Thousands of radio operators unite to train for the worst

For twenty-four hours on the weekend of June 27 and 28, 2020, thousands of amateur radio operators across the United States and Canada set up temporary emergency communication centers where everything had to be done without services. external. This meant they had to erect their own temporary antennas, provide their own back-up power, and operate their equipment in temporary locations. Their goal was to prove that they can communicate with each other in an emergency when no infrastructure is available.

These amateur radio operators, also known as radio amateurs, spend seemingly endless hours preparing their radio equipment, computers, cables, and antennas needed to perform radio communications in today’s demanding environment. In addition, these radio operators volunteered their time, provided their own equipment, and transported it to a remote location with no power, often homeless, and with only the supplies they could carry. And this time, they were doing it in the midst of a pandemic where they were meeting crowd size requirements and social distancing laws.

FEMA involvement

“They do this for the same reason we always exercise,” said former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate. “Better to break it in practice than in real life.”

In this case, the radio operators were to bypass the requirements of Covid-19, but Fugate thinks that is a good thing.

“One of the goals is to practice making contacts under really difficult conditions,” he said. “Finding clear channels is difficult. These are some of the problems you encounter in an emergency. Although the conditions under which the radio operators worked only simulate a real emergency, they can be unpleasant. Fugate stressed that amateur radio operators are critical to communications such as hurricanes in the south or wildfires in the west.

“It’s good practice to make sure that I can set up my station and that I can make contacts on an isolated radio with a long wire,” Fugate said. He pointed out in a recent editorial in The Hill newspaper that when there is an emergency, amateur radio may be your only choice.

“A lot of it is doing things under emergency conditions,” he said. “You are going to work with everything you have. “

Fugate pointed out that in a real emergency, your normal communication channels may not be there when you need them. “When all else fails, there is amateur radio,” he said. “We saw what Hurricane Michael did to cellular networks in the Florida panhandle. One county had no contact with the state’s emergency operations center until a ham arrived. “

“This is the environment in which amateur radio excels,” said Fugate.

Field day

The weekend event, known as Field Day, is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, a national organization that supports amateur radio and helps look after its interests, especially in Washington.

“Field Day began in 1953 as an annual event for the amateur radio community as an exercise for their emergency communication capability,” said Bob Inderbitzen, spokesperson for the ARRL. He noted that it’s called “Field Day,” because it’s a time when ham radio operators take their equipment out into a field, or maybe a public park or picnic shelter, and test it out. their ability to assemble and operate an emergency communications center. The exercises consist of contacting as many radio amateurs as possible in the United States and Canada, transmitting simulated emergency message traffic, communicating with emergency services, and explaining the effort to local officials and first responders. .

Inderbitzen said the exercise also gives radio amateurs a way to learn to work as a team under emergency conditions. “Amateur radio operators know how to use their radios in times of crisis,” he said.

Fugate said that while he was a FEMA administrator, he decided to try to contact each EOC state without using the telephone network, believing that in a real emergency, the telephone network would likely be unavailable. “The only solution was ham radio,” he said.

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