Amateur radio operators big help in storms

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 15, 2006

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, Brookhaven gas lineswere long, food was scarce and electronic communication waslimited. But one Lincoln County group used their hobby to helpothers.

Members of the Southwest Mississippi Amateur Radio Club see hamradio as more than a pastime. They know how to establishcommunication anywhere, anytime.

“The club was founded back in the 60s to give informationsupport to government officials when their systems are down orstressed out or maxed out,” said Jeff Winborne, club president.

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But the club is passionate about the media of ham radio.

Area club members are scattered across Wilkinson, Amite, Pike,Walthall, Lawrence, Lincoln, and Franklin counties. Participantstalk to fellow Hams (amateur radio operators) from all over theworld.

Members said the radio activity transforms from hobby tocommunity service during disasters like Katrina.

“I think it moves from a hobby to something more important whenyou can use it to help the community,” said Homer Richardson,trustee of the SW MS ARC. “There are so many Hams that have theirown equipment.”

Ham equipment can be utilized for portable, free-standingcommunication stations that can operate anywhere.

“In times of emergency, our equipment is generally portable andincludes everything you need to have a station on the air,”Richardson said.

Richardson was actively involved in the relief effort afterHurricane Katrina. He primarily served as a link between radiooperators and those needing information.

“I was handling health and welfare traffic,” Richardsonsaid.

He worked with emergency services like the Red Cross and CivilDefense. He relayed information from those who had it to those whoneeded it.

But emergency preparedness takes time and effort. The club hasused down time to prepare for the upcoming storm season.

“We make plans to run all of our radios on alternative energysources like solar power and generators,” Richardson said. The SWMS ARC participates in an annual field day, hams everywhereparticipate.

“It basically allows you to ask, ‘How are you going to seteverything up?’ ‘Can you get on?’ ‘Can you make arrangements forfood?,'” Richardson said.

During the field day, club members set up in a remote area andmake as many contacts as possible in 24 hours.

As trustee of the SW MS ARC, Richardson looks after the club’s”go packs,” portable radio equipment stored in suitcases.

When mobile units are not needed, club members utilize a landbase, housed in the Pike County Civil Defense Center.

“We have a VHF (Very High Frequency) rig down there. That’s theone you can use to talk anywhere in the nation,” Winborne said. “Weare trying to get our equipment up to par right now.”