Ham, or amateur radio, and CERT have the possibility of being good partners. First, what is Ham radio? It is a communications service that is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). To become a licensed radio operator you must pass a test that consists of some rules set forth by the FCC. Along with the rules are some technical questions, but don’t be scared away because something technical is involved. The test for the Technician license is 35 questions and all of the questions come from a question pool that is available for the learning experience. There are licensed radio operators ranging from as young as 8 to well over 90 and from every walk of life. There are classes available that assist with the learning process and passing the test. The tests are conducted on a regular basis and are administrated by other local radio operators.
The Ham radio operator does this so that he/she will have the ability to communicate from around his/her neighborhood to around the world and even with the International Space Station. We can talk about almost anything, but can not play music or conduct business using Ham radio. Ham radio is a hobby and is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of individuals world wide.
The capabilities of any operator are as much as he would like to be involved in. We have digital communications utilizing computers, television is available and the original digital communications mode “International Morse Code”. Don’t be put off, because none of these are required. You may only want to talk by using your radio. Most of the radios we use for local communications are not much larger than your cell phone and there is no monthly charge like your cell phone. You have the ability to build your own radio or, as a good number of operators do today, buy one from an amateur radio supplier, eBay, Craig’s List or from a friend. The cost could be as little as $25 to almost unlimited, again depending on how involved you would like to get.
We utilize Ham radio in our CERT exercises to communicate between the participants, to stay informed on the exercise status and monitor what is happening. In a real incident a radio operator may assist with a search team and provide instant updates on the status of your team, the hazards and injuries.
Yes, you may use FRS/GMRS radios also, but the licensed amateur has many advantages over your family radio. The higher power allowance of the ham radio equipment provides better local communications in the immediate area and if needed, there is an extensive infrastructure of other systems such as repeaters that assist our small portable hand held radios in communicating over the entire Denver metropolitan area if needed. A repeater is a radio that receives a transmitted signal and immediately re-transmits it from a tower or mountain top location that provides tremendous radio coverage. This infrastructure is very robust due to the many repeater locations and most have emergency power in case of a power outage.
Ham radio has been utilized in the recent fires and even to provide communications in the rescue of the miners in Chili. As a licensed Amateur you may provide a service to your community in cooperation with the local police and sheriff’s departments. One of the requirements to be an astronaut on the International Space Station is to be a licensed amateur radio operator.
If you or anyone in your family are thinking about exploring Amateur radio, I really encourage you to get involved and use your radio as much as you can so when the time comes, you will know how your radio works and the capabilities that you have by being part of the Ham radio community.
This is a very brief discussion on Ham radio, its capabilities, and some of the services of licensed radio operators. If this has generated any interest and you would like to learn more abut the Amateur radio service, please contact any of the O.M.E.G.A. members for assistance. You can visit our web site at http://www.omegaresponders.org/.
WA9TCD (that is my radio call sign, issued by the FCC)