"I Didn't Know Ham Radio People Were Still Around"
week while sitting in the studio where Melanie takes her cello and piano
lessons, I usually read technical and hobby magazines, but lately I have
been studying the ARRL
General Class License Manual in preparation for taking the
written exam in a couple months. Last week a lady saw the book title and
remarked, "I didn't know ham radio people were still around." Wow.
It would be tempting to blame her for being ignorant, or to blame
(American Radio Relay League) for not adequately getting the word
out, but the reality is that the mass media does not consider Ham
radio's contribution to be significant enough to cover in news
stories. Amateur radio operators perform a mighty service in times
of trouble, but they do it so efficiently and effectively, without
actively seeking credit, that their efforts are lost in the noise*.
Ham radio operators have been on the front lines of national and
civil defense since World War II and even a bit before (see
links below). So important have been the contributions of Ham
operators that the
FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has consistently
protected the very valuable spectrum reserved for amateur radio. In
fact, so highly regarded are licensed amateurs that while a bevy of
requirements are set forth in Part 97 of FCC regulations regarding
legal operation on the amateur bands, many areas defer to the
operators' judgment in applying the standard of "best practice."
Individual amateur radio station installations, aka 'Ham shacks,'
are subject to inspection at any time, but do not require that a government
official sign off on every transmitter, receiver, and antenna setup
as is the norm for commercial stations.
Isaac Newton's first law states that an object in motion tends
to remain in motion, and an object at rest tends to remain at rest.
The more massive the object, the harder it is to get it started or
Because amateur radio operators are not hindered by the hideously
massive monstrosity that is a government bureaucracy, they are
almost always first responders on the scene of civil disasters. In
the cases of
hurricanes Katrina and Sandy,
FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was famously slow at
providing emergency communications needed to coordinate search and
rescue; food, water, and clothing; weather reporting; relaying
status messages to family members; and a host of other services not
even related to communications. The same was true when Muslim
extremists attacked America's homeland in 2001. When
tornadoes decimate towns across the Midwest and the South,
Amateurs in the communities prepare for the onslaught. They have
trained regularly for such situations. After the trauma they are
ready to go. In really big disasters volunteers from all over the
country pack up their equipment and head to the scene. Do you recall
in the many thousands of on-the-scene reporting episodes a single segment
focusing on the effort of Ham operators? That's not to say there
were none, but they were so scarce that most people never saw one.
Serious efforts are put forth by Amateur radio operators in
training for their roles in emergency response processes, including
training and the assembly of equipment able to be mobilized on short
ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Communication) and
(Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service) are designed to provide
structured programs to help assure mission success. Per the ARRL
website, "ARES is activated before, during and after an emergency.
Generally, ARES handles all emergency messages, including those
between government emergency management officials. RACES, on the
other hand, almost never starts before an emergency and is active
only during the emergency and during the immediate aftermath if
government emergency management offices need communications support.
RACES is normally shut down shortly after the emergency has
cleared." Unlike FEMA and other federal, state and local emergency
response units, Amateur radio hardware and expertise is provided
at no charge. Costs are not even tax deductible for participants,
although there are some operations classified as
501(c)(3) charitable organizations where donations can be
I am not recommending it, but if you really want to
see the value of the Amateur Radio community's contributions to
society, have them all sit out the next major disaster and see how
the government takes care of things. If it did happen, you can bet
lawyers would be retained by victims to sue private citizens (Hams) for
having the capability to assist but electing not to provide the service. Then
you would finally get some major network news coverage and people
would not be in the dark about Hams (although they might be in the
dark for other reasons).
* There is just the tiniest
possibility, too, that being ignored is due in part to the typical
Ham operator's demographic profile. I'm just saying...
Posted on 12/4/2012
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