This year has been traumatic for Americans. We’ve seen devastating storms of historic proportions, watched news reports of accelerating losses from global terrorism, and have seen the country divided as casualties mount in Iraq.
But we also have a lot to be thankful for. Americans are resilient and they are resourceful. They respond when they are needed, and this was never more visible this year than during the hurricane season. Devastation wrought by such seemingly-benign names as “Charlie,” “Francis,” and “Ivan” destroyed vital communications, telephone and power systems. Overhead electrical and telephone lines were whipped into copper spaghetti, cell towers were rendered inoperable, and public safety communications were compromised.
Teams of hams from the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), as well as other licensed amateurs, immediately swung into operation, providing desperately-needed communications links to and from the affected areas.
During such vicious storms, the National Hurricane Center in Miami relies heavily on amateur radio to relay weather information as an assist to forecasting. It's a job any ham can perform if properly trained, and it's not necessary to be in the middle of the maelstrom to be of use. Floyd Soo, W8RO, of Oakland County, Michigan, is one of many volunteers who contribute their services to the Hurricane Watch Net on 14.325 MHz (USB). Because propagation during the storm prevented the Hurricane Center from receiving local reports, Floyd set aside his duties at his video production studios to go full-swing into passing weather information on the net during Hurricane Ivan.
Disasters such as we witnessed at the Twin Towers inevitably bring casualties, often at levels that overwhelm local health care facilities. The American Red Cross deserves its time-honored respect for response in such incidents. And once again, here we find amateur radio operators providing the backbone of life-saving communications. The ARRL has a working agreement with the Red Cross for supplying ham communications on an as-needed basis.
And then there’s the long-heralded Salvation Army relief organization (Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network – SATERN), whose cadre of hams, also administrated through the ARRL, can be heard passing health and welfare messages to worried families and friends on 14.265 MHz (USB) every time a hurricane strikes land.
A Technical Resource
In the educational and international relations fronts, many of our astronauts are licensed hams who have been establishing communications with schools and individuals around the globe while orbiting in the International Space Station (call sign NA1SS). Just two months ago (September 11), astronaut Mike Fincke, KE5AIT, became the first ISS crew member to earn the International Amateur Radio Union’s (IARU) Worked All Continents (WAC) certificate from space! Mike’s last contact during that period was with the Palmer Research Station in Antarctica (call sign KC4AAC).
At an on-going level, hams have also been responsible for verifying claims of radio interference from the new Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) computer interconnect systems. The emerging threat is exemplified by a recent case in which the ARRL asked the FCC to shut down a BPL system being tested in Cottonwood, Arizona. Radiation levels coming across the 1.8-30 MHz spectrum were so high (typically 60 dB over S9!) as to prevent any radio communications.
For decades, amateur radio operators have served as a technical resource for public safety, resolving deliberate and incidental radio interference problems with direction-finding equipment as well as providing skilled help in improving communications systems. Recently our local club was contacted by the sheriff’s office to find out why some of their mobile units couldn’t be contacted at specific locations in the county. We emulated their mobile installations using adjacent-spectrum ham frequencies, dispatched ourselves to the reported trouble spots, and presented our findings to the department for their resolution.
After a serious drop in numbers, amateur radio’s ranks are now increasing, probably as a result of amended code requirements and the discovery of ham radio by technically-minded computer buffs. With the recognition that the computer age and electronics technology is the buzz of the future, ham radio may see renewed growth in the future.
We hope so, because whatever misfortunes the future may bring, we know we can depend on the hams to continue their time-revered legacy of sharing their technical skills to provide vital communications between the stricken area and the outside world.
The Spirit of Volunteerism
Of course, you don't have to be a ham to be a resource for your community. You don't even have to be able-bodied. There are plenty of stories of men and women restricted to their homes who still perform a public service by listening to a scanner, citizens band radio, GMRS, FRS, or shortwave communications.
You do need some kind of training, however, to recognize and evaluate an emergency and to know what to do or whom to notify. Some of you have acquired your training the hard way – through experience, and some of you may want to look into the new CERT program (Community Emergency Response Team http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/CERT/), as Skip Arey recommended in his August Ham Bands column.
If direct involvement isn't something you feel you can do, you can support the ability of the amateur radio community to continue doing what it does: Write your congressman to support the Amateur Radio Spectrum Preservation Act the next time it is reintroduced. The work the hams do in a crisis is professional, effective and invaluable. The government could never afford to pay for the type of service it receives from amateur radio volunteers.
Most of us reading this magazine have been blessed, merely in having the wherewithal to own a radio of any kind. Most of us can also afford to donate a little time to ready ourselves for service to our community whatever the future may bring – And, we'll count ourselves truly fortunate if that service turns out to be simply directing traffic – or relaying traffic – at the annual Thanksgiving parade!
For additional information:
American Radio Relay League (225 Main Street, Newington, CT 06111-1494; http://www.arrl.org/ ; 860-594-0200 general; 860-594-0397 donations)
American Red Cross National Headquarters (2025 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006; http://www.redcross.org ; (202) 303-4498 general, (800) HELP-NOW donation
Hurricane Watch Net (Hurricane Watch Net, Inc., 10374-178th Ct. So., Boca Raton , Fl. 33498; http://www.hwn.org)
Salvation Army (P.O. Box 269, Alexandria, VA 22313; http://www.satern.org or http://www.salvationarmyusa.org; 1-800-SAL-ARMY)
This page is open to thoughtful opinions on radio-related topics. Articles may be edited for clarity or length, and may be published in the Letters column if not used here. Opinions expressed on this page are not necessarily those of Monitoring Times or Grove Enterprises (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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