VACAVILLE — A small group of dedicated amateur radio (ham) operators gathered this weekend to test the readiness of the United States and Canada amateur radio operators during the annual American Radio Relay League Field Day.
Amateur radio is a popular hobby and service in which licensed amateur radio operators operate communications equipment. The goal of the two-day event is to work as many stations as possible on any and all amateur bands and to learn to operate in abnormal situations in less than optimal conditions, according to the ARRL Field Day website.
“This is a practice run with portable radios to test ourselves in case of an emergency,” said Jerry Bowen, whose handle name is KJ6SCC.
Across the world he noted that more than 700,000 ham operators are working from their homes year-round talking to people from pretty much anywhere. The 10 to 15 operators are expecting to make contact with between 200 to 300 people this weekend.
This hobby has been around since 1914, but in today’s modern world it has some very serious applications.
“During Hurricane Katrina they lost all power, radio towers, cell towers and stations. There was no way to communicate. Ham operators were what helped keep in touch with law enforcement, government officials and the Red Cross,” Bowen said.
“If we should ever lose communication for any reason, it would be utter chaos,” said Jorge Vidal, host of the Field Day event.
The amateur operators have a system to setting up and communicating with the outside world without any power other than what they can bring with them. The power sources include car batteries and portable solar-powered panels, both of which Vidal had positioned in his backyard. The ham operators set up different antennas, each helping to broadcast at different distances and wavelengths. Then they place their radio equipment on tables or makeshift shelves and start calling out “CQ” (general call) and their position. Operators from as far away as Brazil can be heard over the radio.
“The guy in Brazil wasn’t actually picking us up, they have to be able to talk to us and write our call letters down and we have to write theirs down. Otherwise it doesn’t count,” Bowen said.
One of the operators input the responses into a computer. They track who is responding, where they are located, call letters and other technical information in a computer program. After the weekend, the information will be tallied and a list of contact people will be shared in the monthly newsletter.
“Ham operators have been to all major disasters. If anything should take out our communication grid, we will still be here,” Bowen said.
Reach Susan Hiland at 427-6981 or firstname.lastname@example.org.