Amateur Radio Assists Multiple Sclerosis Bicycle Ride

On a hot and humid July weekend, the 22d & 23d, almost thirty amateur radio operators provided communications support for the annual  2017 Multiple Sclerosis Society Keystone Country Ride.   About 325 riders participated in the event, riding 75 miles from Hollidaysburg to State College on Saturday and going back to Hollidaysburg on Sunday.

Amateurs from Centre, Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon, and Venango counties participated.  Though the heat and humidity could best be described as oppressive there were no significant heat related injuries.  Likewise for crashes.  One unfortunate young man had a tire blow out just north of Camp Kanasatki.  A SAG unit took him back to the Camp for repairs and when he resumed the ride he had another blow out only yards from the original problem.
There were a few falls resulting in ‘road rash’ and some insect stings but no significant medical injuries.  The most exciting problem arose when we ‘lost’ a supply of sandwiches for the lunch stop on Saturday.  Between phone calls to the vendor and radio traffic ride officials we located the sandwiches and had a SAG unit pick them up and take them to the lunch stop.  Nobody went hungry.
Because the ride travels through some remote areas it would be impossible to cover the event without amateur radio communications.  One spot, the Spruce Creek railroad overpass, is so deep in a valley that two amateurs were placed on either side of the overpass to make sure one of them could communicate with Incident Communications Command (ICC).  APRS helped locate and direct the SAG units, food truck, sweep unit, and the Incident Commander/Ride Director, Sharon O’Keiff-Fusco, Manager  of the MS Society Keystone Office in Hollidaysburg.  Ms. O’Keiff-Fusco rode in Drew’s, KA3EJV, vehicle.
Again this year the Centre Region Council of Governments loaned ARES the Mobile Command Vehicle (MCV) for use as the ICC.  The MCV is a motor home equipped to be a public safety communications center, including a VHF/UHF amateur radio and two VHF/UHF handhelds.  For this event external antennas and extra radios were installed.  Four operators worked the ICC both days and were able to use laptop computers to monitor APRS and the National Weather Service (NWS).  NWS also provided phone updates both days.  Though there were no unexpected weather events ICC had the most current information possible.  Thank you to the Centre Region COG and Centre County for the loan of MCV.  Several VHF/UHF mobile radios and antennas from the County cache were used during the event.
Over the past several years the ARES EC for Blair County, Drew, KA3EJV, has done extensive work transitioning the planning of this event to the standards of the Incident Command System (ICS), including the use of ICS forms so that the information is standardized and readable for anyone familiar with the ICS system.  Should amateur radio operators become part of a state or federal disaster operation they will be expected to use the ICS and forms.  That makes the ride a great training event for amateur radio operators.  Drew and Carmine, K3CWP are the chief amateur radio planners but Drew has spearheaded using the ICS.  Anyone interested in these forms may contact Carmine, K3CWP.
We also need to say thank you to the Keystone Country Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Manager Sharon O’Keiff-Fusco for inviting us to participate.  The MS Society considers amateur radio integral to the safe execution of this event and asks for amateur radio volunteers for other events around the state and country.
Fourteen of the amateur radio operators participating were from Centre County.  Most of them volunteered on both days.  They were:
  • KB1BH, Ken
  • K3CWP, Carmine
  • KC3EHQ, Scott
  • WA3ENK, Rod
  • K3ERP, Elaine
  • KA3LTZ, Tim, and Nikki
  • KR3ORY, Rory
  • K3ROG, Rich
  • AA3SQ, Joyce, and Rebecca
  • KB3TBX, Jim
  • KB3VDG, Ryan
Returning to Centre County to help:
  • W3JIM, Jim
  • KB3ZUP, Emily
 In addition to the above hams, N3EB, Eric put together a crossband repeater that provided a link to the 146.61 repeater in Altoona, PA.  His repeater was at Centre Communications and took advantage of the ground elevation and large tower there.  This helped Incident Communications Command (ICC) maintain contact with amateurs on the  southern end of the ride.
As ARES EC for Centre County, my personal thank you to everyone who participated.  While the Keystone Country Ride is a lot of fun for amateur participants it is also valuable training should we be pressed into service during a disaster or other major event.
Carmine W. Prestia, Jr., K3CWP
ARES EC Centre County
Centre County ACS Officer