COMSONT Net History

The author of the following is Bob Campbell VE3KLK of Ottawa.

The five original founding members in 1978 were:

VE3AML Rolland Beardow Sarnia (Silent Key)

VE3GR Jack Staley Grimsby

VE3CKX George Pringle Windsor (Silent Key)

VE3AUN Clarence Bolduc (Pop) Windsor (Silent Key)

VE3HFR Dick Shunn Orillia

VE3KLK Bob Campbell of Ottawa was the Net Manager from 1982 to 1997.

The following information is from the log books and memory banks of

Bob Campbell VE3KLK.

On 12 Nov 79 The Mississauga Rail disaster (freight train passing through the city at an intersection) for some reason was derailed and several tank cars of toxic chemicals caught fire. The chemicals concerned (I forget now) created a deadly gas used by the military in WW 1 Fortunately, the fumes were going straight up and to some degree dissipating over Lake Ontario. The possibility of winds rising and blowing in all directions of built up areas, was of sufficient concern that the Mayor ordered the total evacuation of the city.

This complete process worked amazingly well but the greatest problem after the Eva., itself was the mammoth flood of telephone calls that completely shut down the city’s phone system. The Radio carried all sorts of pleas for people to ease of but the determination of people to learn where ” Aunt Suzy or Uncle Hoodat just jammed the system. The authorities just had no choice but to invoke Load-Line-Control which effectively cut off all outside contacts. In the meantime, evacuees were being concentrated at evacuation centers out side of town.

And to these areas GOOD Old Hams were drifting to those centers. Gradually the word spread that if you could find an Amateur, you stood a good chance of finding the missing relative. Some Hams actually refused to leave town itself despite the personal risk and these started to send a steady flow of reports to Amateurs outside of town. Others set up stations at the evacuation centers and started sending messages out to be forwarded to relatives of the evacuees.

It was that factor that Rowland Beardow latched on and started to organize a group of hams who worked with little rest for the next couple of days. Being located in Ottawa, a long distance from the event, I listened but did not butt in as the chaps near the area were doing all right under VE3AML’s guidance.

It was only after a few hours that I detected in VE3AML’s voice that he would dearly love to get up off his but and just visit the “John”. I had listened to his control method and was sure I could handle it although many of the others had years more experience than I did. So I asked him if he would like a break. He grabbed my offer like a shot and suddenly I found myself in control of a net for the first time.

Really I expected to have my feet wet for a few minutes but I didn’t realize that Rowland’s bathroom was 52 miles away (or that perhaps he just couldn’t stop the flow) but I had the job for almost two hours before he reappeared. During that time I worked or controlled (sic) the workings of the list of guys that follows.

Some of them became the five founders of COMSONT and others gradually joined in on that net. Others just disappeared. The real founders of the Comsont Net were not Amateurs. They were the Provincial and regional Emergency Measures coordinators. The most active one was Herve Tremblay here in Ottawa. Some of his approaches to amateurs were unfortunate indeed.

The offer to help almost always began with the statement “You just tell us where you want to have an exercise and we’ll just run your exercise for you.” There was no thought of asking the Coordinators just what their problems were and what they wanted to accomplish.

It was finally, after Tremblay was just about ready to give up on the Amateurs that the Coordinator in Sarnia found and had a discussion with VE3AML and he agreed to try and set something up. As you know, what he started is still there and running along nicely. The list attached is the group that I Controlled.

