Ham radio operators set for field day

Published 5:00 am Friday, June 26, 2009

In an area of the country that could potentially lose fulltelephone communication in a large-scale emergency situation, agroup of amateur ham radio operators make sure yearly that thereserves are ready to go if such an occasion arises.

Saturday and Sunday, members of the Southwest MississippiAmateur Radio Club will gather at the Brookhaven RecreationDepartment for the annual Ham Radio Field Day, which amounts to anemergency drill for radio operators all over the country.

SMARC member Homer Richardson, a licensed ham radio operatorsince 1959, said the 24-hour event tests equipment and preparednessin the event of a disaster that would wipe out all the othercommunication.

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“From 1 p.m. our time until 1 p.m. on Sunday, ham radiooperators all across the country set up stations that they operateunder emergency power,” Richardson said. “We’re trying to make surewe’d be prepared to get equipment together to handle a disaster,and this is one way of making sure we can do this.”

It’s not just about the radio equipment, though. It tests theoperators’ general preparedness as well. All the little thingscount.

“It’s about things like, do you know where your food and waterare coming from, can you get your equipment up to operate for 24hours,” he said. “Then we work on making as many contacts aspossible during this 24 hour period. It’s really a way for testingequipment and operators for emergency preparedness.”

Richardson said he’s not sure how long the nationwide field dayhas taken place, but he has been participating for more than 35years on the last weekend of every June. And during the weekend,radio operators make contacts with other ham enthusiasts across theUnited States and Canada.

And the public is invited to see how the systems work, which canbe a good idea for people who are potentially interested in gettinginvolved with ham radio.

“The main idea is not only to do it but have it set up so thepublic can come by and see how it operates,” Richardson said.”There will also be testing for people who want to get theirlicense on Saturday at 2 p.m.”

Around 30 active members in SMARC see it as their duty to be oncall as a bridge between emergency personnel, the public, and helpin the case of a disaster.

“We’re there when cell towers and public utilities go down. Thisis one way that you can almost always get some kind ofcommunication,” Richardson said, adding that the ham radio operatoris simply a connection between those who are in need and those whocan provide it. “It’s not for us to decide what’s needed, but toprovide it to those that need it.”

More than 35,000 amateur ham radio operators participated inField Day nationwide last year. During the event, points will begiven for communications with other ham stations across thecountry, and operators will be logging names, locations, equipmenttypes and signal strength.

A tent will be set up outside the recreation department withinformation for the public. Richardson said anyone interested iswelcome to attend.