Amateur radio operators, also known as ham operators, from all over the area recently put on their headsets and attached their antennas to participate in the American Radio Relay League’s national Field Day. The event is an international competition that tests the ability to set up and conduct emergency communications.
Field Day is an annual event sponsored by the ARRL that takes place all across the United States and Canada. Estimates indicate that more than 35,000 amateur radio operators across North America participate in the event every fourth weekend in June.
Members of the Hinesville American Radio Emergency Society, which includes operators from Long and Liberty counties, gathered to participate in Field Day and test their readiness to act during an emergency.
"We only use emergency power on the day to test our radio skills and equipment; that way we can see our capabilities should a real emergency ever take place and we get called upon," club Vice President Dwight Biechler said.
Biechler said that even though the group never has been called upon to offer its assistance during a local emergency, the possibility always is there.
Club member Larry Wallen said that amateur radio operators are called upon to assist emergency responders more often than many people realize.
"Amateur radio operators are asked to help more than most know. Just recently when the tornadoes hit Missouri, the cell towers went down and the phone lines were out. For the first 12 hours after the initial emergency, the only communication that responders had was over radios," Wallen said.
According to Biechler, the three largest hospitals in Savannah have these radios in place, along with trained operators. If standard communication lines ever break down, they will have a reliable means of communicating. He also said that Liberty Regional Medical Center has begun looking into setting up a radio system in Hinesville, too.
Riceboro Volunteer Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Earl McGinley, who also is a member of the club, said he believes that all public-safety responders need to have a backup emergency radio system with trained operators.
"In our line of work, communication is critical. If it ever goes down, we can’t do our job like we want to. In my opinion, every agency needs to have a radio system as a backup," McGinley said.
Even though these radios can be used in emergencies, they also can be used for entertainment and as a hobby.
Club member Jim Whisman said he has talked to people all over the world on his radio.
"I’ve been able to talk to people in Israel, Japan, Thailand, England, parts of the old Soviet Union, even guys on submarines and aircraft," Whisman said. "A friend of mine was even able to talk to the space shuttle one time."
The local club currently has 14 members, but Secretary Sue Wallen said they always are looking for more members to join.
"We meet the second Thursday of each month at the GEMA building in Hinesville (at 6 p.m.)," she said. "If anyone is interested in finding out more about what we do, all they have to do is drop in."