BEDFORD — Members of the Granite State Amateur Radio Association joined tens of thousands of ham radio operators hitting the airwaves from remote locations this weekend.
Amateur radio week, sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for amateur radio, culminated this weekend with over 35,000 operators in remote locations connecting with others around the world using everything from digital communications to Morse code as part of a field day competition.
Members of the Granite State Amateur Radio Association were among those simulating emergency conditions by setting their gear up in the field and running it using self-created power sources including generators, batteries and solar power. Operators spent 24 straight hours, from 2 p.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday, making contact with other ham radio operators.
Granite State Amateur Radio Association ran four core stations and two extras, including a “get on the air” station that allowed members of the public to hit the airways under the watchful eye of a licensed operator.
Training was the main point of the day, but participating teams also earned points for contacts made and other categories to make the day a bit more exciting.
The club earned 3,300 points last year and went into this year’s exercises with a goal of reaching 4,000, said Dennis Markell, Granite State Amateur Radio Association president. The club operates a two-meter repeater in Bedford and draws members throughout Hillsborough County including Bedford, Goffstown, New Boston, Francestown, Merrimack and Manchester.
Field day is an important way for club members to keep their skills sharp so they will be prepared to aid with communication in an emergency. Members also participate in training sessions with emergency responders at facilities such as Elliot Hospital and Catholic Medical Center, Markell said.
“The challenge for us is to make them understand what we can and can’t do and to maintain a good relationship with them so they can trust us when we work together,” Markell said.
New technologies haven’t replaced radio as an important method of communication.
“Radio is everywhere,” said Ralph Dieter. “We use it now more than we ever did.”
Dieter said field day is about being prepared and demonstrating that you can operate in emergency conditions without power.
“Once we make our first contact we’ve proven our point,” Dieter said.
Brad Schroeder stopped by to learn a bit more about amateur radio.
“I’ve heard a little bit about ham radio but I’ve never really seen it operational,” Schroeder said.
His wife, Audra, had some luck on the “get on the air” station.
Getting on the air was the first of many steps for Nick Aiello to earn his scouting merit badge for radio. He reached another operator in Pennsylvania.
“I liked it,” Aiello said.
Training at the local level is an important part of being prepared for when the unthinkable happens.
“Disasters are local in nature and it’s really the guys at the local level that are getting the job done,” said Wayne Santos, section emergency coordinator for New Hampshire.
About 12 local groups of roughly 300 radio operators exist in the Granite State, Santos said. When disaster strikes they may be called upon to set up stations at health centers, designated shelters or other points of operations. They also work with smaller agencies that might not have radio access.
“Our role is to provide radio support to agencies that need it,” Santos said.That help typically starts at the local level, Santos said. Additional assistance may be requested from other parts of the state if necessary.The local operators can quickly get information about conditions on the ground out to emergency responders so they can know what to expect.
Training exercises such as field day help keep the operators prepared to get the message out in the least amount of time with the least amount of effort, Santos said.
In 2008, amateur radio operators provided key communications during an ice storm.
When a generator malfunction knocked phone, internet, and cell service out in Wilton two years ago, an operations team was formed to set up a communication center.
“When all else fails there’s radio,” Santos said. “It’s always there.”