Ham radio club uses Field Day to practice emergency readiness

Over the past year, the news has been full of reports of ham radio operators providing critical communications in emergencies world- wide. During Hurricane Katrina, amateur radio’ often called “ham radio”‘was often the only way people could communicate. As a result, hundreds of volunteer “hams” traveled south to save lives and property. When trouble is brewing, ham radio people are often the first to provide critical information and communications. On June 23 and 24, members of the Heart Of Texas Ham Operators Group (HOTHOG) will participate in Field Day, an annual preparedness exercise sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (www.arrl.org), the national association for amateur radio. The exercise, which aims to engage ham radio operators in shortwave radio communications and emergency preparedness over a 24-hour period, will take place in front of Wal-Mart on South Bridge Street in Brady, in the grassy area between the parking lot and U.S. Hwy. 87 South. The public is invited to visit anytime during the event, which will start around 1 p.m. Saturday and run through about 1 p.m. Sunday. ‘We want the community to know that, in the event of an emergency, we will be ready to assist in any way we can,’ said Rick Melcer, McCulloch County’s Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) coordinator. ‘In major disasters, during which time normal telecommunications services are disrupted, amateur radio operators have served as an important resource to local relief efforts, working with police, fire, the Red Cross and other agencies.’ Amateur radio operators must pass a federal examination to be issued by a Federal Communications Commission in order to obtai a radio license. This grants licensees ‘operating privileges,’ including the right to use high-power transmitters (more than 1,000 watts), different modes (such as voice, Morse code, digital and even television) and thousands of frequencies. Their slogan, ‘When all else fails’ is more than just words to the hams, as they prove that they can send messages in many forms, without the use of phone systems, Internet or any other infrastructure that can be compromised in a crisis. More than 30,000 amateur radio operators across the country participated in last year’s event. ‘We hope that people will come and see for themselves, this is not your grandfather’s radio anymore,’ said Allen Pitts of the ARRL. ‘The communications networks that ham radio people can quickly create have saved many lives in the past months when other systems failed or were overloaded.’ They invite the public to come and see ham radio’s capabilities and learn about getting their own FCC radio license before the next disaster strikes. Field Day was designed to test operators’ abilities to set up and operate portable stations under emergency conditions, such as the loss of electricity. During the exercise, ham radio operators set up in local parks, at shopping malls and even in their own backyards; and access the airwaves using generators or batteries to power their equipment. Simulating emergency-message handling, they try to contact as many other Field Day stations as possible. ‘Field Day is a serious test of skill, but it is also a fun contest and the largest ‘on-air’ operating event of the year since it began in 1933,’ Melcer added. Today, amateur radio operators number more than 660,000 in the United States and more than 2.5 million worldwide. To find out more about amateur radio or how to get a radio license, go to the Heart Of Texas Ham Operators Group Web site at www.hothog.org.

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