Tulsa area amateur radio operators gathered Saturday at Chandler Park to practice for a “worst case scenario.”
That disaster scenario revolved around disruption of most communication systems, leaving radio operators, with their own generators and antennas, providing vital communication links to public safety and disaster relief agencies.
“Despite the Internet, cell phones, email, and modern communications, every year whole regions find themselves in the dark,” Bart Pickens, Tulsa Amateur Radio Club's public service chairman, said. “Tornadoes, fires, storms, ice and even the occasional cutting of fiber-optic cables leave people without the means to communicate. In these cases, the one consistent service that has never failed has been amateur radio.”
Pickens, a Sand Springs resident, said a natural disaster can destroy land lines and cell towers and that without power, cell phones die.
Radio operators, often called “hams” provide backup communications for everything from the American Red Cross to FEMA and even for the International Space Station, Pickens said.
TARC members were joined last weekend by members of the Tulsa Repeaters Organization in a national emergency communications exercise. The field day was the climax of the week-long “Amateur Radio Week,” sponsored by the American Radio Relay League. Last year, more than 35,000 people participated in the exercise.
During the exercise at Chandler Park, club members specialized in monitoring and talking on different frequencies.
“We try to contact as many people (radio operators) as possible and test our equipment and make sure we can talk to people,”
"The fastest way to turn a crisis into a total disaster is to lose communications,” Allen Pitts, of the ARRL, said in a news release. “From the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to tornadoes in Missouri, ham radio provided the most reliable communication networks in the first critical hours of the events. Because ham radios are not dependent on the Internet, cell towers or other infrastructure, they work when nothing else is available. We need nothing between us but air.”
Pickens became interested in radio at a young age.
“When I was kid, it was truckers talking on CB (citizen band) radio.”
In college, Pickens majored in broadcast journalism and had an FCC commercial radio license.
“I like talking to people in faraway places, places I've been to before,” Pickens said.
Pickens said more than 700,000 people hold amateur radio licenses in the U.S. and more than 2.5 million worldwide.
For more information about amateur radio, visit: www.emergency-radio.org