Montana News

Jun 26, 2012 3:50 PM by Tara Grimes - MTN News

Amateur radio operators prepare in case of an emergency

GREAT FALLS- When disaster strikes and all communication lines are down, its licensed amateur radio operators that step in to help, and many of them gathered in Great Falls over the weekend.

"We have been trained to work within the national incident management system, we have a lot of education in that," Great Falls Area Amateur Radio Club spokesman Rod Jackson said. "Primarily we've been called out to support wild land fire when it's not become a state or federal event, but the county has been involved.We provide emergency operations center support and communications for community fire department efforts."

Part of that training takes place once a year during the American Radio Relay League Field Day, in which more than 35,000 operators all over the nation put their skills to the test. Operators see how fast they can set up a simulated emergency operation center and get on the airwaves.

The centers include portable antenna systems, generator power, and radio equipment. They use Morse Code and voice to contact people all over the world. More than 20 ham radio operators gathered in the Walmart parking lot Saturday and Sunday for the event. The operators made more than 1,500 contacts during the 24 hours and reached people as far away as Hawaii.

But not all of it's hard work, operators like to have fun too.They said field day is also a friendly contest. Operation centers receive points for every contact they make and points earn them recognition from the relay league. This is perfect for those who see amateur radio as mostly a hobby.

Ham radio operator Eric Martin said he picked up amateur radio as a young teen.

"It's nice to be able to get up in the morning and go down and turn on the radio," Martin said. "You see all kinds of people from all around the world that I talk to and we chit-chat. I've had people as far away as Germany come up to my doorstep and introduce themselves and when I've gone over to Europe I've visited some of these fellas. So it's an interesting hobby."

In the end however, operators aren't looking for recognition when it comes to helping in an emergency, they're just focused and determined.

"You never know when you're going to be needed to use," Martin said. "It could happen just about, mother nature can throw you a curve ball and you can end up with all kinds of problems. I feel good about the fact that we're able to help and I can help too."

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