Members of the Mountain Amateur Radio Club will gather June 28 and 29 to participate in a national demonstration of their emergency communications abilities. Called Field Day, it is the single most popular on-the-air event held annually in the US and Canada. More than 35,000 radio amateurs will participate in the 24-hour event.
Mountain Amateur Radio Club members will set-up camp on Westlake Drive off Highway 49, adjacent to True Value Home Center, to join radio operators across the country to practice and demonstrate their often life-saving communication skills. A long tradition, the first Field Day was held in 1933.
Using only emergency power supplies, the operators, often referred to as radio 'hams,' will construct an emergency radio station that club members will operate from 11 a.m. Saturday to 11 a.m. Sunday. During that time, radio operators will make contact with more than 250 other ham radio operators across the U.S, Canada, Mexico and the Virgin Islands.
Their slogan "When All Else Fails, Ham Radio Works" is more than just words to the hams as they proved they can communicate without the use of phone systems or Internet.
Amateur has been around for a century. In that time, it's grown into a worldwide community of licensed operators using the airwaves to transmit voice, data, and pictures. Operators range in age from youngsters to grandparents.
Ham operators throughout North America will be celebrating the American Relay League's 100th birthday this year. The league sponsors Field Day and other events throughout the country. Ham volunteers provide both emergency communications for thousands of state and local emergency response agencies and non-emergency community services at no charge.
"Over the past year, the news has been full of reports of ham radio operators providing critical communications during unexpected emergencies in towns across America including the California wild fires, winter storms, tornadoes and other events world-wide," Dan Burrow, club president said. "When trouble is brewing, amateur radio operators are often the first to provide rescuers with critical information and communications."
Burrow explained that despite the Internet, cell phones, email and modern communications, every year whole regions find themselves in the dark.
"Many of these weather events leave people without the means to communicate," Burrow said. "In these cases, the one consistent service that has never failed has been amateur radio operators. These operators provide backup communications for everything from the American Red Cross to FEMA and even for the International Space Station."
According to a statement by Allen Pitts on the National Association of Amateur Radio web site, the fastest way to turn a crisis into a total disaster is to lose communications.
"From the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to tornadoes in Missouri, ham radio provided the most reliable communication networks in the first critical hours of the events," Pitts said. "Because ham radios are not dependent on the Internet, cell towers or other infrastructure, they work when nothing else is available."
Within minutes of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, ham operators communicated from emergency operations centers as other systems failed. The ham operators continued for weeks handling emergency messages for disaster and government agencies as well as for displaced families.
As a safety backup, The Mountain Area club has provided radio service for a number of events including the Grizzly Bike event and the Heritage Days Parade.
The local club meets at 7 p.m. the fourth Thursday of the month at the Oakhurst Senior Center.
Details: Dan Burrow, (559) 642-3262, arrl.org/fieldday.