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If regular communications were knocked out, Amateur Radio would be there to step in! Amateur Radio connects people in times of need during emergencies.
To start one’s adventure into Amateur Radio, one needs to obtain a license. There is a test required by the FCC in order to obtain a license which one needs to operate an Amateur Radio (H10). Only licensed amateurs can operate an Amateur Radio station (BARTLETT). Amateurs have to go through the different levels of licenses, which go from technician to general then to extra (HARING). With each step, they get more privilages and frequencies. Past exam questions included equipment, regulations, and morse code, all of which were dropped (HAMILTON). Now Amateur Radio is growing at a rate of 10% a year (HAMILTON). Amateur radio is growing with the new generation as well. “Amateur Radio not just meant for old folks. The Amateur Community want to see a new generation of men and women try Amateur Radio,” said Don Montgomery (CONRAD). Test and study materials add up to usually $40 (H11).
Amateur Radio is getting more and more in-sync with new technology and computers. Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) uses Global Positioning System with Amateur Radio to remotely track Amateurs’ movements and reports them to the APRS website (H11). All one needs to use APRS is a GPS and an Amateur Radio (H11). Anyone can go online to the APRS website to see where amateurs are at, anytime of the day. Amateurs also use APRS for use with Geocaching (H11). Geocaching is a scavenger hunt where people use a GPS unit to find treasures outside (H11).
Echolink can be used as an alternative to equipment. Echolink is a software program, which hams can use to listen to and transmit audio over the Internet (H10). Echolink works by using a computer and Internet connection with a radio to listen to the repeater, and to constantly transmit audio over the Internet via Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology to the end-user (H12). The same happens in reverse, when an end-user transmits they use VOIP technology to get to the computer, and the computer transmits audio to the radio, which the radio transmits audio to the repeater. With Echolink, licensed operators can get on other repeaters and listen and transmit on them as well (H12). There are conferences which are groups that can handle large amounts of users. These are server-based groups that are basically a middle-man or main group which people, links, repeaters, or other conferences can connect to (H12). Internet Radio Link Project (IRLP) is almost exactly like Echolink, except that it is made mainly for connecting only repeaters to repeaters via VOIP, and not for desktop clients (H10).
Logging ones contacts for a record is important as well. There also is logging software which can log stations that amateurs have made contact with (H10). Mostly logging is used with High Frequencies (HF) because of contesting. It is an easy way to keep track of one’s data to send QSLs to (H10). Amateurs may also use an online log book, called Log Book of the World (LBW). This is useful for contacts that are in other countries (H10). If an amateur were to send QSL postcards to everyone whom they have had contact with in other countries, it would get really expensive, really fast (H10).
Amateurs really need equipment to take their licenses to the maximum possible level. The equipment that amateurs use can be put into two main categories: basic and advanced (LINDSAY). A basic station includes a transceiver, power supply, antenna, and coax. An advanced station includes transceiver(s), power supply(s) or generator, state-of-the-art antenna(s), amp(s), tower(s), and computer(s) (LINDSAY). Past radios used tubes, while today’s radios use electronics (BARTLETT). Amateurs can choose from buying pre-made kits or choose to buy do-it-yourself kits, which they can solder the connections (HARING). Usually advanced hams have High Frequency radios, while basic hams have 2 meter and 440 radios (LINDSAY).
Disadvantages of Amateur Radio are very few. The number one disadvantage of Amateur Radio is that transmissions aren’t secure, and can be picked up by anyone who has a radio including their enemies (H10)(BARTLETT). There really isn’t much that amateurs can change in the sense of encrypting their transmissions, because it is very regulated by the FCC.
The advantages of Amateur Radio out-number the disadvantages. Amateur Radios are more reliable and still work when other forms of communication are down (telephone and internet) (H10). They are very simple to use (CONRAD). Amateurs can get communications up and into a disaster area faster, and easier than other communications and electricity companies (H10). All they need to do is install a repeater running on generators, while other communications and electricity companies need to fix or even re-build their whole entire infrastructure (H10). “People get so tied into cellphones. They don’t understand how the telecommunications infrastructure evolved. Sometimes the latest and greatest technology isn’t the most reliable,” said Shanda Rice (DYNES).
