Ham radio has 'Field Day' with disaster prep

Field Day lets ham radio operators prep for disaster.

When disaster strikes...

What happens when normal modes of communications are down because of disaster? Amateur radio operators (hams) step to the fore to restore temporary radio communications and even e-mail access. Hams gave a demonstration of their prowess at connecting to the outside world during recent Field Day activities held around the U.S. and Canada, held June 27-29.

Setting up the towers

At the Wasserman Park Field Day in Merrimack, N.H., members of the Nashua Area Radio Club had 24 hours to erect two 70-foot towers and get their radios ready for action.

Prepping the beams

In addition to the 70-foot main base, each tower held a number of beams to support the various frequencies participants would be broadcasting on during the Field Day events.

Setting up camp

In a real emergency, radio operators in conjunction with state officials, could setup a temporary camp complete with tower, generators and tents for 24-hour operations. At the Merrimack Field Day site, numerous participants brought tents and campers for their 24-hour test run.

Radios everywhere

Radios used in the event come in various form factors and, like PCs, can have a number of accessories to go with them to help better tune to specific frequencies, including frequency filters the size of kegs.

What's the Frequency Kenneth?

The goal of Field Day is to make as many contacts with other sites around North America as possible. For Tom Mahon (KB1LVO) of Merrimack, the 2m band brought in 19 total hits, mostly in the first 6 hours. The group in the tent next door scored 1,165 hits in 24 hours over the 20m band, including one in Australia.

ARRL Band Plans

Airmail it

While ham radio is mostly used for voice and morse code, standard e-mail can be sent through AirMail, a free service that operates over the airwaves and is used by campers and yachters. A modem is required, but don't expect blazing speeds as most are around 300 to 9600 baud. Not great for sending 2MB images, but perfect for messaging "I am alive" in an emergency.

Sunspots are good

While local weather is not as much of a factor in radio propagation, sun spots play a major role. In the case of ham radio, the more sun spots the better. Unfortunately, we're at the bottom of an 11-year cycle with minimal sun spot activity, limiting the effective range on some frequencies.

Solar update from ARRL.org

Getting the youth involved

One issue for ham radio enthusiasts is the retirement of many club members. Britanny Decker (KB1OGL), a 14-year-old from Hudson, N.H., is hoping to change that in her role as assistant section manager for youth in the New Hampshire of the American Radio Relay League. She's striving to get kids licensed and keep them active in the ham community.

Get involved

Interested in ham radio? All you need is a license. Take a day-long class, take an exam and if you pass, you'll be assigned a unique call sign by the FCC. Find a class near you here .

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