Ham-radio emergency organization ready for fire season
—Charlie Christmann, WB5YAZ
Amateur radio has a long history of public service during emergencies. It provides badly needed communications when other means are overloaded or unavailable. That tradition continues today. Amateur radio operators, called “hams,” not only help when disasters strike, but also provide information to the National Weather Service and other organizations when potentially dangerous situations arise.
The primary emergency amateur radio organization in our county is the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, organized by the American Radio Relay League. ARES has a long history, going back to its formal inception in 1935. Since that time, ARES has responded countless times to communications emergencies. Members are trained in message handling, network operations, and other specialized skills needed to provide communications to local and state emergency-service organizations. The local Sandoval County ARES works closely with the Sandoval County emergencies services.
With the 2004 fire season upon us, ARES groups from five New Mexico counties held an emergency training event on April 17 to simulate a major fire on the east side of the Sandia Mountains. Twenty-five Sandoval ARES members worked with the county officials, regional ARES groups, and the Amateur Radio National Traffic Network to simulate the loss of public communications systems. Amateur radio was used to send messages between emergency-operations centers, DPS offices, and remote fire stations to coordinate evacuation and firefighting efforts.
The United States has a large number of different types of disasters every year in which volunteer ham-radio operators play an important roll. In New Mexico, ham radio was invaluable during the Los Alamos fires of 2000. Hams helped at shelters, emergency-operation centers, evacuation checkpoints, the Los Alamos Civil Defense headquarters, and Red Cross facilities. Hams accompanied damage-assessment teams and insurance personnel into affected areas to provide logistical communication. Throughout the fire, hams operated twenty-four hours a day, staffing radios at fourteen locations. On average, seventy-two hundred messages a day were handled by ham operators.
During the 2002 Dalton Fire in the Santa Fe National Forest near Pecos, more than one hundred residents were evacuated in the Dalton Canyon and Pecos Canyon areas. Hams quickly set up a communications center at the Glorieta Baptist Red Cross shelter and other facilities near Pecos. These sites provided health and welfare messages for those sheltered by the Red Cross and provided backup communications for the firefighters.
Licensed amateurs interested in public service are always welcome to join the organization. For more information on the Sandoval County Amateur Radio Emergency Service organization, go to www.nmscares.org or e-mail email@example.com. The Sandoval County ARES is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and welcomes tax-deductible donations of equipment or funds. If you would like information on becoming a licensed amateur operator, go to www.arrl.org.