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July 3, 2014

Radio 'Hams' handle emergency communications

MILLEDGEVILLE — Despite modern communications tools, entire regions find themselves in the dark each year. Tornadoes, fires, storms, ice and even the occasional cutting of fiber optic cables leave people without communication.

In these cases, amateur radio operators, often called “hams,” provide backup communications for everything from the American Red Cross to FEMA and even for the International Space Station.

Milledgeville's Hams will join with thousands of other amateur radio operators showing their emergency capabilities this Saturday and Sunday.

The annual event, called "Field Day" is the climax of the week long Amateur Radio Week sponsored by the ARRL, the national association for amateur radio.

In the Milledgeville area, the Milledgeville Amateur Radio Club will demonstrate amateur radio at Georgia College West Campus Pavilion area. They invite the public to come and see Ham Radio's new capabilities and learn how to get their own FCC radio license before the next disaster strikes.

Hams across the country will be holding public demonstrations of emergency communications abilities.

More than 35,000 amateur radio operators across the country participated in last year's event.

Over the past year, the news has been full of reports of Ham Radio operators providing critical communications during unexpected emergencies in towns across America including the California wildfires, winter storms, tornadoes and other events worldwide.

When trouble is brewing, amateur radio's people are often the first to provide rescuers with critical information and communications.

Using only emergency power supplies, Ham operators will construct emergency stations in parks, shopping malls, schools and backyards around the country. Their slogan, "When All Else Fails, Ham Radio Works” is more than just words to the Hams as they prove they can send messages in many forms without the use of phone systems, Internet or any other infrastructure that can be compromised in a crisis.

"The fastest way to turn a crisis into a total disaster is to lose communications,” said Allen Pitts of the ARRL. “From the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to tornadoes in Missouri, Ham Radio provided the most reliable communication networks in the first critical hours of the events. Because Ham Radios are not dependent on the Internet, cell towers or other infrastructure, they work when nothing else is available. We need nothing between us but air.”

Milledgeville's Otis Murphy has more than six decades of Ham Radio experience, and he still can't get enough.

“We communicate all over the world. We are a very important part of the emergency communications in case an emergency occurs,” Murphy said.

These skilled operators use Morse code and digital modes also. Members must pass monthly tests to stay certified.

The Milledgeville club participates in Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), which consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment for communications duty in the public service when disaster strikes.

Every licensed amateur, regardless of membership in ARRL or any other local or national organization, is eligible for membership in the ARES. The only qualification, other than possession of an Amateur Radio license, is a sincere desire to serve.

“If something happens, these nets announce to the people there is a particular problem,” Murphy said.

Each Georgia section has an emergency coordinator to organize the ARES groups.

The operators help the local first responder agencies when needed.

Amateur radio is growing in the U.S. There are now more than 700,000 amateur radio licensees in the U.S., and more than 2.5 million around the world.

Through the ARRL's Amateur Radio Emergency Services program, ham volunteers provide both emergency communications for thousands of state and local emergency response agencies and non-emergency community services too, all for free.

To learn more about amateur radio, a display will be at the Georgia College site over the weekend.  

The public is most cordially invited to come, meet and talk with the Hams. The event can even help you get on the air.

“It's fun, and the best part about it is meeting a lot of people,” Murphy said. “We'll let them see how everything works.”

Contact Murphy at 478-454-1915 for more information on the radio club.

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