During the period that AML was pumping ship. My logbook shows that some of them definitely became regulars of COMSONT. The first important and influential supporter to fall in and help was the Federal government. This was very helpful as the Province had withdrawn their support, believing that the OPP could carry the communications load with their State-of-the Art 1957 radio gear. It was a dream they later came to regret. Anyway, the list of Amateurs that follows are those that I find listed in my first log book

VE3AML Rowland Beardow Sarnia VE3CTO George Toronto
VE3GR Jack Willowdale VE3HFR Dick Toronto
VE3JII Henry Sault Ste. Marie VE3CNC CY St Catherines
VE3GVM ????? Sudbury VE3CEK George Windsor
VE3CER George Windsor VE3AWO Fred Cornwall
VE3JGO Ted Ottawa VE3FBW Alf London
VE3BYO Frank Trenton VE3DDK Phil Hamilton
VE3XS Len Toronto VE3GRS Bob Kingston
VE3AXN Frank Mississauga W1VVM Tom Mass. US
VE3BLZ Les Sudbury K8DWD Pat Warren Mich.
VE3FSG Fitz Kingston VE3DSX Rudy Timmins
VE3DVB Frank Kingston VE3AAG Norm Ottawa
VE3JRT Frank Beacons Field VE3BSF Vern Stratford
VE3KAT Bill Dunchurch

COMMUNICATIONS ONTARIO (COMSONT)
Many thanks to Don VE3KII Ottawa for all the input

HISTORICAL NOTES

Following the end of World War If the Federal Government established a new agency called Emergency Planning Canada, under the guidance of Major General F.F. Worthington at Arnprior to encourage Municipalities and Provincial Governments to develop plans to respond to disasters in the growing Nuclear Age.

Initially there was a varied response to this but the Province of Ontario did create a planning group under the control of the Ministry Of the Solicitor General. One of the major needs was a communications system throughout the Province. This need was met by encouraging the larger cities and municipalities to establish local emergency planing offices headed by Emergency Planning Officers trained at the EPC training facility in Arnprior, where facilities were set up to simulate various types of disasters and establish standard response for each.

Some of this was done in cooperation with the United States in order that standard plans were in affect on both sides of the International Border and that aid could be offered in the event that disasters of greater magnitude should occur. In Ontario, the communications problem was assigned to the Ontario Provincial Police. This despite the fact that Police radios were hopelessly out-moded, to the extent that Patrolling officers were frequently operating outside the range of their base stations.

In fact the newest equipment they had was state-of-the-art, 1953 cumbersome and low powered equipment. It was also soon established that in the event of a major disaster, normal Police duties posed a huge burden to the Police and left no staff or equipment available to provide communications between disaster response command posts and variously located equipment of other facilities (not the least -Hospitals).

At first the province supplied the Emergency Planning Officers (EPOs) with base radio stations of their own but this did not cover the mobile equipment that would have to work close to the site of the emergency. The EPOs established a network between their main offices which at least provided a foundation for intercommunication between them.

Then in the mid-seventies, with no warning, the Province stepped out of the whole business, canceling any further funding and leaving the old radio sets to gradually die from lack of any maintenance. Several of the municipalities also dropped any support and quite a few EPOs were let go.

Ottawa/Carleton however, being the site of EPC was encouraged to carry on and their EPO, Mr. Herve Tremblay in cooperation with the EPOs in Sarnia and Windsor made great efforts to continue with the program. Meanwhile the OPP were left with the responsibility but no program to follow should a real disaster occur.

Tremblay and his colleagues recognizing the realm need for reliable communication approached the Federal Department of Communications in Ottawa who suggested that perhaps an approach to the Radio Amateurs might help establish a volunteer radio support group. This was done with mixed results.

True, Amateur operators had taken part in various exercises in emergency situations, but Tremblay’s first attempt to hold an exercise (a simulated aircraft crash in the bush near Carp) was a bit of a disaster in itself. The Amateur emergency controller, from a local radio club, rather than find out what it was that Tremblay required, simply told him to just stand aside and he (the Amateur) would run his “little exercise” for him.

When the event was over as far as the Amateur was concerned, he took his operators and was not seen again. When Tremblay attempted to hold a critique, the Amateur said it didn’t appear necessary as everything had gone off quite well. To say that Tremblay was less than enchanted with this performance is an under-statement. However he did take the time to inform DOC what he thought of their suggestion.

