When All Else Fails, Amateur Radio Saves People in Distress



LAHORE: Modern communication systems may seem robust, but they prove useless in the event of a disaster, lack of power or due to patchy network coverage. In such emergencies, it is always good old ham or amateur radio technology that provides communication links and saves lives.

As the world observes Amateur Radio Day on Monday, Asadullah Marwat, 50, Vice President of the Pakistan Amateur Radio Society (PARS), said Anadolu Agency that this relatively old communication system helped connect people and government at critical times.

Every April 18, radio amateurs around the world take to the airwaves to celebrate. It was on this day in 1925 that the International Amateur Radio Union was created in Paris.

“During the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods in Pakistan, PARS did the main relief work by establishing a network and connecting the government with the people at the local level,” he said.

When telephone lines and mobile towers were knocked down by the earthquake, his amateur radio network sent 30,000 messages from earthquake-hit Muzaffarabad to Islamabad in a month, until other modes communications are restored.

Although, coming from a legal background, his father’s work with walkie-talkies, radio antennas and transmitters had fascinated Marwat since childhood.

“We both joined PARS in 1992 and got our licenses. Now my two sons are also licensed,” he said.

He urged parents to encourage their children to understand and learn ham radio technology, so that they will be able to help those in distress during disasters.​​​​​​​

Unlike one-way commercial radio, which is used by the general public, amateur radio is a two-way communication technology. A walkie-talkie used by police personnel and security guards is a simple example of two-way communication.

“The amateur radio service has its dedicated frequencies and it falls under the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) which governs all frequencies in the world through radio regulations,” Marwat said.

He said governments regulate the technical and functional realm of transmissions and then issue station licenses to individuals. All amateur operators must obtain these government-approved licenses to operate.

On the importance of amateur radio, Marwat said that the US space agency NASA still uses the amateur radio station for reliable and uninterrupted communication. Therefore, each astronaut before entering his space vehicle must obtain an amateur radio license.

“They (the astronauts) know that even if all else fails, this connectivity system will still be there to help them,” he added.

Marwat’s organization also helps students pursuing careers in physics and electronics by providing hands-on training in how waves work.

“Along with other educational institutes, we also work with the institutes associated with space technologies. Our 600 members work as volunteers and fund their activities themselves,” he said.

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