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Monday, October 20, 2014

When All Other Communications Are Down - Gold Hill Now Has a Solution

by Patricia Billinger
Drive into the mountains west of Boulder, and you feel transported back in time: rustic wooden mining buildings from the Victorian era hug the hillsides, many roads remain unpaved, and cell phone service is rare. Residents have continued a long-standing tradition of rugged self-reliance because they know that when bad weather or disaster strikes, they may find themselves cut-off from the outside world, often without power, Internet or even phone service.

The devastating Four Mile Canyon fire of 2010 spurred residents in the tiny mountain town of Gold Hill to take action to protect the safety of their residents and their neighbors in nearby communities: they formed a neighbor-to-neighbor “NeighborLink” system to ensure everyone is quickly informed of emergencies, and set up a “SafeSite” location with provisions and a staffing plan to assist residents fleeing neighboring canyons and towns during emergencies.

The Fourmile Canyon fire also inspired the idea of creating an “AirLink” system that would allow for uninterrupted emergency communications between and within isolated mountain communities in Boulder county.
This new HAM radio repeater sits at a high point near Gold Hill
to enable emergency communications.

The danger, isolation and destruction of the 2013 Colorado Floods brought the realization that there was still a gap in their ability to communicate quickly with other towns and with emergency management in order to access and share vital emergency information – at a time when information is needed most, and could make the difference in saving lives.

“Unfortunately, during emergencies, we may lose all usual means of communications: phones, internet, and road. During the floods of September 2013, phone service was not available for several weeks during and after the event. Internet was down as well…We do not have cell phone coverage up here even during normal times. Power was out,” explained Pamela Sherman and Dina Elder in a proposal for the solution: an amateur radio system with a strong enough repeater to carry its signal out of the rough mountain corridors surrounding the town.

On Saturday, Oct. 18, community leaders in Gold Hill installed a radio repeater that is key to the communications system.  Additionally, Gold Hills is also purchasing a variety of other equipment, such as antennae, hand-held radios and power supplies to support the HAM radio network.
A closer look at the HAM radio repeater in Gold Hill, which sits inside a pick-up truck.

The Red Cross is providing a large portion of the funding for the project – up to $5,000. It’s one of several projects the Red Cross is supporting in communities like Gold Hill to improve their disaster preparedness and resilience. In addition to the Gold Hill project, the Red Cross is also supplying VHF radios, HAM radios and related tools, weather radios and pagers to BCARES  and multiple volunteer fire departments, including Pinewood Springs and Big Elk Meadows. The communications equipment will improve the communities’ ability to receive and share vital information during times of emergency.

“We realized that the town could not provide 100% of the needed funding [for the HAM radio network] and requests were made to other organizations to fill the gap. The Red Cross, almost immediately, was the first to step up. You not only showed enthusiasm for the project, but provided substantial additional funding so that it could be completed,” wrote Peter Swift, Chairman of the Gold Hill Town Council in a letter to the Red Cross. “It is this kind of proactive response in anticipating future emergency needs that will not only help the community respond to future emergencies, but could potentially save lives and protect property.”

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