Real World Ham Radio Exercise – When All Else Fails…

I’ve had many people ask me, “So why did you get into Ham Radio?”

I tell them, “I got into it for local, regional, national, and global communications, among other things.”

Then they come back and say things like, “Get a cell phone or smart phone. Why use 50-100 year old technology?”

Sometimes, being “old fashioned” pays off.

Approximately on 2:30 AM EDT on July 7, 2017, a strong wind event occured taking out huge healthy trees, lots of power lines, leaves, etc. Sadly a lot of structures were damanged including a house in Grand Haven that sadly ended someone’s life.

I remember sitting in my basement listening to the strong west winds pushing on the glass of our walkout slider. I remember thinking, “Well, I’m sure I’ll lose my antennas or porch or worse…”

I was on my radio at the time checked into our SKYWARN net for Ottawa County. Before I continue, I want to give a huge shoutout to all the spotters and our net control that evening. The net ran super smoothly and considering it lasted from 2:30 AM until around 4:45 AM, we had about 8-10 people checked in giving reports from various areas in the county. Great job to the Ottawa County Skywarn Team! One of our spotters clocked a 69 MPH wind gust at his home station! Some areas had winds over 90MPH!

If you ever want to listen to the Holland Repeater that also serves as the Ottawa County Skywarn Repeater, Click Here. There’s a good net that meets on Monday night at 7:30 PM ET. So feel free to listen on in.

Anyway, after the worst of the storm passed, I walked outside to survey the damage (around 4AM) around the neighborhood. Other than a couple large branches, lots of twigs and tree debris, our yard and home was spared, including my antennas. I know others in my area did not fare so well. One of my neighbor’s HF antennas did not survie. It was crushed by a large tree. I did find some large umbrellas in the middle of the street so I moved those off to the side of the road. We were also the fortunate street in our area not to lose power but only for a few seconds during the storm event. Most people were without power for 72 hours! My sister and her husband were without power for approx 18 hours.

However, also around 4AM, I lost our Comcast connection so there went our TV, phone & internet service. Fortunately I had my cell phone so I could still text, make calls, and get online and I can “tether” my phone to my computer for internet access as well. But I knew that the cell tower must have lost electricity because my cellular performace was horrible. I only live about a half mile away from the closest tower. And after looking at an outage map, the tower was right in the middle of an outage zone. It was only a matter of time before the backup power failed at the cell site & that would end my cellular connectivity.

Sure enough, about 12 hours after the storm came through, the cell site’s emergency power died. It sucked because I was just in the middle of catching Pokemon. Haha! I also took that time to walk around the neighborhood to see the damage. I heard lots of generators running. You could tell who didn’t have power that’s for sure. I saw a huge tree down in someone’s yard. That was sad to see.

Here’s a photo I shot of someone’s downed tree.

So how did I survive being without internet and cell service for so long? That’s where Ham Radio comes into play.

I was able to talk to others as far south as Glenn, as far north as Muskegon, West as Holland, and East as Grand Rapids. I was able to get information about what roads were passible and where power lines were down, as well as find out what places had power.

I know most of the fast food places in the area did not have power. Only one McDonalds was open and the lines were out the door since most people didn’t have power and needed to eat. They even had to have other McDonalds in other counties come in to resupply them because they were going through inventory so fast.

Back to Ham Radio, so how did this “old fashioned” technology help me? Sure I was able to talk to people but what about letting family and friends know you were ok? And how could you inform them if they don’t have radios or are not licensed?

There are many ways, probably too many to mention, but there’s the NTS (National Traffic System) and others like it. It is fast and reliable but not instant as in the following below.

Thanks to VHF Packet, HF Winmor, and APRS, I was able to communicate with family and friends efficiently!

I was able to send email to my mom & dad to let them know I was fine and that we had no damage at the house using VHF Packet & HF Winor. Here’s a video tutorial showing HF Winmor and VHF Packet in action.

And I was also able to use a text messaging service to text family & friends using APRS on my radio! Video on that!

So as you can see, there are many ways to communicate with non-hams in an emergency situation.

Since I have been licensed, I’ve been participating in a event called Field Day. Individuals and clubs get together to test out equipment and make sure everything is in working order and ready just in case there is a disaster of any kind and we’re called upon to help serve the community. It’s also a fun time socializing and eating some delicious food! Yum!

Here’s what a Field Day station can look like:

If you want to learn more about ham radio and get licensed, go ahead and click here! You never know when being licensed can come in handy. It’s a good way to volunteer for your community & help others communicate around the globe. Also, if you want to see Ham Radio in action, find a Field Day site near you and check it on out. Everyone is welcome. You can even jump on the air and make some QSOs (Contacts) with someone next to you to show you the ropes. Field Day is always the Fourth weekend of June.

And lastly, all of the methods of communication I have mentioned, with the exeption of HF Winmor, only need a Technician License. That’s the first out of three licenses. The exam is easy. 35 questions total, multiple choice and get 27 correct to pass. If you want to use HF Winmor, you’ll need to upgrade from Technician to General, which is also a 35 question multiple choice exam and 27 correct to pass.

From AARL:

The Technician class license is the entry-level license of choice for most new ham radio operators. To earn the Technician license requires passing one examination totaling 35 questions on radio theory, regulations and operating practices. The license gives access to all Amateur Radio frequencies above 30 megahertz, allowing these licensees the ability to communicate locally and most often within North America. It also allows for some limited privileges on the HF (also called “short wave”) bands used for international communications

The General class license grants some operating privileges on all Amateur Radio bands and all operating modes. This license opens the door to world-wide communications. Earning the General class license requires passing a 35 question examination. General class licensees must also have passed the Technician written examination.

The Amateur Extra class license conveys all available U.S. Amateur Radio operating privileges on all bands and all modes. Earning the license is more difficult; it requires passing a thorough 50 question examination. Extra class licensees must also have passed all previous license class written examinations.

I hope you find this useful and see how Amateur Radio can assist in emergency communications. No so old fashioned after all!

73s! & see you on the air!

Random thoughts as navigate the web…