Ham radio enthusiasts will be brushing up on their off-the-grid emergency communications skills at the Grand Forks Amateur Radio Club emergency communications day June 25-26.
The annual event is a 24-hour-long emergency drill. Club members will keep the emergency communications running non-stop for 24 hours, off the grid and outside in the park. Brian Norwood, director of special events for the club, said the goal is to simulate what communications would be like in a real emergency.
“We have to set up … an emergency communication centre,” Norwood said. All radio activity is tracked over the 24-hour period, he said, so that “when its finished they can show anywhere in North America, if there is a problem, what the capability of ham radio in that district to be able to help.”
The event takes place annually on the third weekend in June across North America, Norwood said. With over 30,000 people participating, it’s the largest radio event in the world.
The event will be open for demonstrations between 12 and 6 p.m. on Saturday. Demonstrations include how to communicate across the world with a radio and how to turn your cellphone into a ham radio.
Norwood said that ham radio, contrary to popular belief, is an important resource for the community in an emergency, and he encourages anyone interested to come out and learn. The group will also be holding a course in the fall for anyone interested in earning their radio operator’s license.
“The problem is when you have an emergency, two things happen. First, everyone knows and second, everyone wants to phone to find out if their family is okay,” he said. “Even if the [cell phone] towers aren’t burned down or washed away, they crash . . the public is at a loss.”
The weekend is a busy one for the club, with also providing the communications for the 12th Annual Pharmasave Christina Lake Triathlon. But, Norwood added, the capacity of the club to do so much work in communications is part of what makes it a valuable resource.
“We want [people] to learn what ham radio does for the community,” he said. “A lot of people think of guys with huge radios sitting in their rooms with a Morse code key. It is all computer-integrated now. People don’t understand how modern ham radio is. It’s still very much alive and busy.”