published: Sunday, June 17, 2012
Ham radio Field Day is June 23-24
Special to the News-Sun
SEBRING -- Local "hams" will join with thousands of Amateur Radio operators showing off their emergency capabilities the weekend of June 23-24.
Every year, "ham" radio operators provide communication services in hundreds of natural disasters, community events and other occasions around the nation. That tradition began decades ago, when the electronics were larger and bulkier, emergency power less reliable, and antennas for the frequencies used far harder to manage. The task of "making ready" for an emergency gave rise to an annual event known as Field Day, when amateurs from across the nation move into the field and simulate emergency conditions for a twenty-four hour span each June.
During times of widespread power outages like the hurricanes experienced here in Florida, Amateur Radio is often the only way people can communicate, and hundreds of volunteer "hams" help save lives and property.
"It's hard to imagine the entire Florida peninsula being cut off from the rest of the country," said Fred Seely, local Field Day chair for the Highlands County Amateur Radio Club, "but it has happened in island nations in the Caribbean, like the Cayman Islands just a few years ago."
There, power stations were knocked out by a storm and local radio amateurs, working from solar- and generator-powered stations, spent weeks providing the only health and welfare communications link from the islands to the rest of the world.
More recently, the Haitian earthquake required hundreds of hams to help coordinate the initial response until basic communications could be re-established on the island.
The Highlands County Amateur Radio Club will be operating five "ham" radio stations from the shore of Lake Istokpoga from Saturday afternoon until Sunday at 11 a.m. One of those stations will be reserved for visitors interested in the hobby to make actual radio contacts with other stations around the country and the world, and will be equipped for voice or computer keyboard-to-keyboard communication. Saturday afternoon is suggested as the best time to visit at the site at Istokpoga Park, near the boat ramp entrance off Highway 98.
More than 35,000 hams from across the USA are expected to participate in the event, holding public demonstrations over the weekend.
Seely said, "we hope that people will come and see for themselves that this is not your grandfather's radio any more."
In addition to operating on "shortwave" frequencies with antennas designed to help maximize communications over long distances, the group will also be experimenting with a "short skip" installation, attempting to maintain reliable communications with locales normally reached best by VHF radios but which may be inaccessible that way in a "worst case" event.
Seely said club members will communicate via voice and via computers connected to their radios and make contact with other participants in all fifty states, most Canadian provinces and more than a few foreign countries over the weekend.
There are more than 650,000 amateur radio licensees in the U.S. and more than 2.5 million around the world. Through the ARRL's Amateur Radio Emergency Services program, ham volunteers provide emergency communications for thousands of state and local emergency response agencies, all for free.
To learn more about Amateur Radio, go to www.emergency-radio.org/.
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