Hams help out in natural disasters and emergencies. They help the USGS, NOAA, and NWS with reporting tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados, forest fires, earthquakes, and floods through SkyWarn (CONRAD). SkyWarn is a volunteer organization that is organized by the National Weather Service who spots severe weather and reports back to NWS. They help out federal, state, county, and local government agencies and organizations (CONRAD). Amateurs connect fire departments, hospitals, and EMAs when regular links of communication are down (CONRAD). Hams connect communities, police, search and rescue, explorers and scientists in remote areas (HAMILTON). Phone patches come in handy when hams need to make a long distance contact with one who is not an amateur operator (HAMILTON).
A distressed sailor and Amateur Radio operator used his radio to call for help. Bert Wilson, a sailor, was badly burned by a faulty stove on his vessel at sea (HAMILTON). He turned on his ham radio and turned it to the regularly monitored Canadian frequency. Someone 3,000 KM away heard Wilson call for help (HAMILTON). He put Wilson in contact with a US Air Force Base, who put him in contact with a US freighter near him. They flew Wilson from the freighter to a hospital (HAMILTON).
Most Amateurs are already prepared and ready to go for the next future emergency. Good hams are prepared twenty-four-seven (HARING). Hams help out when cell towers, internet servers, phones, and electricity are knocked out of service (CONRAD). Amateur’s fall to their ham radios and transmissions to repeaters to communicate in times of need (CONRAD). Hams helped out during the ’87 Edmonto tornado to register people left homeless by the tornado, keeping track of where they were to reunite families (HAMILTON). Also during the ’87 tornado, Alberta government employee ham ops helped police patrol the area with ham talkies (HTs) to make sure there was no looting and let in only residents (HAMILTON). There are groups that amateurs can join if they are interested in helping in emergencies like Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) or ARES (HARING) (H10). Hams can get yearly practice for the ‘BIG CALL’ by helping with public service such as parade and event communications (HARING). “An emergency without communication quickly becomes a disaster,” said Don Montgomery (CONRAD).
Amateur Radio operators come from all walks of life. They are movie stars, politicians, students, doctors, missionaries, truck drivers, and more (H11)! In fact, licensed amateurs can even talk to astronauts on the International Space Station (NASA)! There are more than one-million Amateur Radio operators (HAMILTON). The only restriction is that operators can only talk to other operators, only if the other country has an agreement with the US (H10).
Amateurs talk on radio many different radio frequencies allocated by the FCC. Hams have 26 total bands that consist of many frequencies 1.8 Megahertz through 275 Gigahertz (H11). The high-frequency (HF) bands are 160 Meters (1.8-2 Megahertz), 80 Meters (3.5-4 Megahertz), 40 Meters (7-7.3 Megahertz), 30 Meters (10.1-10.15 Megahertz), 20 Meters (14-14.35 Megahertz), 17 Meters (18.068-18.168 Megahertz), 15 Meters (21-21.45 Megahertz), 12 Meters (24.89-24.99 Megahertz), and 10 Meters (28-29.7 Megahertz) (H10). The most commonly used bands (and bands with repeaters on them) are 2 Meters (144-148 Megahertz), and 70 Centimeters, hams also call 440, (420-450 Megahertz). Amateurs can also broadcast slow-scan television (SSTV) on 1.25 Meters (222-225 Megahertz) (H10).
Hams shortened words down for ease of communication. Some common acryonms that amateurs use are a QTH, which is one’s home, and a XYL, which is one’s wife (HARING). DX-ing is long distance contesting, and amateurs send QSL postcards to their contacts as acknowledgement of contact (HARING) (HAMILTON). Amateurs sign off with a 73, which means goodbye (HAMILTON).
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