Poway’s amateur radio enthusiasts, or “amateurs,” spent 24 hours in Lake Poway on Saturday and Sunday contacting other amateurs around the world for the annual American Relay League day.
The Poway Amateur Radio Society had around 30 radio amateurs participating in teams throughout the event, said Charlie Ristorcelli of PARS. The event was nationally canceled last year due to the pandemic, so being able to hold it again was nice, Ristorcelli said. The event ran from 11 a.m. Saturday to 11 a.m. Sunday.
The field day is the largest international amateur radio operation, Ristorcelli said. It helps prepare radio amateurs for field communications to help in an emergency. Ristorcelli said PARS held its first Field Day in Poway in 2017 at Fire Station No.3. In 2018, the event took place at the Poway Fire Department training building, before the event will not travel to Lake Poway in 2019.
Ristorcelli said that amateur radio, or ham radio, is known as “the communication system that never fails.” Indeed, it does not rely on commercial infrastructure such as electricity or the Internet. Radio amateurs use telecommunications and satellite equipment independent of commercial infrastructure, he added.
Part of being a ham is being able to install and maintain your equipment, which can help you in an emergency. “If (the ham radio computer) breaks, we have to fix it,” Ristorcelli said. “It gives us disaster skills. This is what we practice here.
The hams have helped spread information or even save lives in several international disasters, Ristorcelli said. During Hurricane Katrina, a Poway ham heard a call from another ham stranded on an island when Katrina struck. Poway Ham was able to contact the Coast Guard station closest to the stranded person and a rescue boat was dispatched. In 2015, another Poway ham heard an “SOS” call from a ham in Nepal right after the devastating earthquake. The Poway ham was able to spread information about the earthquake before it was in the news, Ristorcelli added.
The Poway Amateur Communications Team is part of PARS, which is set up to support the Town of Poway Emergency Operations Center at Poway Town Hall. PACT members train every Tuesday at the No.1 Fire Station in Poway to support the community with their skills, Ristorcelli said.
Ristorcelli estimated that PARS hams would likely come in contact between 400 and 500 stations across the country and Canada, including Alaska and Hawaii during the event. Some very large events could affect between 14,000 and 15,000 stations, he added.
Also present at the event were BSA Scout members from several local troops, working on merit badges at a lakeside camp. The Scouts got their merit badges on the radio with the help of PARS members. They also learned about emergency preparedness from Terri Sorensen, president of the Poway Neighborhood Emergency Corps. Sorensen said PNEC gave scouts three-minute emergency kits and information kits. She also coached the Boy Scouts on how to organize a family reunion to develop a family emergency plan.
Although unable to meet during the pandemic, Ristorcelli said he and his ham colleagues were busy maintaining their own stations. Some amateurs have taken the time to keep abreast of the latest technologies so that they can integrate them into amateur radio.
Many people are unaware of how far amateur radio has come, Ristorcelli said. Hams have the ability to communicate via satellites and to communicate regularly with the International Space Station, as it has an amateur radio setup. At least one ISS crew member is a licensed radio amateur and there are times set for radio amateurs to communicate with the ISS amateur radio operator, he added.
“Everyone thinks amateur radio is just a bunch of old guys doing Morse code,” Ristorcelli said. “That’s what it was 60 years ago. It’s way beyond that. However, Ristorcelli said hams know and sometimes use Morse code, as it can be more effective than using their voice when there is a weak signal.
Ristorcelli said PARS is not a club or organization, but a fraternal amateur radio group, aimed at amateurs and those who wish to become one. PARS members meet on Saturdays at 8:00 a.m. at the Hamburger Factory in Poway. People interested in becoming a ham can join them for breakfast, he added. Members donate to help cover events, like Field Day or buying a Scout’s first Amateur Radio if the Scout gets a license.
For those who wish to obtain an amateur radio license, Ristorcelli said that the website of the National Association for Amateur Radio, ARRL.org, is a good place to start learning. He also suggested checking out amateur radio clubs in San Diego County, as there are several clubs that administer licensing exams and will mentor those who take up the hobby.