Ham radio operators stay tuned in

Posted on July 19, 2012 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Jane Courtney | Special to The Sun

Whether it’s ravaging floods, raging fire or a devastating earthquake, vital information will be passed along to emergency personnel and the public when amateur radio operators power up their communication system.

In Sonoma Valley, there is a group of dedicated volunteers at the ready. Within three hours of an emergency, they are trained to find a radio signal and start transmitting news of rescue operations, evacuations, damaged roadways, and status of food, water and medical supplies, among other information.

The Valley of the Moon Amateur Radio Club (VOMARC) has about 50 local members, all licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to operate high, ultra high and very high frequency radios (including Morse code) to assist in disasters.

“The idea of emergency preparedness is that in a disaster, ham radio operators would be your communication,” Jones said. The more prepared they are, he said, the better the chances of providing life-saving information.

Members stay sharp by taking part in field-day drills, like the one held recently in Eldridge on a hilly location known as Camp Via.

The 12 local men were there to compete in an event known as an emergency communications exercise. It was a contest among amateur radio operators throughout the United States and Canada to see which club could make the most contacts in a 24-hour period.

“This is the amateur radio stations’ event of the year. It’s where we get to go out and play,” said Craig McCormick, club member.

‘Play’ started with hard work as members set up a 30-foot portable tower for their antenna. The guy wires had to be secured so the wind didn’t knock the tower down, and one participant, Darrel Jones, fired a line for an antenna over trees towering as high as 100 feet using a hand-made compressed air launcher.

Club members all had their individual tasks and completed them by the 11 a.m. start of the contest. For the next 24 hours, at their four stations, the men took turns making radio contacts with stations all over the country and in Canada. Each contact was logged in a computer for verification.

By 11 a.m. Sunday morning, the club had made 911 contacts that Jones said, “…covered all but three sections of the U.S. and Canada. This was the highest score VOMARC has achieved.”

The field-day drill isn’t the only practice the club gets. Monthly, members provide demonstrations at Skypark Airport on Eighth Street East on the second Sunday when airplane pilots give free rides for youngsters.

Club members stay in touch with each other at their monthly meetings and by newsletters. Also, in the spring the club sets up operations at the Veterans Memorial Building on First Street West for their annual Hamfest, a public demonstration of their ham radio operation. For more information about VOMARC contact [email protected]

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