When disasters strike, ham radio and amateur radio operators are sometimes a lifeline for aid.
Members of the Yellowstone Radio Club gathered Saturday afternoon for the fifth annual field day to help prepare the group for natural disasters and emergencies.
The club, a group of about 60 amateur radio operators, have helped out local emergency communication services and the National Weather Service for decades. They are one of more than 1,627 clubs or individuals throughout the United States and Canada to take part in the yearly 24-hour radio-a-thon they call a field day.
Matt Clauson, a club member and an emergency coordinator assistant for Yellowstone County, said the field day is a way to demonstrate what amateur radio operators do on a regular basis, working with emergency personnel to form a backup for emergency communication systems.
“We’re on-call to use ham radios to help if other communications fail,” Clauson said. “The event is a way for us to get new people involved and interested in participating. We want the public to come and see disaster preparedness techniques so they are safer in their communities.”
Although their services are not frequently needed in Yellowstone County, the group was well-prepared in June 2010 when a tornado devastated the Heights. Members from the Yellowstone Amateur Radio Services were not far from ground zero, sending weather and damage reports to the National Weather Service using ham radios. It was their call to NWS that prompted the tornado alarm throughout the city seconds later, Clauson said.
“It’s all about the service,” Clauson said. “To serve our community first and then to serve other parts of the world when communications are needed. That’s why we are here.”
Clubs compete in the field day to see which ones can make contact with the greatest number of people throughout the world. Operators test their gear under difficult conditions to prepare for disasters. Yellowstone’s club, like many others, worked off of car batteries with six antennas ranging from 15-50 feet tall.
In 24 hours at last year’s field day, the club contacted about 300 other operators, according to member Phil Russo.
Russo has kept his call sign since getting his FCC license in the 60s, he said, and his father was licensed since the 40s. “I can remember listening to Houston talk to the astronauts,” Russo said. “It’s a hobby that serves.”
The club is set up next to Rimrock Christian High School on the city’s West End at 4525 Grand Ave., and the public is invited to visit and observe.
Anyone interested in learning more about amateur radio licensing and operators’ involvement in emergency communications should call Ron Glass at 690-9441.