In a recent interview with the Honolulu Board of Water (BWS) supply we sat down with Ernest Lau, WH6GAJ & Manager and Chief Engineer at BWS, Ms. Kathleen Elliot-Pahinui, Information Officer (IO), Stella Bernardo, WH6GDM, IS II and Ham Coordinator and Raleigh Ferdun, KH6EN, to discuss their involvement with amateur radio. (Raleigh is not an employee of the BOW)
The Board of Water Supply (BWS) recently encouraged their employees to take an amateur radio class and to get their license. The class was held during the work day and taught by Raleigh, KH6EN. It was voluntary and to encourage employees, the initial license fee was paid by the BWS for the employees who take the exam. The BWS also loaned the class books to all attendees. The classes were held at the BWS.
Why would the Board of Water Supply in Honolulu take this action?
According to Ernest Lau, the Manager and Chief Engineer and call sign WH6GAJ, he got involved in a Community Emergency Response Team, CERT, with the “Be Ready Manoa Group”, and took the license class in early 2019 at the Salvation Army. He realized then that it could be a great help with backup emergency communications if a disaster event happened, thus impacting the supply of water to about 1.0 million residents. So, Ernest asked the question, “What if we offered these classes so other employees could get their amateur radio license and serve as a backup to our communications plans?”
A big concern for the BWS is restoring drinking water to the island in the event of a disaster and to do that they would have to be able to communicate in order to coordinate repair and restoration of the water systems island-wide. The BWS uses Land Mobile Radios (LMR) and repeaters as part of day-to-day operations and amateur radio could be instrumental in the communications backup plan.
Ernest mentioned Hurricane Maria that devastated Puerto Rico as a Category 5 Storm in September 2017, Hurricane Lane which tracked close to Hawaii as a Category 4 storm in late August 2018, and Hurricane Olivia just a few weeks later in September 2018. “It’s just a matter of WHEN and not IF Hawaii gets hit”, Ernest stated.
The BWS did an initial survey within the organization asking for interest and how many would sign up for the class. They stated they had an overwhelming response and it was all positive. When they did a follow up survey, after doing some coordination, they received the same response.
The employees who took the class, or will take the new class, range in age and positions throughout the department. They are into hiking, boating, camping and other outdoor activities in Hawaii and have opportunities to use their new communication skills in their everyday lives as well.
The first class was in the summer of 2019, with sessions starting June 21st and ending on August 2nd which each class starting at 10 AM and ending at 12 PM for a total of 7 sessions including the exam issued by Volunteer Examiners.
A total of 20 employees signed up for the class with 17 taking the exam and 15 obtaining a license. The other 5 were excused and plan to test later. There are currently 20 licensed operator employees as others had tested since or already were licensed previously. Some have even upgraded since this class.
The Board of Water Supply has not stopped at just getting license for their employees, they are offer continuing education classes on Friday each month. These classes are on different topics and on the day of this writing, they had an amateur radio operator (Ron Hashiro, AH6RH) come in to discuss his experiences during Hurricane Iniki which struck Hawaii in September 1992. The BWS has had 10 meetings since the exam. Some of the sessions discussed EMCOM operations, a ZOOM session with Ed Fong (WB6IQN) on antennas, Elmer sessions with Bernard Yuen (KH6MOI) and Todd Wilson (WH6DWF), ARES, and they have a session on MESH networks with LAX ARES planned. These sessions are also during work hours so employees who attend continue their growth in amateur radio communications.
They are not done yet! The BWS purchased two base stations to set up in their operations centers, one at Pearl City and one in Honolulu. They have two FTM-100DR Yaesu Radios with 50 watts of power and have used them in exercises.
They worked a Simulated Emergency Test, or SET, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Friday, October 4, 2019 where they had employees call into the operations center with messages using simplex. The operations center then sent those same messages onto Raleigh in order to give everyone practice. It helped to worked the nervousness out and to show the new license operators that it is best to speak slow, concise and clear. It gave them the courage to get on the air faster and they also had a blast according to Stella Bernardo, WH6GDM, who coordinated the SET at the Board of Water Supply.
How does this help the BWS? Some of the employees have to hike up to check on equipment at remote locations and some of those locations do not have cell service so they can use their radios to reach local repeaters as a communication means. Two of the newly license hams, Will Wong (WH6FFR) and Kenrick Wong (KH6KO) participated in the Hawaii Grid Madness Event to better hone their skills on simplex. Both placed in the Handheld category.
The newly licensed hams like to experiment, build home brew equipment and build power supplies and just have fun using amateur radio.
Blaine Fergerstrom recently commented on Facebook Ham Radio Hawaii Page and said “Mahalo to you and Raleigh for a great class! WH6GDJ brand new Tech! (His new callsign is WH6LOL).
The Information Officer for the Board of Water Supply, Ms. Kathleen Elliot-Pahinui, was on the conference call and said that her staff of six Information Specialists and two Community Relations Specialists are all licensed operators or soon will be (and she will be taking the class in January 2020).
The BWS appreciates the support they have received from the Department of Emergency Management, which has loaned handheld radios so newly license operators could get on the air. They mentioned Harold Buckle and the Director Hiro Toiya, both from DEM, as being instrumental in helping the BWS. They have also received help from the local amateur radio operators, the Emergency Amateur Radio Club (EARC), ARRL, ARES and the Pacific Section leadership.
The BWS has been sharing information with their other counterparts on the other islands about using amateur radio and having resilient communications. There is a mutual aid agreement in-place between the county water departments to help each other in times of need.
For the second radio class word spread pretty fast via word of mouth and from the newly licensed operators. They had 15 new employees sign up pretty quickly. The new class will start January 24 and will run to March 6, and will be held at the same time and same day, during work hours.
Not only is the BWS enhancing their mission by having a valid backup communications plan, they are also enriching the lives of their employees and preparing the community they serve by providing a valuable and lifesaving commodity, Water.
For more information on the Board of Water Supply, visit www.boardofwatersupply.com.
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