“When All Else Fails,” They Have Our Back
With the beginning of May, we’re already enjoying beautiful days to be outdoors. But as spring heads toward summer, there are greater possibilities of the dangers from severe weather and wildfire. When the sun is shining, and the breezes are gentle, we may not think about preparation against nature’s destructive forces. Yet there is one group of dedicated individuals who spend time getting out on the nice days to get ready to be out on days that aren’t so nice.
You might not be aware of the role amateur radio plays in public safety and disaster recovery. Many of those in amateur radio get involved to provide communications assistance to public safety agencies, health care services, and relief organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Most of the time we can use common telecommunication technology. However, those methods depend on infrastructure – the electrical grid, cell towers, phone lines – that might not be working during a disaster. That’s where amateur radio has proven itself as a ready, reliable and resilient communications link. One of the slogans of the national organization for amateur radio, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), is “when all else fails…amateur radio.”
During the 2005 hurricane season when Katrina, Rita and Wilma devastated the southeastern U.S., amateur radio was, indeed, the only way to communicate in or out of numerous areas. The contribution of amateur radio to rescue and recovery efforts were recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), and cooperation between the agency and radio amateurs has now been formalized as part of national emergency management and disaster response plans. When hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate struck in 2017, amateur radio operators again volunteered their communication services to help. Even today, amateur radio is still the only communications link for remote parts of Puerto Rico affected by the storms.
The term “amateur” in this case does not imply “unskilled” or “unprofessional” in any way. For more than 100 years, amateur radio operators have been on the forefront of advancing the art and science of communicating over the air. There are approximately 750,000 licensed amateurs in the U.S., many of whom are motivated to use these skills and interests to serve their communities, state, and nation in the spirit of volunteerism.
That’s why you’ll find amateur radio operators in the great outdoors enjoying the challenge of making radio contacts with others under difficult conditions. “Playing radio” is an exciting and fun hobby and we build relationships, near and far, using just the radio waves. But our recreational radio activities help us build our skills and improve the capabilities we may need one day to respond to the next earthquake, tornado, flood or fire.
If you’d like to learn more about amateur radio, you can see it in action during the annual Field Day which takes place June 23-24 this year. This annual event is actually a national emergency communications exercise that’s also a lot of fun and serves as an outreach to the community. To find a Field Day event near you, check the ARRL web site at http://www.arrl.org/field-day-locator
About Tim Crawford
Tim Crawford worked at Keenan for more than 20 years and is now a freelance writer in Santa Fe, NM. He consults for the company on communication, media relations and health care reform projects. Tim has held amateur radio license AE6VZ since 2005 and is a member of the Santa Fe Amateur Radio Club.