Story by Mike Nicholls

During and following the Walbridge Fire in 2020. Cazadero had no 911 service for days – our telephone landline provider, Frontier Communications experienced a central office back-up battery failure, Comcast/Xfinity failed once their battery back-up system discharged, and like many West County areas, there is no reliable cell service within the isolated community of Cazadero. Another system was needed for backup.

Luckily, Tony Goodwin had established a small successful neighborhood GMRS network on East Austin Creek Rd in 2019 following the Pythian/Nunns fires in Eastern Sonoma County and was willing to help us create a similar system in Caz. We received generous funding from the Cazadero Community Club and the Cazadero Firefighters Association plus contributions from local individuals and homeowner associations. The $4,500 raised purchased repeaters and established a revolving fund for the purchase, programming, and sale (at cost) of relatively inexpensive hand-held “handy talkie” radios with improved antennas.

The Wildwood and Mohrhardt repeaters were placed into service by June 2021. With the support of Johannes Hoevertsz, the county director of TPW/Sonoma Public Infrastructure and Supervisor Hopkins, PG&E settlement and TIF grants funded additional hardened repeater sites throughout the county and repeater upgrades to provide improved coverage.

We have spent a year and a half hosting training sessions and encouraging those that had purchased radios to join a weekly CazNet (communications networking meeting), in order to gain experience in radio use and protocol.

On January 5, 2023, our work really paid off. With the severity of weather, localized flooding, and power outages, our ‘CazNet’ was called into immediate action. 

• We scheduled nets four times daily at set times, hosting general information check-in’s, specific wellness checks, 911 inquiries, PG&E progress regarding the restoration of power, and the ever-vital stream, and creek height reports keeping our neighborhoods informed. 

• Several of the key CazNet management team monitored the Cazadero repeater frequencies 24/7 to handle and dispatch emergency calls. 

• Two of the members had Starlink data connections and were able to update our CazNet meeting information on a ‘just in time’ basis. 

• One ‘net’ member reported a non-ambulatory patient and his family had no water, light and heat as their generator had failed. Within 8 hours, volunteers had donated a temporary generator, restored power to their well, had their forced air heater system up and their refrigerator and freezer back in service.

• Other success stories included communicating with Comcast’s Governmental Affairs Manager once broadband service had been restored to our local firehouse. 

• We were able to communicate PG&E’s progress regarding pole replacements in order for Comcast to begin re-hanging cable and replacing damaged drops to specific addresses for residential service restoration and prioritize broadband reconnection for home operated businesses and remote workers.

• One final benefit of the GMRS communications network is that five of the members have also earned FCC HAM radio licenses, and two members of the management team are now certified as Auxiliary Communications Service radio operators from the Sonoma County Department of Emergency Management. This added benefit allows for GMRS issues to be escalated by ACS HAM operators directly to the county via the Department of Emergency Management.

What truly is amazing is the nimbleness of the Cazadero GMRS group – from the date of deciding to move forward in March 2021 we achieved operational status with two repeaters serving our community in less than 90 days. This truly is a success story which can easily be duplicated elsewhere! If you want help setting up your community, reach us at