September 24, 2004 > All HAMs on Deck!
All HAMs on Deck!
by Praveena Raman, KF6UAT
Last month, South Bay Amateur Radio Association (SBARA) hams provided communication support at the Zucchini Festival in Hayward. As in years past, ham radio operators were stationed at entrances to the festival, ticket booths, the logistics and medical areas. The entire communication process was controlled by a "net" controller. Although a commercial radio system was used, the radio operators used ham communication protocols.
Historically, amateur radio has been in existence since the invention of radios and has been used as back-up for emergency communications. There are different theories, but not a definite one, why amateur radio operators are called "hams." One explanation is that early amateurs were called hams because they liked to perform, or "ham it up" on the air. Another describes the "ham-fisted" way some early amateurs handled their code keys. Still another places the origin as the first initials of "Hertz", "Ampere" and "Marconi," the originators of radio technology.
Ham radio operators require a license issued by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to operate radios in frequency intervals from just above the AM broadcast band into extremely high microwave frequencies. To obtain a license, a test covering the basic principles of electronics and rules and regulations established by the FCC must be passed. Successful completion of the test licenses a person to operate in a set of frequency bands typically used for shorter distances. To use frequencies for long distance, world-wide communications, another written test and a Morse code test must be mastered. These frequencies cannot be used by commercial radio operators.
Licenses can be revoked by the FCC if they are misused. With all these restrictions, what is the attraction of ham radio operation when commercial radios with extensive capabilities are flooding the markets and can be used without a license? Commercial radios often have limited communication range. They cannot use the extensive radio frequencies used by licensed radio operators. During an emergency or a disaster, normal communication channels such as cell phones may be overwhelmed whereas frequencies for amateur radio operators are usually open and functional. These frequencies are monitored by a "net" operated by the local ARES group which brings order to the airwaves when everything else is in chaos.
SBARA is just one of many amateur radio or ham clubs/organizations in the Tri-City area. Some of the other organizations in the area are the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), Radio Emergency Civil Service (RACES), Community Emergency Response Team's Communication group (CERT Comm) and Fremont Amateur Radio Transmitter Society (FARTS). Organizations such as SBARA and FARTS are general interest radio clubs serving the needs of hobbyists whereas ARES, RACES and CERT Comm deal specifically with emergency communications.
In the United States, there is no age limit for getting a ham radio license. Licenses have been obtained by children as young as 5 yrs. of age. Because of this flexibility many families have obtained licenses and use this as a family hobby as well as a way of getting the whole family prepared for emergencies. The Feriante family in Fremont is one such family. Adam and Kortnee Ferainte and their three children, Eli (14 yrs), Joshua (13 yrs.) and Amanda (8yrs) are all licensed ham radio operators. All are members of SBARA and participate in the annual field day in Fremont.
Field Day is a national event that takes place in the United States and is organized by the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) towards the end of June. On this day amateur radio operators camp in central places (e.g. Central Park in Fremont) and set up different types of radios and antennas to communicate as extensively as possible. On this day, even people without licenses can go to one of the camps to learn and experience radio communications firsthand. It is a great social and educational opportunity. There is also a competition that many radio operators participate in to see how many "contacts" they can make.
Besides "field day", local hams also volunteer their services in other community events like the Primavera Bike race, "Baker to Vegas" race, Zucchini Festival, July 4th parades and so on. CERT Comms participate in CERT activities like drills besides community events to keep them prepared to respond in a disaster. CERT Comms need to complete CERT training through the Fremont, Newark or Union City Fire Departments. This training is based on the curriculum set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Looking at all the different ham radio clubs operating in an area, an often-asked question is, "Are clubs like ARES, RACES and CERT Comm competing clubs?" Actually ARES and CERT Comm are complimentary in their services whereas RACES serves a different function working in conjunction with ARES and CERT Comm. A good article written by Fremont ham Radio operators Doug Stinson and Steve Wilson can be found at http://www.qsl.net/kg6adr/CERTComm/index.html. ARES is a nationwide group of amateur radio operators which provides communications when normal communication is not possible or stretched thin whereas CERT Comm which also provides communications during emergencies operates locally in the Fremont, Newark and Union City areas. CERT Comm depends on ARES to manage the use of radio frequencies. RACES is authorized by emergency management officials only and its use is limited to civil preparedness activities.
Since the Tri-City area is prone to earthquakes, it is important for community members to be prepared for disaster. One way to prepare is to explore the world of ham radio. There are no physical or age restrictions and it is open to everyone. Time and again, Ham operators have proven their value in emergencies; countless lives have been saved when skilled hobbyists have responded to earthquakes in India and hurricanes in the U.S. Ham radio operators take great pride in their hobby and are passionate about their avocation.
Websites listed below give in-depth information of Amateur Radio Communication in the Tri-City area including contact and membership information: