MOUNT VERNON — When severe weather hits, maintaining lines of communication between responders is vital, but what if the towers are down, the cellular networks are compromised and the electrical power is out? When all else fails, amateur radio operators step up to the plate and get the messages through.
Arlin Bradford, president of the Mount Vernon Amateur Radio Club and assistant emergency coordinator with the Knox County Amateur Emergency Radio Service talked with the News about the roles amateur radio operators — called hams — play in the event of a natural disaster.
First, hams assist in monitoring local weather conditions.
“Once the notification is given, for instance, that severe thunderstorms are in Knox County,” Bradford said, “our emergency radio service function kicks in. Our trained weather spotters are the National Weather Service’s eyes and ears on the ground. They’re looking at all the electronic radar, but we become the people who actually report to them.
“When the national weather service issues a warning for us, we have one person who says, ‘I’m going to take net’ which is the network control operator [or dispatcher]. If I report high water, hail, downed trees or something like that, I would report that to our net control. Then our net control operator would report it to Mansfield’s net operator and report over a direct radio link into Cleveland to the National Weather Service.”
Next, being trained radio operators, hams assist 9-1-1 and the emergency management agency to operate the radios and the communication devices in the EMA’s mobile command post. They can, for example, patch the state patrol into a county fire system or patch a ham radio into the county fire system, something which is known in the public safety world as inter-operability.
The hams also assist agencies such as Homeland Security, the American Red Cross or emergency management with their communications by using portable units and by bringing in a self-contained mobile communications vehicle complete with a variety of communication devices, portable towers and 40-foot antennas.