Amateur radio is there when all else fails

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Our communication systems may seem robust, but past disasters have shown this to be not the case. Amateur radio groups across the country, and even in Jefferson State, are there to fill in the gaps.

Imagine there was a natural disaster in your area. You have lost electricity, it is impossible to get in your car and drive in a safe place, and most importantly, the cell towers are down. How are you going to connect with your friends and family to let them know that you are doing well? This is where amateur radio operators come in.

“In Puerto Rico, in Maria, the amateur radio has become, by military analogy, the light infantry. We could walk into a community, establish communication and at least get information from there, ”says Joe Bassett, an amateur radio operator.

Credit Joe Bassett

Members of the volunteer amateur radio group in Puerto Rico receive messages from other operators on the island.

He volunteered with 21 others to provide communications support in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Volunteers assisted with many aspects of the disaster recovery. Andy Anderson was another volunteer.

“I was assigned to the Guajataca area, the Guajataca dam, especially because the dam was going to break and they needed someone up there for security to communicate with the power company. dam owner and emergency offices in San Juan to prepare, “he said.

Puerto Rico is just one example where ham radio stepped in and helped disaster recovery. You will find dedicated volunteers providing emergency support across the country.

Robb Mayberry works in the Office of Emergency Services in California. He says California works frequently with amateur radio groups, most recently during the Ridgecrest earthquake in July.

“Even though the lines of communication didn’t necessarily go down,” he says, “we had some activity with the amateur radio operators in the field who got set up and started giving us information. on what they were seeing in the area. “

The Jackson County Amateur Radio Emergency Service, or JC ARES, exercises its radio skills every week to prepare for the next disaster. Steve Bosbach of the group says a lot of people get involved in ham radio for fun, but end up finding ways to help their community.

“I have been a ham since 1978 and have done most of the things hams like to do. Work long distances and collect QSL cards that commemorate the contact, ”he says. “But now I give back to the community, using what I know to help the community. “

Groups like JC ARES are what connect amateur radio operators with emergency service organizations. Agencies such as California OES will be in touch with amateur radio emergency groups to find amateur radio operators ready to help in the event of a disaster.

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Credit Roman Battaglia / JPR News

JC ARES members practice their team communication skills.

You might think ham radio is a dying form of communication, but it’s actually stronger than it ever was. There are more licensed amateur radio operators in the United States than ever before, and that number continues to grow.

The training differences between the hundreds of community groups constitute an obstacle to the collaboration of the ham community. Bassett says he saw this firsthand in Puerto Rico.

“Let’s say we had someone over there in the Pacific Northwest who had been trained in emergency operations. And then you have myself training me here in Clay County Florida, ”he says. “The procedures and protocols used can be perfectly valid and beneficial in the event of a disaster. But, if they are not the same procedures, it can cause conflicts, difficulties and unnecessary obstacles.

Bassett says the groups should work with national organizations like the Amateur Radio Relay League to develop centralized training to make it easier for these groups to work together.

If you want to get a radio operator license, there are many groups that organize frequent trainings. But even if you don’t want to step into the amateur radio world, they can still give you great tips on what to do in the event of a disaster. Steve Bosbach of JC ARES has a tip on what you can do if your cell phone calls fail during a disaster: switch to texting.

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Credit Roman Battaglia / JPR News

“The text will just be put in a queue and it will turn off when they find space,” he says. “But if you try to make direct voice contact, it will crash.”

Bosbach hopes more people will get involved in their local emergency service organization. By using their knowledge and skills to help their communities, these enthusiasts can have fun at the same time.

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