Members of the Cumberland Plateau Amateur Radio Club were ready for the challenges of their annual field day.
President John Lester explained that members used a variety of technologies to contact other amateur radio operators, tracking every contact.
“There are over 40,000 clubs, and we’re all demonstrating our capabilities in emergency situations,” Lester said during the June 25-26 exercise.
The 24-hour event began at 1 p.m. and continued around the clock. Operators, based at Homestead Tower or at their homes, logged every contact with time and place. The goal was to reach as many operators as possible during the 24-hour period. Operators used their HAM radios, communicated via voice and Morse code, and used a new technology that intermingled radio signals with wireless networks, the Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network.
They hoped that weather reports for clear skies the next morning would allow them to use a repeater on the International Space Station to make additional contacts.
“With UHF, you’re usually limited to line-of-sight transmissions,” explained Richard Perry. “The ISS repeater enables long-range communication.”
It was supposed to pass overhead around 11 a.m. on the Sunday of the exercise. To reach the satellite, a club member must hold an antenna pointed at the satellite far above.
They were able to connect with the satellite, but were unable to make contact with another operator on the ground.
Several antennae were in place around Homestead Tower, with generators powering the equipment. An antenna was placed high in a tree – with a little help from a drone.
In 24 hours, the group registered 424 contacts. With bonus points for using emergency power, providing a public place and a public information table for the community, advertising and other activities for the 24 hours. Their total score was 3,208 points.
JJ Orleff said the Cumberland Plateau club had been involved in the drill for 50 years.
“We are an emergency management tool,” Orleff said.
If communications systems fail, amateur operators can help operate emergency communications networks.
Several of the members are also trained weather observers to help identify local weather conditions during storms or severe weather.
The local club has over 80 members and welcomes anyone interested in radio communication. The club holds free tests for a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) operator license — a requirement to operate on the radio bands — each month. Although the club does not collect fees, there is a $35 fee for new, amended, or renewed licenses paid to the FCC.
“You can learn what you need to get a radio license on YouTube,” Orleff said, adding that the hobby is much more accessible than in the past.
Lester added, “With today’s technology, you don’t have to have a $1,500 radio. Your smartphone can communicate with HAM radios.
Several members use their smartphones to operate their radios remotely while on the go or to access someone else’s antenna if they don’t have one. They can find radio repeaters all over the world.
Anyone who uses smartphone apps to communicate with radio operators still needs the FCC license, the two warned.
Lester said the club can provide resources to the community to keep communications up and running during a disaster, like the 2015 ice storm or another severe weather event.
Thanks to new technologies, the club hopes to improve its emergency communication capacity. The organization is seeking grant funds that could establish an Arden/MESH network that combines the radio signal with a low power antenna.
“He’s not affected by bad weather,” Lester said. “Telephone systems can plug in and run cameras.”
For more information about the Cumberland Plateau Amateur Radio Club, visit cparc.net or join them at their meetings held the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Fair Park Senior Center, 1433 Livingston Rd. in Crossville.