought online, net control was passed from “ECC16 portable” to David Troy KJ6RPX and Chris Blackmer KJ6MNK at ECC16 on the Cal Poly campus to continue running the city and countywide nets.No serious incidents were reported on the SLOECC net, but having the single channel for collecting and curating information on the power outage was likely reassuring to listeners. The PG&E Info line was quickly overloaded, and other customers began calling 911 emergency services for information on the outage [3], which demonstrates the need for this kind ofinformation broadcasting in SLO county. If the power outage were to escalate or become protracted, there would have been great value in the SLOECC net already being active for countywide communications. As power began to be restored to customers and any further major events appeared unlikely, the SLOECC net was closed at 2327 local time and ECC16 deactivated.