What started out as a hobby for a small handful of community members has bloomed into a club that is now capable of assisting the county in emergencies or other major events.
The club, known as the Coastal Amateur Radio Team (CART), began when Larry Lowe, current club president, bounced around the idea of helping people become amateur radio operators.
Amateur radio operators, also known as ham operators, hold special licenses from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that allows them to operate amateur radio systems. CART currently has 14 licensed members, including Lowe and CART Vice President and Bryan County Probate Judge Sam Davis.
Davis said he is excited about the club, and he and other CART members are working with county officials to establish a county ham radio shack at the Bryan County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) building on Hwy. 204 in Ellabell.
Davis said Bryan County’s emergency 911 systems are operated mainly by Internet and computers. If these connections were to be lost during an emergency, he said, there would be no back-up communication in the county.
With an amateur radio system, this would not be an issue, he said.
“The whole premise behind it (CART) is the fact that should something happen, we’d handle all the communications for them (the county) until they could get their 911 systems back up and running,” Davis said.
Though the equipment in the radio shack would belong to the county, members of CART would offer their services to operate the equipment at no charge.
Davis and Lowe said establishing a ham radio shack for the county will cost around $6,500. This would provide the basic equipment required to operate the station. Other than that, Davis said there is not much cost in maintaining the equipment.
Though the cost may seem high, Davis and Lowe emphasized the quality of the equipment is exceptional.
“It takes a high frequency radio, and then you have very-high-frequency and ultra-high-frequency radios, antenna tuners – and it’s all specialized equipment,” Davis said. “It’s not like a CB radio.”
“You can’t buy this stuff at Radio Shack,” Lowe added.
Davis used the tornadoes that struck Alabama earlier this year to emphasize the importance of a ham operating system. Lowe was involved with that particular disaster.
“To give you a prime example, when the tornadoes came through Alabama, Larry was handling all the communications that came through the southeastern United States and handling all the radio traffic for Alabama,” Davis said. “If it hadn’t have been for people like Larry and others handling the communications, they’d still be trying to figure out what was going on.”
Lowe is an extra class amateur radio operator, the highest class of operators. He has helped with numerous disasters such as hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Charlie, Isabel and others. He also participated in the 9/11 operations, the Northeast power failure in 2003 and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
Davis said with an asset like Lowe, developing the county ham radio shack would be much easier, and very useful.
“This is an opportunity I don’t think we can pass up,” Davis said. “We’ve got someone like Larry who has the expertise to help us hook things up at no charge, and help train us and run it. It’s going to be very beneficial, though I hope they never need us.”
Additionally, Davis and Lowe are encouraging county police, firemen and other civil authorities to become licensed ham operators as well.
“Let’s say a hurricane or tornado takes out Bryan County, which is certainly possible,” Lowe said. “It’s great that we have (emergency) equipment, and there are hams scattered throughout the community. But if you’ve got no law enforcement, no fire and no emergency management licensed, then a ham (operator) has to be with the other person to communicate the info to the civil authorities so they can coordinate recovery efforts or deal with fires.”
But disasters and emergencies aren’t the only thing ham operators can help with, Davis said. Ham operators can also help with already established forms of communications to better assist people with events.
For example, CART is helping the Wounded Warriors Fishing Tournament hosted by the Fort McAllister Sport Fishing Club in August, where 200 wounded soldiers from Fort Stewart will fish inshore and offshore.
“Fort Stewart was extremely concerned about communications and soldiers out there in case of something happening, so Larry and I met with the fisherman’s club to volunteer our services,” Davis said.
CART will also assist with the car show during the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival, and the team is open to helping with any other events that need extra forms of communications.
Anyone interested in their services, joining the group or becoming a licensed ham operator should email firstname.lastname@example.org. A website is under construction, but it is up and running. It can be visited at http://coastalamateurradioteam.com.