Survival Skills for Real People
Real Earth Solutions
Real Earth Solutions

Is Ham Radio a Good Fit for You?

What Ham Radio operators do.

On May 22, 2011 an EF5 tornado roared through Joplin, Missouri, Less than ten minutes later one third of the city was destroyed and three fourths was heavily damaged.

158 people were killed outright with another 1,200 injured. Joplin’s only hospital was left mostly destroyed, power was out throughout the city, and roads were impassable due to debris.

All communications were out, including police, ambulance and fire department radios. Internet, cell towers, and phone lines. Everything was just…gone…

Within five minutes of the tornado being reported, amateur radio operators sprang into action. Ham operators throughout Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas were contacted and got on assigned emergency frequencies.

Amateur Radio clubs in Springfield, Missouri and nearby areas loaded up in their prepared emergency response vehicles and headed for the affected areas. Instead of standing around wondering what to do, Hams were part of the action.

Within an hour amateur radio operators had set up emergency communications centers at Joplin’s hospital, police and sheriff’s departments and throughout the city.

For the next three days all communication in and out of Joplin was handled by amateur radio volunteers. That gave the National Guard and local utilities much needed time to set up their own systems.

Volunteer amateur radio operators worked with the Red Cross for the next three months. The Salvation Army and other relief organizations used Hams to provide much needed communications as well as “health and welfare” checks for concerned family members outside of the area.

And yes! It was just as exciting as it sounds!

How can this be a fit for you? As a reader of my blog I know you are looking for ways to increase your ability to sustain yourself and your family in uncertain times. Ham radio is one of the vital skills you’ll want to have.

What I’ve described above is just a small part of what it means to be an amateur radio operator (aka Ham). When Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Katrina struck the US coast, Hams were there to help.

I lived in Alaska at that time and I was still able to provide emergency communications in and out of the affected areas by being a “relay station”.

Every day around the world Hams are providing these services. Earthquakes in Tibet, Haiti, and South America? Hams are there helping. Tsunamis, famines, wars? Hams are there too.

But helping people in disaster situations is a small part of amateur radio. Hams assist in many public events such as the Boston Marathon manning checkpoints and keeping track of the contestants.

In fact the list of things Hams do in their own communities is almost endless. These are called “Service Work” in Ham lingo.

However, Service Work is only one face of amateur radio. It’s a great hobby where you can talk to people all over the world, as well as listen to “shortwave” broadcast stations worldwide. A lot of these stations are operated by the governments of these countries, and you would be amazed to hear their view on world events. It’s a far cry from what you’ll hear on our cable and broadcast news services.

How about language differences? Most of these stations broadcast in English at least part of the time.

The United States has a government-sponsored shortwave system called “The Voice of America” (VOA). It broadcasts on many different frequencies and languages to countries worldwide, especially those countries where the local government restricts internet access and only allows “state run” television and radio stations. Sadly our current President and administration is slashing the budgets of VOA and its affiliates. (Does he want the money to bring in thousands of Muslim “refugees/soldiers to your community?)

There are a lot of misconceptions on what an amateur radio operator is. We are not a bunch of drunk rednecks screaming profanity and “10-4 good buddy” into the mikes of our CB radios! Hams are licensed by the FCC and NEVER say 10-4 or any other police type “10 codes”.

We take pride in our professionalism and somehow manage to communicate without profanity or hate/racial slurs. In fact, if someone behaves in such a fashion, Hams join together to locate the individual and pass that information on to the authorities to take appropriate actions, such as loss of license and/or fines.

You don’t have to be a “nerd” or a rocket scientist to be a Ham. We come from all walks of life and education levels. Don’t be intimidated by the thought of difficult tests or rooms full of expensive equipment as it’s easy to get started.

There are multiple “classes” (levels) of licenses and the entry level is pretty easy. There are hams in your local area who are eager to help you pass called “Elmers”. The best way to find them is to search ‘ARRL” which stands for “The American Radio Relay League.” There you will find links to learn about amateur radio as well as information on local ham clubs who give classes and do testing in your area..

On June 25-26, 2016 the ARRL has an annual event called “Field Day”. Hams near where you live will be set up at local parks and other areas in order for the public to see them in action.

They are hoping to see you there and will be thrilled to let you try out ham radio for yourself. As an incentive they are shamelessly throwing in free food as an added bonus.

Bring your whole family. There are licensed hams as young as 8 and as old as 100+. What a great opportunity for home schoolers. Look on the ARRL website or contact me for more information.

I’ve only scratched the surface of amateur radio in this article, hoping to entice you to see that ham radio is a good fit in your life as a prepper.

Please feel free to comment on this article and ask any questions you’d like me to answer.. I’ll be listening for you on my radios! See you next time…

3 Responses to Is Ham Radio a Good Fit for You?

  • Field Day is a great way for ham radio operators to test their emergency preparedness.

  • I’m totally new to the concept of Ham radios so please forgive my ignorance. You mention that Hams are used widely in emergency situations. If there is no electricity available, how are the Ham radios powered?

    • Thanks for the question! Most Hams have a “go kit” which contains several radios, antennas, spare batteries, chargers, and a couple of small solar panels. That gives them a way to charge their small radios no matter what. Most local amateur radio clubs have some sort of emergency response vehicle( often a converted RV or bus) or trailer. These are equipped with generators, fuel tanks, satellite dishes ( for sat phones and internet access), more complete radio systems as well as laptops, and large antenna arrays. They will often have tents, portable kitchens, portable outhouses and more. This allows them to set up bases to interact with first responders, and emergency agencies such as FEMA, The Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and others.

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