805 to the Rescue
For as long as amateur radio has existed, hams have been vital communications links in emergencies. Nowhere is that more evident than in El Dorado County Search and Rescue, where rescuers sometimes depend on the local "805" repeater in the back country.
Search and Rescue, or "SAR", got its start with the 805 system over a decade ago. In those years, the volunteers used hand-me-down CHP handhelds with a lackluster 3 watts and one simplex channel. The furthest they could hope to talk was about 5 miles, and even less in rugged terrain. What's more, every command, every question and every bit of information was shoe-horned onto that one channel.
There had to be a better way, and when the FCC unveiled the No-Code Technician license, El Dorado SAR members lined up to take the class. It wasn't long before 805 was carrying SAR traffic on real search missions.
The 805 repeater really came through in February 1992 when a huge winter storm blasted the region, knocking out utilities everywhere. There was virtually no electrical power across the west slope, and little phone service. Families were stranded without heat, and many elderly people were in dire straits without medicines, or without power to run specialized medical equipment. SAR volunteers were sent all over the County, but their normal radios quickly lost contact with headquarters in Placerville. However, 805 was up, and throughout the emergency it carried orders for SAR teams as they evacuated families or delivered emergency supplies. Afterwards, when Search and Rescue volunteers received commendations for their work, the 805 system rightfully deserved some of the credit.
These days, SAR's radio equipment has improved. Their primary traffic is now carried on the Sheriff's modern, multi-site VHF repeater system. So why do they still carry 805? Because SAR often has to follow its "customers" deep into the back woods, outside the range of the Sheriff's system (which, after all, was designed to cover roads and populated areas). The 805 system, with its broad handheld coverage and powerful signal, reaches into a few remote spots where other systems don't.
Together, Search and Rescue and the 805 repeater are just another example of how amateur radio still comes through in emergencies.
Adapted from the "Jive 805" Newsletter