Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Community information hubs would be needed if disaster strikes, commissioner says

By Garrison Wells Updated: November 9, 2013 at 6:01 pm

In the trunk of her vehicle, El Paso County Commissioner Peggy Littleton carries a 72-hour survival kit.

Her important documents are backed up on a flash drive and an ammo box protects one of her hard drives.

Littleton is the light behind Lighthouse, a program that would provide communication centers for local residents in the event a disaster knocks out power grids.

Using ham radio operators and a network of volunteers, it would link an Emergency Operations Center with residents who are left without any traditional ways to communicate with each other and authorities.

The incident could be a major snowstorm, solar storm, terrorist attack or hacker.

It could take years before something like that happens.

Or it could happen tomorrow.

There have been several tests using ham operators in areas such as Ellicott, the Air Force Academy, Calhan and Colorado Springs, so far and all have been successful, Littleton says.

"If we really, truly have something that takes out computer chips, what is really going to happen is unprecedented. We don't know," Littleton says.

The program's simplicity is what would make it successful.

The lighthouses would be manned by volunteers.

The ham radio operators would spread official messages and information during a disaster.

"Out of the thousands we have in the region, there are 400 to 500 ham operators who are already interested," Littleton says.

In all, if each lighthouse were to serve a one-mile radius, Littleton estimates there would be about 150 in Colorado Springs..

In the less densely populated rural areas, there would be fewer Lighthouses.

The way it would work is that the ham operators would receive or send messages to the EOC.

Then runners would take the messages and post them at the Lighthouse.

"It's going to be a place that is convenient walking distance," Littleton says. "They will be near where you work, play and live."

Though it's in the early stages, Littleton says she hopes to roll out the program in spring of 2014.

Contracts that would be signed with Lighthouse facilities are being reviewed, Lighthouse locations are being identified and she is working with other emergency groups statewide and locally, such as the Red Cross.

"I really think we could have this down and be practicing in the spring," Littleton says.

Seattle started five years ago on its community hubs.

Today, the city has more than 50 hubs and hundreds of volunteers.

Lighthouse, Littleton says, is a model that other emergency officials are interested in, not just in El Paso County.

"We're kind-of like a guinea pig," she says. "People thought Noah was crazy when he built his ark, then it started raining."

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