IT WAS A RACE WITHOUT RUNNING — a Field Day of voices over the airwaves.
Twenty-five members of the Columbia Amateur Radio Association tested radio equipment and honed their skills under simulated emergency conditions at the 18th annual Field Day Saturday and Sunday at Clarksville Elementary.
Emergencies simulated included floods, hurricanes, nuclear accidents and plane crashes.
Field Day has two objectives.
The first is to get as many stations as possible on any of about a dozen legal amateur bands to learn to operate under less than optimum conditions.
A second is to develop skills and equipment to meet the challengeof emergency preparedness and to acquaint the public with amateur radio.
"It is an opportunity for clubs like ours, which have a heavypublic service role, to pull equipment out of the attic, to set it up, make sure it works and brush up on the skills of our operators," said Allan Chedester of Columbia, co-chairman of the event.
"It's the one big event the club has every year."
On Saturday, the ham operator set up two 50-foot radio towers and radio equipment, ran generators, hooked up cables and, through Sunday, operated five high-frequency bands in a race to contact approximately 2,000 other amateur stations set up across North America.
"I think we did just as good aslast year when we placed 11th nationally," said Bob Navman of Ellicott City, co-chairman of the event. "And we did it with less people helping."
This year, the ham operators made approximately 2,100 contacts, or about one every 15 seconds, said Navman.
To contact another station, the CARA ham radio operator recited a coded message into a microphone, requesting that a radio operator elsewhere message back.
A receiving operator acknowledged the message. The CARA operatorreplied that he received the message, then sent out a Field Day greeting.
That was met with an acknowledgment from the responding operator, who issued his or her own greeting.
A logger, in the trailerwith the operator, recorded all contacts.
While Field Day is a contest, little emphasis is placed on winning.
Nevertheless, CARA has finished in the top 50 nationally since 1986, Chedester said.
"The contest is secondary in most people's minds," Chedester said. "We switched to more public service in the last couple of years and as a result, the emphasis has been toward emergency service such as supporting the police and fire department."
But CARA dominated the competition for a seven-year period.
From 1979 to 1985, the club finished no lower than 15th nationally, placing first in 1983 and third in 1982.
"We just don't have the all-out drive today that we had in the mid-80s," Chedester said.
The club performs other volunteer duties.
Members provide emergency communications, similar to a telephone service, for the Howard County Office of Civil Defense. Among area emergencies for which CARA provided communications assistance was the January 1987 train crash in Chase that killed 16 people and injured 175.
"If there is a hurricane or a flood, then we go out and monitor the rain gorges, the streams in Howard County," he said. "We go out for the first call of a flood and put radios at those places and monitor the water levels of those streams."
The club has been visible in recent years in its in its supportingrole at athletic events.
Over Memorial Day weekend, CARA operators worked the Columbia Invi,tational Soccer Tournament for the 10th consecutive year.
They brought with them about $3,000 of general equipment for a home base, and each ham operator brought a radio valued at about $250.
At the Columbia Triathlon in May, 20 members participated.