Ham radio operators will ‘show off’ for area residents

Published 9:48 am Friday, June 27, 2008

Thousands of ham radio operators in the U.S. will be showing off their emergency capabilities this weekend. The Albert Lea Amateur Radio Club will be combining operations this year with the Austin Area Amateur Radio Club for this year’s event.

Over the past year, the news has been full of reports of ham radio operators providing critical communications in emergencies including the California wildfires, Oregon and Michigan storms, tornadoes and other events worldwide. During Hurricane Katrina, amateur radio — often called “ham radio” — was often the only way people could communicate, and 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 the weekend of June 28 and 29, the public will have a chance to meet and talk with these ham radio operators and see for themselves what the Amateur Radio Service is about. Showing the newest digital and satellite capabilities, voice communications and even historical Morse code, hams from across the U.S. will hold public demonstrations of emergency communications abilities.

This annual event, called “Field Day” is the climax of the week long “Amateur Radio Week” sponsored by the ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio. Using only emergency power supplies, ham operators will construct emergency stations in parks, shopping malls, schools and back yards around the country. The slogan, “ Ham radio works when other systems don’t!” is more than just words to the hams as they prove 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.

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“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.”

According to Larry Shaunce, member of the Albert Lea club, “Local ham radio operators participate in many public service events providing communications in the Albert Lea and Austin area throughout the year, including storm spotting for the national weather service. The Albert Lea Club as well as the Austin club are always looking for new members. Besides being a public service, it is a very fun and interesting hobby as well.”

In the Albert Lea area, the Albert Lea Amateur Radio Club will be teaming up with the Austin Area Amateur Radio Club and will be demonstrating Amateur Radio at Pickerel Lake Park, Highway 69 South, from noon Saturday until noon Sunday. Members invite the public to come and see ham radio’s new capabilities and learn how to get their own FCC radio license before the next disaster strikes.

There are 650,000 Amateur Radio licensees in the U.S., and more than 2.5 million around the world. Through the ARRL’s ARES program, ham volunteers provide emergency communications for thousands of state and local emergency response agencies, all for free.

To learn more, go to www.emergency-radio.org.