Ham radio in use at emergency shelter at Cheltenham High

Ed Kenna and his ham radio. (Michael Hinkelman / Staff)
Ed Kenna and his ham radio. (Michael Hinkelman / Staff)
Posted: October 30, 2012

AS HURRICANE SANDY approached the Philly region Monday afternoon, the emergency shelter at Cheltenham High School was more than ready to withstand Sandy's best punch.

In addition to 100 cots, three prepared meals a day, a nurse, a mental-health professional and a generator, the shelter also has two volunteer amateur-radio operators working 12-hour shifts to provide emergency communications between the shelter and Montgomery County's Emergency Operations Center in Eagleville and the American Red Cross.

"We basically provide emergency backup communications if all power goes out," said Ed Kenna, a volunteer with the Auxiliary Communications Service, which works with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. "I brought a battery I can operate off  . . .  for 12 hours if we lose power," said Kenna, 54, a database administrator for an advertising agency. If there was a medical emergency at the shelter and all power was lost, Kenna said, he could use the ham radio to get an ambulance dispatched to the shelter.

The shelter had seven guests Sunday night, but shelter manager Ann Egner, who's with the Red Cross' Eastern Montgomery County Disaster Action Team, was expecting more visitors to arrive Monday night. "A lot of them have been here before, or  . . .  live near rivers or streams and are more likely to be flooded out," she said. During past disasters, the school has provided emergency shelter for residents of North Philadelphia, Germantown and Mount Airy. Egner said her top priority as the hurricane passes through is "to make sure everybody is safe. That's why we've told all our volunteers who come in tonight to plan to stay."

One of the repeat visitors Monday afternoon was Pamela Briggs, 57, who is disabled and lives in a flood-prone area of Flourtown. She moved to the region in December 2005 after Hurricane Katrina devastated her Mississippi home. She didn't expect to be fending off a hurricane here, especially this time of year. "I would have preferred a blizzard. I can handle that a lot better," she said.

Briggs said she was grateful for the shelter. "Everybody does better in their own home, but I understand why I have to be here," she said, adding that the Red Cross "goes out of [its] way to make it comfortable for everyone. They do a good job."

Contact Michael Hinkelman at hinkelm@phillynews.com or 215-854-2656. Follow him on Twitter @MHinkelman.

|
|
|
|
|