By Joe Sammartino
Members of the local amateur radio community overcame the problem of social separation imposed during the coronavirus by coming together using their radios.
For amateur radio operators, also known as “hams”, this is not a new activity, as most active radio amateurs communicate daily with other radio amateurs locally, regionally, across the oceans. and even globally through the use of Earth orbiting satellites — including the International Space Station.
What’s new is that local amateur radio groups such as the Queen Creek Amateur Radio Club and the Queen Creek Emergency Communications Group are now including status checks of their members during this pandemic event.
Hams call this “health and wellness” checks, a common practice during any emergency event in which amateur radio operators provide communications support to public safety organizations. These hams are checked informally on a daily basis and also every week during formally scheduled meetings called “networks”.
Members of local amateur radio groups meet using a radio repeater located in the San Tan Valley, allowing them to share time together on a wide variety of topics, covering the Valley region of the ‘East and beyond.
Amateur radio does not use the internet or telecommunications infrastructure but, if available, can connect through gateways extending communications around the world simply using a simple portable two-way radio or whatever non-amateurs can. call a walkie-talkie. Amateur radio communication is always reliable and constant, especially when Internet, cellular and normal telecommunications are not available.
Queen Creek’s weekly emergency group network typically consists of some 15-20 participants who “check in” through a central network control operator and then share information on a rotational basis. The “records” normally go from Glendale, Ahwatukee, Mesa, Apache Junction, Gilbert, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Casa Grande and Florence. Keep in mind that this same activity is carried out daily across the country by local amateur radio groups. That’s a lot of health and wellness checking going on.
Topics can range from ‘how are you doing’ to passing on tips and tricks, asking technical questions, commenting on a good book to read, a TV show or movie to watch, trivial questions, sharing information about lines and item availability at local markets, telephone numbers of service providers for the elderly, or one can simply say nothing while listening and monitoring the conversation.
Even non-amateurs can listen to these exchanges because an FCC license is only required to transmit — that is, anyone can listen.
You don’t even need a radio or scanner for Queen Creek Nets. You can listen via the Internet at broadcastify.com/webPlayer/10544.
Using docking stations, mobile radios, or even hand-held devices (walkie-talkies), operators are free to join the group while walking the dog, running errands, hitting local trails or while relaxing at home.
The weekly meetings are moderated by volunteer coordinators, some of whom include Joe Sammartino, N2QOJ, Janet Cooper, KF7SLQ, John Schappert, KI7PPW, Clint Hawkins, KG7BWD, Court Hilton, KF7VF, Steve Knab, KG7BME, Dennis Lawrence, KF7RYX, Ron Earl , K7RWE, Dave Waller, KG7NCV and others as needed.
In addition to the health and wellness exchange, operators hone their skills in case they are needed to help others in an emergency.
But in the short term, amateur radio offers a way to escape the barriers of shelter in place, connecting with others, sharing experiences and being social without the need to meet in person.
An FCC amateur radio license is required to broadcast, but those with scanner radios can listen on the daily and weekly 449.325 MHz networks at 7 p.m. Wednesday and 8 p.m. Sunday.
Editor’s Note: Joe Sammartino, N2QOJ, is a volunteer coordinator of the Queen Creek Emergency Group.