'Ham' radio operators signal their readiness to help in disaster Columbia club members put emergency skills to the test

June 28, 1993|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

The Columbia Amateur Radio Association was ready for anything this weekend.

Members erected 80-foot transmitting towers and set up generators and computers on the playing field at Clarksville Elementary School Saturday for the club's 27-hour Field Day.

The annual event, sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, gives amateur radio operators in the United States and Canada a chance to practice the emergency communication skills they would need in a disaster.

If a natural disaster interrupts electrical power, amateur radio operators are prepared to set up emergency communications to assist local authorities in managing the damage.

For example, during a devastating Oakland, Calif., fire in the fall of 1991, more than 350 amateur radio operators helped to provide emergency communications for fire and rescue teams, said Robert S. Scarburgh, a member of the Columbia Amateur Radio Association.

About 25 of the club's 150 members participated in the Field Day, which began at 2 p.m. on Saturday and ended at 5 p.m. yesterday. During that time, radio clubs and individuals competed to make as many contacts as they could with other amateur radio operators, called "hams."

To simulate emergency conditions, all equipment used during the event was powered by generators, batteries or solar energy.

Local ham operators made their first contact with another operator in Connecticut, but they ran into some early problems when power surges interrupted the generator power.

"It's great to see all the problems we're having," said Alan Chedester, Field Day organizer and an original member of the Columbia Amateur Radio Association, which was founded in 1972.

"What we're seeing is that we're not as well organized as we thought," he said. "But we'll work the bugs out today and get the experience."

Though ham operators are prepared to help their communities in emergencies, they frequently use their communication skills in everyday situations.

Melinda Massi, secretary of the Columbia club, said many members use their radio skills to call home while they commute "to let their spouse know that they're stuck in traffic on the Baltimore Beltway."

Other ham operators are primarily interested in contacting other operators throughout the United States and in other countries.

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