Ham Radio Operators Train for Emergencies to Support the Public


Carolyn Wiley, KP News

Ham radio operators (left to right) Lynn Neece, Thomas Smith and Mark Yordy will train for emergency-preparedness communication later in June. Photo: Don Tjossem, KP News

On the fourth weekend in every June since 1933, amateur (ham) radio operators across the nation have participated in “field day,” the largest ham radio event of the year. Lynn Neece, a member of RF Wireless Amateur Radio Club of Burley, said that while field day is an opportunity for the public to learn about the hobby and how to get started, for members it is also a training exercise for responding to a natural disaster or other emergency.

Members will experience what it is like to operate away from their normal home stations by being part of a simulated emergency that requires setting up under adverse conditions, including the use of emergency power and portable antennas. The exercise will provide a chance to test systems and practice emergency protocols that are necessary when regular communications are disrupted.

Neece said he enjoys the technical side of the hobby and derives satisfaction from knowing that he would be able to help out neighbors in the event of emergency and reach his family in Pennsylvania.

The RF Wireless Amateur Radio Club has been affiliated with the national organization, Amateur Radio Relay League, for a little over 30 years, Neece said. The local club has been active in providing introductory training and classes for members who want to earn entry-level licenses as well as advanced training.

“Some, but not all, of the members are emergency-certified operators and are called up to provide services through the District 5 Emergency Operations Center (EOC),” he said. They provide communication support for the Red Cross and fire districts. On the Key Peninsula, regular EOC training takes place at fire station 47 in Home.

Mark Yordy, a Wauna resident and ham radio operator, works in the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management and helps coordinate Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) drills in the Western Washington Section, District 5. District 5 serves all Pierce County communities. The Burley group is part of the ARES network. Yordy said that during an emergency, the local EOCs send their information to District 5 ARES and the messages are sorted and prioritized before distribution to the appropriate departments.

Although much of the focus is upon emergency preparedness, other services are fulfilled by ham radio operators, such as on-site coordination of marathon races like the Sea-to-Narrows, long-distance bike races like Seattle-to-Portland and recreational boating activities such as the Vic-Maui International Yacht Race. Thomas Smith, president of the Burley Radio Club, takes pride in having been a crewmember who handled communications for his team on the Vic-Maui race in both 2004 and 2006.

Neece is coordinating the local field day at YMCA Camp Seymour this year. He has assembled a team of people who will be on duty throughout the 24-hour period beginning 11 a.m. Saturday, June 24, until 11 a.m. Sunday. The community is invited to visit and learn about the technical side of wireless radio communication.

For more information, go to www.w7jq.com.