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North Shore Century and Chicago Marathon

I just finished a couple of weeks of ham radio related public service projects. In all cases, it was very rewarding to see the number of hams step up to provide our unique service to some of these events. Yes, these were not natural disasters, but certainly they could be considered potentially life threatening, if not life challenging!

North Shore Century

First, the Club has helped the Evanston Bike Club now for 5 years with their North Shore Century Bike Event. Basically, there are about 2000 registered bicyclists who sign up to do one of several possible routes, from 25 miles to 100. The course stretches from Dawes Park in Evanston all the way to Kenosha, Wisconsin and back. Having driven the course a few times as a member of the SAG (Support Team), I can tell you it is one very long way to go on a bike! Our duties have evolved over time - largely we help with SAG teams to find bicyclists who have called in to a help number and need assistance either with their bicycle or to be moved to a rest area. For a long time, this work was done with cell phones, and it proved to be a very difficult task. Not only was it hard to track the locations of the various cars, but many of the drivers never answered phones. They asked us a few years back to help them…using radios. Well, it was a perfect fit for our Club. We added a couple of interesting dimensions to the piece as time evolved. We have about 12 APRS tracker units that we have placed on the SAG vehicles so that we can immediately see where our resources are and have a pretty good idea of how to deploy them. Furthermore, using radios, we can dispatch messages to a larger pool of folks and find solutions more readily than if there were only one point of contact (you might have to make 10 phone calls to find out that one person is closer to a response call than another car). We also placed hams at all of the staged relief stations to help with supplies, and they also served as relays to the SAG cars. This year we had 24 ham radio people and about 14 bicycle people, which is a total response team of about 38. It is large project to keep all of the people deployed properly. The weather conditions this year were terrible for a bike event. It rained almost all day…and one of the problems with rain is that glass and sharp objects tend to stick to the tires more. We had a huge number of wheel related incidents this year. The other issue, that we still have not totally resolved, is how to track all of the events so that we are aware of what got done and what is still open. There were many times at the net control station when there was almost too much going on and it was tough to know how well we were managing the incidents. Every year, we handle about 100 calls for transport or assistance. We usually handle or hear about 3 or 4 serious accidents, requiring ambulance transport. Most of the serious accidents get handled with cell phones on the spot. So, while it might seem like fairly benign activity, it turns out that we have become crucial to the success of the event. I would like to thank the core team from the NSRC who worked this event and the number of good folks from Lake County RACES who jumped in to help at the last minute. It was great to show how Ham radio can be used to serve our community.

Hams support the Chicago Marathon

On a much larger scale, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon held its 35th annual run in October. For the third year, ham radio operators helped provide critical medical support from the 21 field hospitals to the ambulance dispatch service in the main event command tent. We had 120 ham radio operators from three states that provided support. Some drove long distances to help out (Peoria, Quincy, and Milwaukee, to name a few). This year, along with our usual medical traffic, we were asked to provide some medical metrics from the course to help the organizers manage their response. We kept track of the number of patients in each Aid Station and asked the doctors from each Aid Station to provide some sense of the “stress” they were facing…measured using a combination of patient numbers, supplies, and support. The reports were called back to net control on a half hour basis and entered into a Google Apps program so that it could be examined by a number of event officials. This year, the event was warm – not as hot as in previous years, but warm enough for us to need to carefully track runner conditions. Every year, we learn more about our abilities and our capabilities. There were certainly some failures along the way (we had a repeater that didn’t work as we had hoped), but by and large, we were a very organized team. After the event, the medical doc in charge of the entire team of 1200 medical professionals sang our collective praises. We were able to provide him a clear sense of how his medical teams were responding to the runners. Once again, the North Shore Radio Club was very well represented. We had almost 14 members in key positions, both on the leadership team and also in many of the operator positions along the 26.2 mile course. The remarkable part of this experience was how we as a ham community have responded. We had 8 repeater systems from many different clubs available for this assignment. We had hams representing almost 26 different organizations. Collectively, through this work, many key city officials have taken note of what we have done and have seen first-hand how the ham radio community can be an effective resource if needed. Planning has already begun for both events already for next year! Join us!