Amateur radio operators take part in field test day

Published: Jun. 27, 2020 at 6:32 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) -Ham radio operators in Gainesville are participating in a national amateur radio field day to freshen up their skills.

We caught up with a team at the Alachua County Emergency Operations Center to find out why this form of communication can be crucial during emergencies.

Tens of thousands of operators join in the stress test every year which is a “for honor” competition which tests how many ways you can deliver information when typical emergency lines are down. Dr. Gordon Gibby is acting as a theoretical incident commander for the test and he said, “when you can’t get through because the internet is down the cell phones don’t work we are one of the last-ditch ways to move that kind of traffic messages. So we practice that kind of thing over and over again and we have a dozen ways to do it.”

Those ways include sending e-mails over the radio, tracking satellites, and more Dr. Gibby said, “we can do almost anything. We can do talking, morse code we can do digital, radio, e-mail, video, data, satellites. You name it if it can go from one place to the other we have a way to do it.”

Many of these tactics came in handy said Dr. Gibby when Hurricane Michael hit the Panhandle. ”There were many many amateur radio operators from the state of Florida who were also deployed into the Panhandle, serving in areas that simply didn’t have communications. There were shelters that had 300 people in them and no running water for days and we were part of the solution for those issues.”

The field test day runs for 24 straight hours and one of the challenges is to find a way to power the radios without electricity. Dr. Gibby said, “we have two stations here being operated 24 hours a day. One is being run by a generator and petroleum fuel. The other is being operated by batteries because we aren’t allowed to run an extension cord in and out of this building. We’re actually solar power charging those batteries and this has never been done here before. We’re running a relatively high power station just off car batteries, it’s a new first thing for us.”

Dr. Gibby says if they kept trying to receive messages the entire 24 hours they could make between 800-1000 connections with people up to 12-thousand miles away if their signal is strong enough. Copyright 2020 WCJB. All rights reserved.