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RADIO

Hams ready to help

They don’t just gab, but also provide emergency help

By Roger Ball

INDEPENDENT NEWSMEDIA

Amateur radio operators much prefer to be called “hams” because they don’t think what they do is “amateur.”

Indeed, many would be surprised at some of the ways hams now communicate. Though there are some who still sit at a desk with headphone and a Morse code key, others are communicating using satellites and even bouncing signals off the moon to reach far away sites.

With so many people using the Internet and cell phones for communication, one might think ham radio has no more usefulness and the hobby would die. But that is not the case.

In addition to their fun communications, largescale emergencies are where hams claim they provide very essential communication options. The Internet and cell phones require constant sources of electricity. Cell phone batteries die and need to be charged. Backup batteries at cell towers eventually die and if the outage is widespread and long-term, getting them recharged may be impossible.

During the recent California wildfires where many power lines and cell towers were destroyed, hams went to hospitals and nursing homes in the area to assist in their emergency communications.

Sometimes they respond to distant locations. When hurricane Maria destroyed most of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, including its ability to provide electrical power, more than 50 hams went to the American territory to help with communications among rescue agencies on the island, and to help in communications to the mainland and elsewhere.

To assist their distant communications, hams from more than 22 countries launched more than 70

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Sun City West resident Thomas Smith talks with another ham radio operator during some time in his ham shack. [Roger Ball/Independent Newsmedia]


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satellites since 1961. Some of the satellites can actually be used with small hand held radios.

Almost every government emergency operations center has an area set aside for amateur radio operators.

In addition to small electrical generators, many ham operators can operate using only solar and battery power.

Local ham operator Daniel Ford (K2LH) is always off the electrical grid with his station in Ventana Lakes. It uses only 12-volt equipment and is 100 percent solar powered.

West Valley ham John Wood (KE7JYP) was one of approximately 850 hams participating in a recent week-long event near Quartzite. Called “Quartzfest,” there were more than 100 ongoing education seminars covering all aspects of ham radio, from technical advances to better ways to communicate during disasters.

Not every need to ham communication is so widespread. The West Valley Amateur Radio Club practices local and regional emergency communication situations throughout the year, often requiring them to setup up temporary remote stations. They also provide communication for some public events, such as long-distance fund raising bicycle trips.

Additionally, the club has equipment at local hospitals and helps them communicate with the outside when standard methods are knocked out.

Hams have also embraced the digital communication world. Sun City West resident Thomas Smith (WA0OFO) spends most of his summer in Missouri. Using a special program, he can use his cell phone in Sun City West and software called Echolink to connect with a local amateur radio repeater in Missouri to communicate with local hams there.

Ham radio is the original social media, and it is also be a very vital communication tool, Mr. Smith said.

Visit http://westvalleyarc. org/.

Roger Ball can be reached at 623-876-2523 or rball@newszap.com.

Solar panels in the backyard of Ventana Lakes resident Daniel Ford power his ham radio equipment. [Roger Ball/Independent Newsmedia]

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