As Hurricane Isabel swept into town on Wednesday, Sept. 17, Katerina Chelpon too advantage of the chance to put all the emergency training and ham radio lessons to work. The 15-year-old arrived at the Alexandria Red Cross shelter with her father, Harry Chelpon, to help out.
"We packed our first-aid bags and radio gear," Katerina said. "We took the flags down, folded them and ran for cover."
For her efforts, Katerina was honored by Fairfax County Public Schools along with seven other high-school students for their ham radio expertise, which helped communication efforts at the shelter. The other seven students were Lisa Harman, Edison High School; Kris Ostergard and Colton Jones of Hayfield Secondary; Ian McCusition and Andrew Wesley of Mount Vernon High School; Erin Stewart of Poe Middle School; and Jon Baker of West Potomac High School. Katerina is a sophomore at Lake Braddock Secondary School. The eight students are all amateur radio operators, known as ham radio. They worked throughout the night.
The Fairfax County School Board recognized the students for setting up radios for the Alexandria emergency operations center; handling radio message traffic between EOC, shelters and the Red Cross; providing radio communications and first-aid support; helping Red Cross volunteers assemble food, water, cots, blankets and emergency medical response gear for distribution to shelters in Alexandria; and distributing bottled water to homeowners without running water.
"We had set up a net control. Everyone had to talk to one person," Katerina said.
Katerina has been at the controls of a ham radio for 18 months after Lisa Harman introduced her to it. Both girls are members of Venture Crew 80, a chapter of the Boy Scouts. A venture crew specializes in emergency communication and first aid. Although Katerina is only 15, she wants to enter that field when she graduates.
"I really want to study medicine, but if it doesn't work, I'll go into the military and be a rescue diver," she said.
Harry Chelpon is not surprised by his daughter's aspirations. He spent 13 years in the Coast Guard.
"Katerina ended up manning [the Alexandria shelter's] first-aid stations as well," he said. "It was a wonderful experience; watching kids react with the Red Cross Relief Crew was wonderful experience. I'm supportive of whatever she wants to do."
Fellow honoree Andrew Wesley is also into ham radio. Andrew was at the Red Cross in Alexandria, as well. He has worked with Katerina before.
"She teaches things like emergency preparedness to the younger Scouts," he said.
Katerina has other things on her agenda as well. At Lake Braddock, she's on the track team in the shot put and discus. At her church, St. Catherine's Greek Orthodox, she's on the basketball team. Last summer, she spent several weeks at a Boy Scout camp in Goshen, Va., where she was a lifeguard and merit badge counselor.