Hello everybody. My name is Jon Rubin and I’m the Emergency Coordinator for Hillsborough County’s ARES/RACES program. I’ve been a guest blogger a few times over the last several years, and I’m honored to have been asked to do it again.
For those of you that don’t know,
ARES/RACES is a combination of 2 different volunteer programs. The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES). They both provide emergency communication services, the only difference being that ARES does it for the general population while RACES does it for governmental agencies.
We’re actually written into the county’s emergency operations plan for hurricanes. As a part of that plan we are co-located in their office.
Back in November, the county moved from the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on Hanna Avenue to a brand new Public Safety Operations Complex (PSOC) on Columbus Drive. As you can imagine this was a massive undertaking but the results are well worth it. The new facility is can withstand winds of 200 MHP and unlike at the old EOC, our office inside the PSOC is specifically designed for its purpose.
The entire room is a Faraday cage that keeps almost all radio signals from getting in. It starts with something called a halo which runs around the ceiling. It electrically bonds everything in room together. This very much reduces the chances of us being struck by lightning. This picture below shows the wires coming in from our antennas on the roof, and their connection to the halo. On the bottom left of the panel you will also notice a cell phone repeater. It takes cell signals from outside and brings them inside. Without it, cell reception is only one bar, if you’re lucky.
Because they’re metal, even the door frame is bonded to the halo.
Electrical current occurs when there is a difference in charge between one point and another. Halo’s work by keeping the charge equal throughout the room. If there’s no difference in charge, there’s no current and no damage. This is even if a lightning strike does occur. All the energy of the strike is simply directed to the ground through this connection point. It also happens to keep radio signals out of the room, which at least partially shields it against electromagnetic pulses.
All the parts that were used can be purchased at your local Home Depot or Radio Shack store, but none of them were designed for what we’re doing. The entire system is just copper wire, some coaxial cable, and a few connectors. In the truest spirit of makers, we’ve built a very high tech lightning protection / RF shield from almost nothing. It keeps us safe so that the weather is one less thing for us to worry about when we’re active, even if it is the reason why we’re there.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this. It’s just a very small portion of what we’ve built. For more information, please visit our website at Hcaresraces.org.