Another Way To Communicate In An Emergency

This is a guest post by a local ham radio operator explaining the importance of ham radio.

What is amateur radio?

Amateur Radio is sometimes called “Ham” radio because some radio operators like to talk a lot. Amateur radio allows millions of people worldwide to communicate with each other using two way radios, (not using the commercial phone system). Radio amateurs even have their own satellites and can transmit TV pictures from their own homes. Many amateur radio operators serve the public as a voluntary, noncommercial, communication service for public service events like bike-a-thons, runs, and during emergencies. There is even a ham radio “Christian Missionary Net”, so people on a missionary trip to a remote area without cell service, can communicate back to the states or with missionaries in other countries.

What can you use amateur radios for?

You can use amateur radios for keeping in contact with loved ones while, hiking, camping, boating, shopping in large malls, or just house to house communication. One advantage of a two way radio over a phone is that it does not require any outside support like cell towers, landlines or even commercial power. Amateur radios typically operate on 12 volt DC power, and battery packs which can be recharged with a solar panel or generator. There are many computer programs that interface with Amateur Radio;
RTTY, APRS, PACKET, PSK-31 and many more. You can send E-mails, send text messages and track someone’s travel route on a color mapping program using Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS) software.

Who else uses two way radios?

Firemen, Police, Military, Pilots, Boaters, Businesses, Private Citizens,
and the International Space station all use two way radios for the same reason, they do not want to depend on the commercial phone system.

Cell Phones do not have coverage in all areas, and they rely on cell towers. Cell Phones are actually two way radios that are patched into the phone system. Cell phone towers connect the signal from cell phones to the phone system. The average maximum range is about 5 miles from the cell tower. Amateur Radio repeaters are located on towers also, and are similar to cell phone towers. They receive the radio signal and resend it from a greater height which gives it more range. Most amateur radio repeaters have a battery or generator backup so even if commercial A/C power goes out, the repeater will continue to work.

The US government, through the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) grants all US amateur radio licenses. This licensing procedure ensures that radio amateurs possess the necessary operation skill and electronics knowledge to properly use radios. The FCC reserves certain radio frequencies for use only by amateur radio operators.

You can purchase a brand new hand held amateur radio for about $50.00, that will transmit on the VHF/UHF Ham bands and also work as a scanner, receiving the public service (Police, Fire, Marine, Aircraft) bands. A scanner is nice to have during a disaster because it allows you to monitor weather, police, and fire departments. Most handheld radios transmit about 5 watts of power, and the range is about 3 miles simplex and can be over 100 miles through a repeater.

A Ham radio that transmits on the High Frequency (HF) bands may cost around $200 for a used radio, or over $2,000.00 for some high end new models. The modern HF radios will transmit on the ham bands, and receive across the whole HF band. This allows you to receive “shortwave” broadcasts (news & music) from other countries, news that is intentionally not reported by the American news networks.  Many people that are interested in electronics like to experiment, build, and test their own antennas and radios. HF radios usually transmit about 100 watts of power, and because the radio signals are in the High Frequency Band, they bounce off the atmosphere and you can talk both locally and worldwide. You can purchase amateur radios on the internet from places like “Ham Radio Outlet” and “DX Engineering” just to name a few. There are also sales called “Ham fest” throughout the country where individuals and major companies sell Amateur Radio equipment, both new and used.

If you are interested in getting your Amateur Radio license, I would suggest locating an Amateur Radio Club in your area and talking to some of their members about the hobby, and visiting the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) website. There are three Classes (levels) of licensing; Technician, General and Extra. Each higher class gives you more operating frequency privileges. There are many online study helps for obtaining an amateur radio license. Many children, some as young as 8 years old have passed the test and got their license.