Radio amateurs train to prepare for widespread power outages | Newton County Company


LAKE VILLAGE — Ham operators across the country lined up Saturday for a 24-hour test of their abilities, an annual event that helps operators practice their skills. A group of ham radio operators set up on the grounds of the old Lake Township Fire Department with campers, antennas and several radios for the 24-hour event.

The goal is to simulate communications via their radios in the event of a catastrophic power loss and the means to communicate both nationally and globally. The group also performs weather scouting and sky warnings. Michael Swiader, president of the Newton County Amateur Radio Association, said the group also helps search and rescue dogs in northwest Indiana locate bodies. With their radio’s GPS, they can send the location within 3 feet to anywhere in the world.

Using radio relay towers spread across the country, they can connect to other amateur radio operators anywhere in the country. Hank Cox, a resident of Crown Point, said he lives in Pueblo, Colorado, and using the towers he was able to talk to residents of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a 5 watt portable radio.

“We work closely with the sheriff’s departments and the fire departments,” Swiader said.

All radio amateurs are FCC licensed and have access to more radio bands as they gain knowledge and experience through a series of radio and electronic theory tests.

Jim Bush of Hebron said he was living in Florida in 2004 when the state was hit by three hurricanes and the power went out for three weeks. The only source of communication was radios, and amateur operators helped their local emergency responders communicate between hospitals, emergency services, food pantries and more. They had nothing more than portable radios powered by 12V batteries. Solar power, batteries and generators can power the largest radios.

A generator was set up for the annual event on Saturday to power the six or seven radios used in the exercise. They use four relays, two in Morocco, one in Crown Point and one in Chebanse, Ill.

The first contact made shortly after the set-up was a naval officer in South Carolina. The group expected to speak with other carriers across the country, including Hawaii and Alaska, throughout the night and into the next day.

“It’s increasingly important to do,” Swiader said.

There are 60 members in the Northwestern Indiana and Northeastern Illinois group. The club hosts bingo twice a month at the Lake Township Community Center and shares the money with the Lake Township Fire Department so “it all goes back to the community,” Swiader said. In the fall of each year they hold a car show at the same location which includes a live band. This money is also given to firefighters. This year, the motor show will take place on September 24.

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