Emergency Response Teams and Communities Prepare for Hurricane Harvey potentially devastating repercussions. Amateur radio enthusiasts are too.
In one statement released earlier Today, the American Radio Relay League released a statement saying its members – amateur radio enthusiasts known as amateur radio operators – are ready. This is because amateur radio operators play an important role in disaster response, from monitoring and reporting storms to providing a method of communication when other methods fail.
Radio amateurs are federally licensed to communicate over the airwaves. Part of this communication is conversation, but part saves lives. Although amateur radio may seem like an outdated hobby – licensed operators had to learn Morse code until 2007 – its frequencies and its operators play an important role in disasters.
“When normal communication systems are not available, amateur stations may make transmissions necessary to meet essential communication needs related to the immediate safety of human life and the immediate protection of property,” states the FCC. What this means for Harvey right now, according to AARL is just a team of volunteer hurricane spotters send status reports and data such as wind speed and direction, damage, and barometric pressure. This data is used by government agencies to monitor the hurricane. Depending on what happens, other services like the Amateur radio emergency service could also help.
In the case of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in late August 2005, radio amateurs were able to connect quickly and begin relaying calls for help, wrote Gary Krakow for NBC News. They were “monitoring distress calls and redirecting requests for emergency assistance across the United States until the messages were received by emergency response personnel,” the Bush White House said. wrote in his post-mortem of the Katrina disaster response.
In the wake of Katrina, operators who relayed emergency calls to first responders and connected people to vital resources attracted press attention and, for the first time, government funding to help maintain and develop their network.
This attention is credited with fostering the resurgence of hams in America, writing TW Burger for The Patriot News. In 2016, there were over 735,000 licensed ham operators in the United States, according to the ARRL. This increase in membership means that the United States currently has more registered amateur radio operators than at any other time in American history. according to the ARRL.
“Amateur radio operators provide an invaluable service to their communities by assisting local emergency communications efforts when disasters strike and main lines are down,” said Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal. noted talking about a recently introduced bill that would benefit ham operators. Although based on old technology, amateur radio is still worth looking into.
A previous version of this article gave the acronym of Amateur Radio Relay League like AARL, not ARRL. Smithsonian.com regrets the error.