Fortunately in DOC there was a very active Amateur (an OPP Reservist) by the name of Joe MacPherson, who got right back to Tremblay and encouraged him not to be put off by his unfortunate experience. In the meantime Tremblay had informed the Sarnia EPO, who himself got in touch with some Amateurs and his search led him to VE3AML Rowland Beardow, a retired Royal Navy Radio Operator who listened carefully and then agreed to see if he could get a group together.

As this was under way along came the Mississauga Disaster and Beardow and his group waded in and maintained a solid network throughout the four days of the event. During this period he kept in touch with EPC and with Tremblay through an Amateur operator in Ottawa. It was through that operator and Joe MacPherson that the basis was founded for COMSONT (Communications Ontario).

One thing that quickly became clear was that COMSONT was not an organization that in the event of an emergency would all arrive in a big van and pour out a collection of radio operators to look after the immediate needs of the municipality concerned. The function of COMSONT was to provide a link between the emergency site and officials in Ottawa and Toronto and cities or organizations who had specialist facilities for dealing with different types of problems.

For instance the special group developed in Sarnia for dealing with chemical accidents, which could be alerted and if needed, called upon to provide specialists and special equipment. Therefore, each municipality that incorporated COMSONT in its emergency planning was encouraged to approach their local Amateur Radio Club to form an EMARG (Emergency Measures Amateur Radio Response Group).

A copy of the EMARG in Ottawa/Carleton, devised by Joe MacPherson, was provided as an example. It is interesting to note that through the efforts of EPC Groups similar to COMSONT (with their spin-off EMARGs) have been developed in British Columbia, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. The latter, under the guidance of Joe MacPherson was in active support during the Swiss Air disaster.

The only difference that appeared after the establishment reflected the unfortunate experience of Herve Tremblay during his first exposure to Amateur Radio Operators. Although there are many other Amateur emergency groups, the EPOs insisted that COMSONT not be required to report to any established Radio Club or organization. Members can also be members of their own Radio clubs as they see fit, BUT when operating with COMSONT; their responsibility is to that Organization alone.

That simple restriction has ensured that there has been no infighting or disruptive interference during the 22 years the Net has been in existence. As far as records can be established, in that period there have been only three days when the Net was “off the air” and they were due to solar disturbances. Bob Campbell VE3KLK April 10, 2000


“COMSONT”

“FOUNDING MEMBERS”
1978

VE3AML (SK) ROWLAND BEARDOW (SARNIA)

VE3GR JACK STALEY (GRIMSBY)

VE3CKX (SK) GEORGE PRINGLE (WINDSOR

VE3AUN (SK) CLARENCE BOLDUC (WINDSOR)

VE3HFR DICK SHUUN (ORILLIA)

VE3KLK BOB CAMPBELL (Ottawa) Manager 1981-1997


NON -AMATEURS

HERVE TREMBLAY R.M.O.C. –E.M.O. + 2 STAFF MEMBERS

SUPPORTING ORGANIZATIONS

EMERGENCY PLANNING CANADA (EPC) (FEDERAL GOVERNMENT)

SOLICITOR-GENERAL OF ONTARIO (PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT) (Nuclear Emergency Plan)


EXAMPLES OF NET ACTIVITIES

1. During the rail disaster at Mississauga in 1979, the large scaled evacuation from the city created a heavy overload on the local telephone facilities which prompted the activation of Line Load Control. This was done to ensure the emergency organizations would not be crowded out by calls from the general public seeking information as the where abouts and welfare of relatives effected by the evacuation. COMSONT although in its early stages quickly picked up this task and provided a public welfare service for three days until the restrictions to telephone use were lifted.

2. During the final days of the “Sky Lab” decaying orbit, Emergency Planning Canada, provided the latest forecasts of the possible fill of the satellite into die areas of Northern Ontario Just to the north of Timmins. This information was fed by COMSONT through its network of Amateur stations to various municipalities in the areas directly in the satellites path. The final messages forecast that the satellite would either trip and burn up and crash into that area of Ontario, or, skip and crash elsewhere. In fact, “Sky Lab” skipped and, to quote the final message sent by COMSONT, burned up and the residue crashed in western Australia, “scaring Hell out of a lot of Kangaroos!!!”.

