When a natural disaster means smartphones and the internet are unavailable, amateur radio operators jump in as the bridge for emergency officials to share information.
Those amateur operators, often called “hams,” provide free backup communications for everything from the American Red Cross to FEMA.
High Point’s Amateur Radio Club will demonstrate emergency communication capabilities on June 26-27 during the club’s annual Field Day, when more than 40,000 ham radio operators throughout North America set up temporary transmitting stations in public places to show ham radio’s science, skill and service to communities, according to David Macchiarolo, local club secretary and Field Day activities chair.
The public is invited to see amateur radio demonstrated at the Field Day station at 3035 Sherrill Ave., Jamestown, starting at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 26, and operating into the morning of Sunday, June 27.
“We use events like Field Day to make sure we can practice setting up emergency radio stations,” Macchiarolo said. “Although we are a relatively small club, we really enjoy gathering ourselves and our radio equipment, setting it up outside and making contacts with other clubs doing the same thing over the U.S. and Canada.”
The HPARC, which has more than 40 members, has existed since the 1950s. Since 2001, Field Day activities have taken place on the Steve Moore family property in Jamestown.
Because of the pandemic, many clubs were unable to gather last year, especially in hard-hit areas like New York and California, Macchiarolo said.
“They just stayed at home and worked from their home radio stations,” Macchiarolo said. “Our club in 2020 was one of the few in the area that actually got on the air together with our outdoor setup. We were real careful and we made everybody wear masks and all that. We’re not going to require it this year because the state has lifted those restrictions.”
The club won national recognition among its peers for the number of contacts made during that Field Day event.
“In 2020, we made contacts with over 2,000 other radio stations during Field Day, and we were actually second in the U.S. in our category for the number of contacts,” Macchiarolo said. “Not bad for a small radio club.”
For Macchiarolo, the No. 1 goal of Field Day is to have fun. His second goal is to help new ham radio operators in the area learn how to get their own FCC amateur radio license and operate in adverse situations to communicate and help others.
On April 15, 2018, an EF2 tornado with 135 mph winds swept through parts of eastern Guilford County, destroying several homes, damaging schools, snapping power poles and leaving streets in shambles. The storm left thousands without power and disrupted operations at the local TV station. Amateur radio operators are often the first at times like that to provide rescuers with critical information and communications, according to George Mccormick of the HPARC.
It’s easy for anyone to use a computer or smartphone to connect to the internet and communicate with no knowledge of how the devices function or connect to each other, but they cannot communicate if there’s an interruption of service or they’re out of range of a cell tower, said Sean Kutzko of the ARRL.
“Ham radio functions completely independent of the internet or cellphone infrastructure, can interface with tablets or smartphones and can be set up almost anywhere in minutes,” Kutzko said. “That’s the beauty of amateur radio during a communications outage.”
Macchiarolo said his third goal involves gaining recognition for local ham radio operators.
“On one hand, I’m pleased and surprised that we’ve gotten so many new members from around the area,” Macchiarolo said. “On the other hand, given COVID, a lot of people spent their time sitting at home thinking about ‘How would I contact somebody in an emergency, if the internet is down?’ They have discovered ham radio is a way to do that.”
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