Happy World Amateur Radio Day 2019 – Let’s All Be Elmers

World Amateur Radio Day 2019 - Do you have an emergency plan if cell phones or the internet goes down?

Happy World Amateur Radio Day today! (Always on April 18th)

What would you do when a disaster strikes and you had no cell phone connection, landline phones were down, the internet isn’t working, the TV is out. Do you have an emergency plan with family and/or friends?

Let’s all be Elmers and share this wonderful hobby with everyone we know.

Last night in one of the nets I partake in regularly, The West Michigan Emergency Communications Net, had an interesting topic. Is Ham Radio still relevant today with all the modern technological advances?

Absolutely! 2 years ago, when Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean hard, the only means of communication between the islands and the US mainland was Ham Radio. For months, hospitals, local governments, shelters, first responders, and more had only ham radio for serious means of communications.

Cell phones are great, for sure, especially before a disaster strikes but when a storm hits and post-storm events happen, the cell networks and landline networks can go down or all the circuits are jammed with people trying to reach out to loved ones or loved ones in the unaffected areas reaching out to loved ones in the affected areas. Each cell site’s capacity is only meant to handle ~20% of that area’s total population! So when an emergency strikes and you have people trying frantically to get ahold of family or friends, the networks become saturated and eventually fails.

One other bad thing about cell phones during and after an emergency is that the cell sites/towers are vulnerable to power failures. A couple years ago, early July, we had a strong wind storm blast through the county that took out power tens of thousands of people, including the cell phone tower by my house. I noticed a huge decreased performance on my cell phone and signal strength because the site had limited battery power. About 12 hours after the power failure, the power supply at the tower site failed. And I lost all normal forms of communications. Comcast went out and so did my cellular provider’s cell site. Using ham radio, I was able to use Winlink to send and receive emails and text messages to my family and friends to let them know I was ok and not to text or call me as I wouldn’t be able to respond for who knows how long (ended up being ~36 hours). Cellular companies and tower site owners are NOT required to provide emergency backup power for their backbone or radios!

I was also able to use APRS from my radio to send text messages to friends out of state to let them know not text me until further notice.

Another bad thing is that antennas at cell sites can fail too. Winds can rip them off or tree debris get caught in the antennas.

Police, Fire, and EMS radios/tower sites are the same. They too have limited abilities and with the switch to 800MHz digital radios with an internet backbone, the same vulnerabilities exist as well. Fortunately many counties have Amateur Radio operators, HAMs, that come in and man their EOCs, Emergency Operations Center). They generously volunteer their time, services, and sometimes even their personal equipment to serve their communities when disaster strikes. Hams are the stage crew in a large theatre production – operating in the background without many people noticing. Hams are always ready to jump into action when it’s needed. We are not first responders, we are a support system for first responders and incident command systems.

Many hams also help out at public service events. Events such as Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan. You’ll see hams paired with Red Cross personnel along the parade routes behind the scenes. The same is true for bike races too. You’ll see hams driving support vans picking up injured or broken down bikers, etc etc.

So long story short, if you’re a ham, hopefully you’re involved with any public service event or organization regularly. And if you’re not a ham, hopefully this will inspire you to volunteer and help people in your community. If you want to find an exam session, you can use the ARRL website to find an exam session near you. If you’re in the Holland area, check out the Holland Amateur Radio Club’s Ham In A Day where you study the technician exam. 

So until next time, 73!  That’s best wishes in Ham Radio speak. 

Posted by FoxAdmin

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