When disasters take out commercial communications services, emergency officials often turn to amateur radio operators, or hams, to spread their messages.
The devices also provide supplemental communications when normal systems are inoperable or overloaded. At least 50 volunteer amateur radio operators went to Puerto Rico for three weeks after Hurricane Maria and provided 12,600 man-hours of communications assistance, valued at over $300,000, not including the cost of the equipment used.
“Infrastructure designed for daily use can’t always handle what an emergency will bring,” said Gordon Mooneyhan of the Grand Strand Amateur Radio Club. “Ham radio operators, we’re basically the communications of last resort. When all else fails, we’ll be there.”
You can meet ham operators and see what they do this weekend at the annual Amateur Radio Field Day, part of a nationwide effort to introduce the public to the world of ham radio.
“A chance for amateur radio operators and clubs to get out into a public setting, meet the public, show them what we do in an emergency,” Mooneyhan said. “We’ll be operating under simulated emergency conditions.”
South Carolina will have about 20 field day locations Saturday. Some locations also will have stations to allow the public to get on the air and talk with other ham operators worldwide. Click here to find a location near you.
Mooneyhan said some of our modern technology was developed by ham operators.
“Cell phones are the direct result of ham radio,” he said. “Ham radio operators invented the microwave. The first television broadcast from Europe to the United States of both video and audio without a cable was done by ham operators.”
Mooneyhan said despite a prevailing stereotype, ham radio operators are a variety of people.
“We’re not the weirdos that sat in the basement years ago fiddling with banks of radios,” he said. “We’re all normal people.”
Anyone may become a licensed Amateur Radio operator. There are more than 725,000 licensed hams in the United States, with some licensees as young as 9 and as old as 100. Local ham clubs help interested people get involved.