BY MELANIE WADE –
Ham radio is often a much-forgotten part of society, until disaster hits and then, they are at the forefront of communications, getting all of the praise they deserve, until they are forgotten again. For members of the Ouachita Amateur Radio Association, the importance of ham radio is always at the forefronts of their minds and insuring they function properly is a task they take very seriously.
Once a year, during the last full weekend in June, more than 40,000 ham radio operators throughout North America and others in some countries around the globe, set up stations to display, demonstrate, and practice the science of ham radios and their short-wave set ups. The services provided by ham operators can be priceless and during the field day events, can be viewed by the public for educational purposes. The National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) states on their website that a field day event “combines public service, emergency preparedness, community outreach, and technical skills all in a single event. Field Day has been an annual event since 1933, and remains the most popular event in ham radio.”
The local association, Ouachita Amateur Radio Association, has more than two dozen members who actively participate in their monthly meetings and field day events, and the group has come to the rescue of Polk County citizens on numerous occasions. One of the largest operations they have conducted was during the tornado of 2009 when all communications were destroyed. They set up at the old Pine Bowl and had communications up and running for six hours before local law enforcement could get their communications going. The local ham operators were the only communications in or out of the county and law enforcement appreciated the help.
He explained that events like the International Field Day provide valuable practice in case of such emergencies. During the event, solar panels are set up to provide all electricity needed. After all, during a real disaster, many times electricity is not available. Once the panels are set, trailers are set up that house short wave radios that can be transmitted to, and from. As ham radio operators from around the world use the 24 hour period from 12 noon on a Saturday to 12 noon on a Sunday to broadcast their call signs (W5HUM for the local group), they wait for someone to send one back and see how far they come from, with their furthest ever coming from Hawaii. Exercises such as these can give operators an idea of how far their signals can reach during a time of emergency.
On Saturday, June 24, at noon, the local field day operations began at Rich Mountain Fire Tire where members had their setup complete and were ready to begin sending out call signs. Sometimes, dozens of call signs are sent back, each one taken down in notes to reference in the future. In addition to the group having a call sign, each individual has one as well. Most ham radio operators have set ups in their homes as well, using any time they can spare to broadcast and listen for a call back.
As ham operators came throughout the day on Saturday to participate, the association held a big dinner that evening before camping out overnight to listen for a fellow operator to call from far away. Although final numbers haven’t been shared yet, some field days can bring in dozens upon dozens of call backs, with each bringing a little more excitement to the exercise.
The Ouachita Amateur Radio Association meets once a month at the Limetree Restaurant, on the second Saturday at 12 noon. The club is always looking for new members and all are welcome to join their lunch and meet the membership.