Flagler County Assist REACT Marks 30 Years of Emergency and Public Service
FlaglerLive | May 11, 2015
It started with an idea by three high school students: using CB radios to help people in emergencies or large-scale events. That in the mid-1980s, when there were no cell phones, no Internet, no social media. CB radio was the most effective mobile communications, and it was widely used back then. So was born Flagler County Assist, which has served served Flagler County since.
This month, the organization is celebrating its 30th year.
The group began monitoring and relaying emergency or distress calls that were received via Emergency Channel CB 9. More notable calls remembered by longtime members were serious vehicle crashes where CB 9 saved valuable time in getting help to the scene. There was also a call where a child called for help via CB because her father had become trapped under a vehicle.
Immediately after the organization got started it was thrown into the chaos of the 1985 wildfires that May 17. Members tried their best to keep evacuees informed of the fires’ progress and where shelters were being set up as telephone lines failed. After the 1985 fires more members joined and the group began to do broaden its mission.
The advantage of radio equipped volunteers during large-scale public events became apparent as members were asked to help with 5K runs and parades around the county, especially Flagler Beach’s July 4 festivities. Using the radios and being mobile allowed easier and safer operations of these events. As the popularity and awareness of of Flagler County Assist (or FCA as it was known) spread, other organizations and government agencies began to ask for help. FCA made its first appearance at Flagler Beach’s July 4 in 1986, after a request from the Chamber of Commerce.
The organization also began to invest in better communications and got involved in the Skywarn severe storm spotter program in the early 1990s. The group also spurred the development of the first organized ham radio organizations in the county.
In 1991 Flagler County Assist then joined REACT International, becoming a Radio Emergency Associated Communications, or REACT Team. Joining the international organization provided more recognition but also gave the organization insurance and nonprofit status. After that, FCA REACT began to be called upon when the Sheriff’s Office needed help looking for lost or missing persons in the county. Through the mid 1990’s the REACT Team became more involved with Emergency Management and the county’s Emergency Operations Center–not least because of Bob Pickering’s dual role as a REACT leader and a staffer at the county’s emergency services.
As in 1985, Flagler County Assist REACT played a major role in the 1998 Wildfires. Members supplemented the staff at the Emergency Operations Center, helping with dispatching and running supplies to firefighters as well as helping with numerous tasks around the old county EOC. Shortly after that cycle of fires the team made dramatic improvements in communications capabilities by acquiring a General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) system. This was done through a 50/50 grant with Emergency Management. The new radio system was far superior to CB radio and allowed the REACT Team to expand its mission.
When the 2004 hurricanes struck members once again provided support in the Emergency Operations Center as well as helped relay weather observations to the National Weather Service.
Today’s REACT Team is a multi-function emergency response and public service organization. Members have received training in a number of functions that allow great flexibility in responses and functions. One of the first reports to the National Weather Service of the December 2013 tornado in Palm Coast was via the REACT spotter network. Members are also actively involved with the Flagler Emergency Management Volunteer Organization and continue to improve training and capability. Members pay their own dues and supply their own equipment.