Today and tomorrow is “Field Day” for amateur radio operators. Local ham radio clubs set up a station, or more commonly multiple stations in places such as parks. Antennas are strung up and tents or picnic shelters used as operating locations that are run off generators, solar power or other alternative electric sources. While this is a social event and an opportunity to work many other stations in a short period of time, the purpose is to practice and demonstrate how amateur radio provides communications in an emergency.
Our local club set up in a park and operated stations using digital communications, voice and Morse Code. They’ll operate through the night and tomorrow afternoon shut down and return the park to its original condition. Why? Because in the event of an emergency, that is how it would actually be done. If a storm hit and knocked out regular communications, amateur radio could be up and operating in a matter of hours. Digital communications are relatively secure so sensitive information could be passed without casual eavesdroppers being able to hear details. Voice communications are useful for information that needs to be passed to multiple stations at the same time in a quick fashion. Even in this computer age, Morse code has a place. When there is a lot of noise on the frequency, a message in Morse can be heard when voice would be lost in the noise, and communications can be carried out with a minimum amount of power.
Our mayor came out to the site because he knows that this is a resource that the city would need in an emergency. When the city activates their Emergency Operations Center (EOC) they count on us to have operators at the EOC for as long as it is operational.
Some people look at amateur radio as just some nerdy hobby. It’s true that you have to understand physics, regulations and safety in order to pass the examination to be licensed. However, I’ve been involved with enough disaster support over the years to realize that it plays a significant role in emergency situations. In fact, the first section of the federal law that governs amateur radio (FCC Part 97) states:
- The rules and regulations in this Part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:
(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.
Most of us have hobbies that we enjoy and allow us to decompress from our regular responsibilities. Sports, fishing, stamp collection, etc. all have their benefits, but most don’t give you a chance to help out your friends and neighbors in a large scale emergency. When the disaster hits, people want to help and ask, “What can I do?” Amateur radio operators know what we will do and we’ll be in the thick of it.
Doesn’t sound nerdy to me.