How the SFPUC Practiced Emergency Communications While Benefiting Habitat for Humanity

“Ham radios can save lives!” said Nohemy Revilla, SFPUC Wastewater Engineer. “Ham radio is a system that uses radio waves to communicate wirelessly. In the event of a disaster, ham radio operators provide valuable assistance to first-responders, by augmenting other communication technology which may be inoperative.”

The SFPUC employs many licensed amateur (ham) radio operators. In an effort to prepare to assist with emergency communications via ham radio, several SFPUC employees have begun meeting once a month, to organize and conduct drills, so that they can assist with citywide communication should the need arise. 

Several SFPUC employees volunteered to provide ham radio support for the Cycle of Hope.

“We’ve dubbed this group ‘San Francisco Resource Recovery Radio Club (SFR3C)’ since many of us work for the Water or Wastewater Enterprise, and we are expected to maintain safe and reliable systems in accordance with resource recovery mandates.” said Revilla.

The purpose of the Cycle of Hope event is to raise funds – while bicycling – for Habitat for Humanity, an effort toward helping with the Bay Area housing crisis. The event courses range from 12 to 100 miles each. In 2018, during a 62-mile ride, one of the hams took a fall and could not get help because cell phones didn’t work in the heavily forested area along the course. As a result of that incident, that ham radio operator gathered volunteers in 2019 to provide ham radio communication between the various event stops and vehicles, supporting the hundreds of athletes.

Jignesh Desai (center) volunteered to provide ham radio support for the Cycle of Hope.

In November, several SFPUC employees volunteered to provide ham radio support for the Cycle of Hope.

Linda Leong, SFPUC Senior Engineer, was tasked to run the Net Control Station (NCS). Just like an emergency dispatcher, the NCS needs to maintain a calm and collected demeanor no matter the incident type. SFPUC Maintenance Manager Joel Prather and SFPUC Project Manager Jignesh Desai rode along with the Supplies and Gear vehicles, provided mobile ham radio communications with the NCS in heavily forested and hilly terrain.

Left to right: Nohemy Revilla, Jignesh Desai, Linda Leong, Joel Prather.

Revilla was assigned to a water station/rest stop, at the southernmost location along the 100-mile course. Communication amongst volunteers, radio operators, and event organizers went well, and the ham radio team communicated numerous incidents, e.g., cyclists needing a ride back to Event Headquarters.

“The Cycle of Hope event gave us the opportunity to learn through exercising our skills and radio equipment, meet new people, and feel pride for helping out with a good cause. Plus, everyone had a lot of fun! We look forward to participating with Cycle of Hope next year,” said Desai.

There are monthly ham radio planning meetings and drills at the SFPUC’s Southeast Treatment Plant. Participants are joined by many SFPUC experts, including John Cretan, recently-licensed radio operator, Paul Martini, licensed Prop F employee, and Jorge González, who is hoping to get licensed soon. SFPUC building engineers Darrell Andrews and Clem Alambat, stationed at 525 Golden Gate, Richard Barnes, Wastewater Operator at Treasure Island, and Mike Adamow, Wastewater Utility Specialist have participated remotely and are all FCC-licensed ham radio operators.

Several SFPUC employees volunteered to provide ham radio support for the Cycle of Hope.