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Amateur radio enthusiasts hold Field Day

June 27, 2018
By CHUCK BALLARO (news@breezenewspapers.com) , North Fort Myers Neighbor

The importance of ham radio operators has been proven time and again during times of emergency, such as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Hurricane Charley locally three years later.

That same situation could also have occurred last fall with Hurricane Irma, and most operators were prepared. Fortunately, their need was limited.

But it did make the Fort Myers Amateur Radio Club's (FMARC) annual field day at the North Fort Myers Regional Park a bit more interesting as more people turned out for the start of the event than in past years.

Article Photos

Larry Zimmer, left, and Tom Provenzano chat a while before the start of the Fort Myers Amateur Radio Club’s (FMARC) annual field day at the North Fort Myers Regional Park.

CHUCK BALLARO

Starting at 2 p.m. Saturday and going until around noon on Sunday, these radio operators contacted fellow radio operators throughout the U.S. and Canada, hoping to reach all 50 states and 10 provinces. Last year, FMARC was able to reach all the radio areas but three.

"We're are radio operators who support Lee Emergency Management, Red Cross and other agencies. It's hobby and a service," said Joseph Ryan, field day chairman. "We're here to simulate if we had an emergency. We can set up just about anywhere with a radio, antenna and power."

The operators started to set up early in the morning and were ready to roll long before the start. Antennas were installed on the football fields, while generators (one of them solar) supplied the power. Of course, visitors were welcome.

As radio operators contacted someone in an area, a computerized map filled in the area. Most states have one zone, but larger states have more. Florida has three, for example.

They also hope to make contact with space. They were also setting up a radio that will make contact with the International Space Station, with the help of CenturyLink and the Lee County School District so the children at Allen Park Elementary School can talk to the astronauts this fall.

"I wish we could do more of these events. We would like for people to see ham radio is still alive and well," said Brian Darley, national coordinator for the Century Link Amateur Radio Club. "To be able to reach out and touch different areas of the state and country is great. I'm going to reach out and touch a satellite."

Darley was hoping to enlist a young person to come and he got one. Peyton McCarthy, 14, who lives in Cape Coral, said she is part of the ARRIS group of students that will talk to the astronauts.

"We came to look around and get used to some of the equipment. Lee County students had to apply to be a part of it and I was chosen in my school," McCarthy said. "I'm interested in space exploration and that's what got me here."

McCarthy, with Darley's help, got to talk with someone on the air briefly. It was standard protocol, with the person on the other side calling her "sir."

Because Hurricane Irma was not quite the storm Charley was, the amateur radio operators were not quite as critical, though they did help coordinate the county's 12 emergency shelters.

"We facilitated communications between the shelters. Our electric infrastructure stayed pretty good. We lost some communication, but not a lot," Ryan said. "We had people in the hospitals, the EOC, a couple fire departments. The peripheral areas were in good shape."

During Charley, ham radios served as a dispatcher for area fire and police departments, because they operate on one frequency, and if that goes down, they all go down, Ryan said.

That's why ham radios are so critical, they're more flexible.

"If UHF goes down, we go to HF. If that goes down, we go to VHF. We have so many frequencies we're allowed to use," Ryan said.

 
 

 

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