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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Air Park to Demonstrate Communications System

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Operators of the Agua Dulce Air Park plan to show off a new communications system Sunday that will turn this local airstrip into an emergency information center during a disaster.

The open house, which begins at 11 a.m., will include a ham radio demonstration.

Ham radio operators plan to contact others across the country and have them make telephone calls to friends and relatives of Agua Dulce residents. Organizers say this would be useful if local telephone lines were damaged.

Organizers say they bought the special equipment after receiving a loud-and-clear message from the Northridge earthquake that communications are important in the wake of a disaster. The purchase is part of an effort to update the tiny airport’s 15-year-old disaster plan.

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“It’s really just a demonstration of our ham radio facilities,” said Vic Crowe, a member of the Agua Dulce Airport Assn. “We can anticipate in the event of a disaster, people wanting to contact friends out of state if they are without phone lines.”

The tiny airstrip with its dirt runway was undamaged in the Jan. 17 earthquake. Yet those trying to coordinate activities in the days after the quake realized they would not have known what to do had telephone lines been broken.

Airport officials say they also are updating emergency preparations, such as making a list of pilots’ addresses, fuel and passenger capacity of planes stored there and the location of on-site emergency generators. A list is also being compiled with the names and addresses of elderly and disabled Agua Dulce residents who might need special attention after a disaster.

Officials are also seeking arrangements to have a bulldozer on hand to repair possible damage to the air park’s dirt runway.

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The air park’s role after a catastrophe is the latest topic in a long-running debate here among residents, pilots and government officials. Each group has different ideas for the future of the 25-year-old air park, which is up for sale by its private owner.

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Los Angeles County officials would like a general aviation facility in the Santa Clarita Valley, but many residents want the air park to either shut down or to remain a small facility.

Pilots say purchase by the county would keep the airport from being closed and the land developed. But those living nearby fear county ownership would bring more planes, traffic and noise.

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After the Northridge earthquake, the strip transported five law enforcement officers from Santa Clarita to San Fernando and Santa Monica. Several insurance adjusters also used the strip to travel into the San Fernando Valley. Utility company representatives arrived by aircraft to check oil and telephone lines, and private pilots gained access to family and friends difficult to reach because of damaged freeways.


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