Ham radio operators to test emergy responses

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Amateur ham radio operators are our last line of communication in times of natural disaster.

Those wanting to know more about what they do and how they do it are invited to watch as the local South Alabama Radio Club participates in the nationwide field day this weekend.

John Brown, SARC president, said local “hams” will join with thousands of amateur radio operators Saturday and Sunday to show off their emergency capabilities.

“The goal of the event is to contact as many states in a 24-hour period as possible – an emergency exercise,” Brown said. “We will operate overnight from 1 p.m. Saturday to 1 p.m. on Sunday using only batteries and generators to power our radios.”

Brown said “hams” provide critical communications during unexpected emergencies and natural disasters.

“In fact, when that bad weather came through Opp (Monday), we were put on notice,” he said. “In times such as hurricanes or storms, when telephones, cell phones and lincs are down, these radios are the only means of communication we have.”

Brown said the “field day” is the climax of the weeklong “Amaetur Radio Week,” which is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for amateur radio.

There are more than 650,000 amateur ham radio licenses nationwide. In Covington County, there are 50 licensed operators, Brown said. Of those, half are active in the event, as well as in providing radio services.

During Hurricane Opal, ham radios were the only means of communication available to emergency personnel, law enforcement and emergency management officials.

“It was the only way we had to get information in and out of Covington County to the people (at the state EMA center),” he said.

This weekend’s local event will give the public an up-close view of what it took – and still takes – to provide this emergency service.

“We tell people all we need is a piece of wire, a car battery and a radio to talk,” Brown said. “This weekend we can show people that we can do more than just transmit a voice. We use Morse Code. We can even transmit a digital signal. Sometimes we can get lucky and catch a satellite passing by. It’s very interesting to see the process.”

This year’s event will be held June 26 and 27 at the Sweet Home Alabama Campground, formerly known as the Pt. A Campground.

For more information, contact John Brown at ke4hie@alaweb.com.

Amateur ham radio operators Tim Trent and John Brown demonstrate the use of a radio. The two will be on-hand this weekend for the South Alabama Radio Club’s annual field day exercise. | Stephanie Nelson/ Star News