By Scott Westerman – W9WSW
Ten years ago this week, New Orleans was struggling to recover from the devistation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. There was no power. The traditional communications infrastructure was non-existent. How could emergency service function in such an environment?
It turned out that the key contributors included men and women from every walk of life who shared one thing in common: They were amateur radio operators.
“Hams” deployed digital, voice and data systems across the region to support the work of police, fire, ems and the National Guard. Highly trained ham volunteers worked side by side with public safety teams. And amateur radio communication systems, built to be quickly deployed and hardened against the elements, were crucial tools as a city struggled back to it’s feet in the wake of immeasurable devastation.
In truth, radio amateurs are anything but. In many instances, they have developed extensive expertise in everything from technology to disaster preparedness. They regularly practice and prepare to provide crucial communication services, “when all else fails”. They build wireless mesh networks that simulate Internet connectivity. They comprise the network of volunteer storm spotters that are crucial to the National Weather Service’s Skywarn program. Hams communicate with low earth orbit satellites, helped invent the digital systems that became the foundation for email, text messaging and smart phones. Many of the resources available to persons with disabilities were pioneered by hams. And radio amateurs have been on the forefront of every significant technological advance, from digital communication to the space program.
Amateur Radio is truly a hobby with something for everyone. Whether you have a fascination with the weather, public service, kit building and the outdoors, or just enjoy fellowship with people who share your passion, you can find your niche here. A great place to learn more is from the national association for amateur radio, The American Radio Relay League. Their website is loaded with resources for prospective hams and they can connect you with someone in your community who can introduce you to the hobby.
September is National Preparedness Month. On the 30th, “Preparathons” will be held across the country to practice for the unlikely and prepare for the unimaginable. And, just as was the case during the Katrina event, there is one group you can count on to be at the forefront: Radio amateurs.
Visit W9WSW.com, my website dedicated to all things Amateur Radio.