CRESTVIEW — If a natural disaster wipes out north Okaloosa County’s power lines, amateur radio enthusiasts can link and guide first responders using satellite positioning and related technology.
The North Okaloosa Amateur Radio Club displayed its telecommunication skills using different forms of amateur, or ham, radios, on Saturday at Dorcas Fire Station 42. Members participating in the American Radio Relay League’s National Field Day contacted as many ham operators as possible during the 24-hour exercise. This year, club members made 800 contacts.
"The goal also is to set up emergency power, emergency antennas in a short amount of time," club member Steve Hayes said. "Demonstrating what you would do in an emergency situation."
To that end, members erected antennas and installed a gasoline-powered generator near the Deer Spring Road building — just in case. The fire station — where the club meets monthly — is an alternative Emergency Operations Center for communications and food-and-water distribution.
Daniel Sainz received his first amateur radio experience last weekend with an invitation from his grandfather, club member Mike Martell. The event left an impression, he said.
"You get to meet people from everywhere," Sainz said. "The furthest I have made contact was South Carolina."
Martell said amateur radio operation — which requires a license, as the Federal Communications Commission regulates it — is a hobby someone can have for life.
"It’s a hobby that I can take into when I get old, because you sit down when you do it," he said. "You can talk to people all over the world."
Glenn Goll, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said he enjoys talking to people through his home system.
"I've gotten into Australia, New Zealand, France, England," he said. "That's halfway around the world ...”
Operators share signal levels and call-sign information and conduct the occasional small talk, members said.
"Usually its the weather, kids, grandkids and antennas," Goll said. "We try to stay away from religion and politics."
Amateur radios have progressed since their 20th century, simple-coded origins, Hayes said.
"There are digital modes where you can work on a computer and talk via the computer if you are hard of hearing," he said.
Cal Zethmayr, the club's activities manager, said amateur radio has assisted first responders’ efforts, particularly with coordinating efforts in Hurricane George’s 1998 aftermath.
"When Crestview became an island after George, our members assisted with communications," he said in an email. "We provide operators at all of the Red Cross shelters and for the Amateur Radio Communications room at the new EOC in Niceville."
Want to join?
Learn how to become a North Okaloosa Amateur Radio Club member at http://w4aaz.org.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Matthew Brown at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbMatthew.