One of our most important duties in the Emergency Services Division is to communicate and to provide for communications during local emergencies and disasters. In other words, collecting, interpreting and providing valuable and pertinent information to the public and to local governments during an emergency in an efficient and timely manner. We accomplish this task using several different methods. This section of our website is devoted to introducing you to some of our programs and technological systems that are in place and ready for any community emergency.
Severe Weather Tracking System
Severe weather is Washtenaw County's highest rated potential disaster risk and we take this potential quite seriously. Our primary method of acquiring severe weather tracking data is the NOAAport C-Band DVB-S satellite downlink system. This downlink provides the Emergency Operations Center with a continuous 10 MB/S feed that includes all images generated by the National Weather Service's Doppler radar network, GOES visible, infrared, and water vapor imagery, all forecast models, and all text generated bulletins within two seconds of being generated or issued. This downlink utilizes two 3.7-meter dishes (a primary and a backup), a dual receiver system, a data ingest server and a GEMPAK image processing server, both utilizing dual quad-core processors and 64-bit Linux operating systems. In addition, two isolated servers and a receiver system are set-up and ready to take over should the primary technology ever fail.
Weather Monitoring Station
The Emergency Operations Center monitors several weather conditions around the clock. Our weather station monitors and automatically logs data and trends for temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall accumulation, and cloud-to-ground lightning strikes within 100 miles of the EOC. The unit is connected to a PC for data logging and a VGA distributor for simultaneous display on multiple monitors throughout the EOC.
Radio Communications Systems
Washtenaw County operates a 7-site simulcast network on the Michigan Public Safety Communications System as the primary means of public safety communications. The original system constructed in 1986 was replaced in 2010 to provide additional coverage for mobile and portable radios, promote interoperability among all agencies, and to implement additional functionality which was not available with older technology. The following Washtenaw County organizations utilize this system for dispatch and car-to-car communications:
- All law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and EMS providers.
- Special Response teams (HazMat, Technical Rescue, SWAT, Dive)
- Emergency Services
- Road Commission trucks
- Ann Arbor Airport Tower
- Several county and local units of government
- American Red Cross
County-Wide "Quick Call" Alerting System
This county wide VHF paging system was developed in the early 1980's to provide immediate 24-hour a day notification for local hospitals, radio stations and 911 centers when severe weather watches and warnings are issued, when roads or freeways are closed due to major accidents, or for any other community emergency such as an evacuation due to chemical accidents. This system was recently expanded to include all county government facilities as well as many schools, factories and businesses. If your organization needs immediate notification about these serious events, contact us at 734-973-4900 for more information. If you have a programmable police type scanner, you can also monitor these messages on 158.760 MHz.
National Emergency Alert System
Washtenaw County and Lenawee County have a joint Emergency Alert System (EAS), designed to provide our citizens with timely information and important directions pertaining to emergencies. The system can be activated by Emergency Managers or by state and federal officials, such as National Weather Service meteorologists. The Emergency Alert System links all radio and television stations, cable television providers, and Emergency Operations Centers in a given operational area (Washtenaw and Lenawee counties, in our case) along with the National Weather Service, state and federal emergency services agencies in order to make sure that the public is well informed about risks to their health and safety.
Washtenaw County's Emergency Alert System stations are WEMU at 89.1 FM and WWWW at 102.9. These stations are linked to both the Emergency Operations Center and the National Weather Service 24-hours a day in order to quickly warn the Washtenaw County community about serious emergency situations.
Broadcasters will immediately interrupt programming and initiate EAS messages for the following bulletins:
- Tornado Warning
- Severe Thunderstorm Warning
- Blizzard Warning
- Flood and Flash Flood Warnings
- Civil Emergency Message
- Chemical Emergency
- Immediate Evacuation
- State or Federal Emergency Messages
Broadcasters will initiate EAS messages at the next available break in programming for the following bulletins:
- Tornado Watch
- Severe Thunderstorm Watch
- Flood or Flash Flood Watches
- Winter Storm Warning
- Winter Storm Watch
Portable Radio Communications
When a large emergency strikes, communications with all personnel sent into the field to manage the emergency is critical. Damage assessment crews, law enforcement personnel, staff activated for shelter operations, and support personnel from other county, state and federal agencies need portable communications to coordinate the response. The Emergency Services Division keeps a full supply of portable radios standing by and spare batteries fully charged ready for action at the drop of a hat.
Amateur Radio Communications
Amateur radio is one of the most valuable resources to Emergency Managers across the country and around the world! Washtenaw County is fortunate to have hundreds of dedicated "ham radio" operators and several communications systems in place that jump into action whenever a large-scale crisis takes place, especially during times of severe weather.
There are 3 separate but closely coordinated Amateur Radio programs, and several communications systems (called "repeaters") that are in place in Washtenaw County. First we'll cover the programs, then the communications systems.
Skywarn is a volunteer partnership established by the National Weather Service and advanced by local emergency managers across the nation that utilizes FCC licensed amateur radio operators who take additional severe weather detection training and report severe weather events as they happen and in real time using established communications links (called "nets") with county Emergency Operations Centers which are in direct contact with weather service meteorologists. This system combined with the severe weather tracking capabilities of the National Weather Service and in our Emergency Operations Center has led to much more accurate and timely warnings for the public. The Skywarn program also includes police officers, paramedics, firefighters and concerned members of the public who have attended Skywarn Spotter training, utilizing the 911 telephone system to report severe events. A truly successful partnership to say the least!
Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES)
The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service was created by the Federal Communications Commission in the 50s as a system to provide local and state governments with a communications "insurance policy" during the cold war. In the event that the government were to experience a large area or system wide communications failure due to the likes of Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) when nuclear weapons detonate, a fully redundant communications system had to be ready for deployment and the clear choice was volunteer amateur radio operators with their personally owned equipment. Since the cold war has ended, the RACES system has proven itself to be an invaluable asset during natural disasters, so the system was enthusiastically left in place. Amateur Radio operators who volunteer to be on-call for RACES activations must first complete Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) independent study training courses to familiarize themselves with disaster response systems and to register with their local emergency management division. Check out the Washtenaw County RACES page for more information.
Amateur Radio Emergency Service
The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) was developed by the American Radio Relay League, the largest consortium of Amateur Radio operators in the United States. The ARES program provides for a system of providing licensed operators for various safety and emergency functions across the country. Agencies that the ARES organizations serve nationally include local Emergency Management, American Red Cross, and other groups who need communications resources during a crisis or large public event.
This secure telephone system would be utilized in the event that we were to experience a disaster that completely disabled our primary communications infrastructure (such as telephone lines, telephone central offices, and cellular telephones). There is even a spare satellite parked right next to the primary one, in case the primary fails for any reason.
Emergency Operations Center Telephones & Backup System
Advanced technology is great, but backups to the technology are not only wise but essential. In addition to the primary PBX phone system at the Washtenaw County Service Center, the Emergency Operations Center has over 30 non-PBX "Centrex" 7-digit outside single lines installed and ready for action.
Mobile phones are obviously essential to any Emergency Management agency. And though they come in very handy when handling local emergencies, the fact of the matter is that they will not be very useful in a community wide disaster. Many tower sites do not have emergency power sources, they are as susceptible to lightning damage like any other communications system, and they utilize telephone circuits and switches like regular telephones. They also have a per site user limit. It is for all these reasons that wireless phones can not be depended upon during a disaster!