3. During later years, COMSONT through its connection with the Solicitor General of Ontario’s Emergency Branch became the main back-up communications facility in the Nuclear Emergency Plan set up with Ontario Hydro. While the Ontario Provincial Police had the prime communications responsibility it was recognized that Police activity in such an emergency would make, it almost impossible for the OPP to meet the full demand. This factor had already been fully identified during disaster response in other countries (USA & Mexico). COMSONT took part in all the main exercises at the Nuclear Plants, and was recognized by news Media as the best place to find out what was going on.

4. During the Mexico earthquake, four Mexican Officials stationed at the ICAO office in Montreal, unable to make any contact with their families in Mexico City, called on the COMSONT Manager for help. Through contacts with Mexican Amateurs every one of their families was located and it was done in just under eleven hours. That was one of the more gratifying successes of the Net. A letter of gratitude was received from the four men. During that event it was proven that it is not necessary to be in the midst of a disaster to be of help. Rather, it was the remoteness from the events that permitted the Canadian operators to act as relay stations between two points that were unable to communicate with each other although they were not that far apart.

5. COMSONT was able on one occasion to act with the Canadian Coastguard Rescue Station in Trenton improving a message from a supposed sinking yacht off the West Coast of British Columbia was in fact a hoax. It was accomplished by two amateurs with direction finding antennae in cooperation with two Coast Guard DF stations, to locate the culprit in the centre of Vancouver Island

6. On another occasion it was the ability of one of the net’s members to relay a message to Saskatchewan via a station in Australia that enabled the recovery of a vehicle stolen in Ottawa and the arrest of the culprit. The arrested man had not shown too great an intelligence when he stole a vehicle loaded with radio gear and antennae and bearing an Amateur Radio License plate

7. During the autumn of 1987, the COMSONT NET was interrupted in its regular morning session by a weak and rather ragged CW (Morse code) signal which seemed to indicate some one in distress. Net activities were stopped and the daily controller replied to the caller.

In rather poorly sent CW the sender identified himself by name and call sign and explained that he was marooned on a very small island in Georgian Bay. He had damaged his boat just as he was about to leave the island after locking up his cottage for the coming winter. Two Net members came up and confirmed the identity of the sender and said they would get a rescue boat out to him right away.

His story which we got later was as follows. He had taken a lot of his personal stuff bock to Parry Sound the previous weekend and was just doing the final cleanup and cottage closing. He had picked up his radio which was still them but had no auxiliary equipment. He had a toolbox of items he might need in closing the cottage. His boat was a fairly large one powered by a 100-hp outboard motor. As he backed away from the dock he swung too quickly and destroyed his propeller on a rock.

Fortunately he had, as required a paddle, and managed to get himself back to the dock. But as anyone who has ever been among the thirty thousand islands of Georgian Bay he found himself marooned on a tiny island with no way of calling for help. True, he had his radio. But the microphone was in Parry Sound, as was the Morse Key. His antenna was still on the island, but his gas powered generator was at home. He didn’t even have a sandwich to munch on. All he had was his box of tools.

On the plus side, he had the starter battery for the boat. So he took it and the radio back to the cottage and connected it to the antenna. He could now hear but sending was what he wanted to do. Certainly, he could not, with the things he had, construct a microphone, BUT, could he somehow devise a key.

Taking a hacksaw blade, some nails, a bit of antenna lead-in cable and a plug, which fortunately fitted into the CW jack. He created a sort of key using the saw blade as the spring. Gingerly he plugged it into the radio and made a tentative contact.

The power meter jumped to show he had sent out something. So he tuned around and found COMSONT just starting its morning session. He said he called at least six times before he made any contact. When he was reassured that help was on the way he shut down after arranging a series of contacts later in the day. The next day he checked into COMSONT and told us all the above details.

MORAL: never go boating on Georgian Bay without a hacksaw blade, and be sure to know where in the Amateur Radio bands COMSONT works every day of the year.