Ham radio hobbyists prepare for emergency
Working with his fellow amateur radio operators, Rick Tavan slowly assembled a 44-foot-tall, Vietnam-era tower atop Martis Peak.
Cranking segment after segment of the antenna skyward, the ham radio hobbyists jokingly compared the scene to the flag-raising at Iwo Jima.
And while they may not be soldiers, the ham operators who assembled at Martis Peak over the weekend can play a significant role if and when catastrophes strikes.
“If Truckee or North Tahoe got cut off, we could serve the whole region,” said Tavan, a local pilot and part-time Truckee resident who has been involved in ham radio since 1961. “If a big fire downed power lines and phone polls we could still use ham.”
The local amateur radio operators tested their abilities this weekend to reach out and talk to other “hams” across the country and around the world. As part of a national simulation and competition that has been going since 1933, the Truckee team set up their field station atop Martis Peak, tuning into as many other stations around the country as possible in a 24-hour period.
“This is to test the abilities of amateur radio operators during an emergency to help out,” said Ron Wren, who has been a licensed radio operator since 1948. “We’ll be talking to places from Alaska to the Caribbean to who knows where.”
And while the weekend’s field day was a fun competition, ham radios can take part in serious business as well.
“Amateur radio operators can be involved in almost every kind of emergency,” Wren said. “Ham radio operators stepped in big in New Orleans when the conventional systems failed.”
Locally, radio enthusiasts have played a significant role in wild land fires.
Bob Moore, a longtime Truckee resident who works for the U.S. Forest Service, said in the Plumas fire 10 years ago hams came to the fire fighter’s aid.
“They set up a communications center next to ours for public health and welfare, telling people where the fire is and sending messages from the fire fighters back to home,” Moore said.
For the competition, the Truckee team had 24 hours to erect a 44-foot tall antenna on Martis peak starting Friday, and then had 24 hours to contact as many other operators as possible using their generator-powered remote field station.
On Friday, Tavan said he expected the team would make about 1,000 contacts during the 24-hour period.
Within the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s operations, Wren said the team made contacts in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Missouri and Oregon, with later contacts coming from the East Coast as conditions changed.
In day-to-day operations, the local radio buffs have home set-ups that let them speak around the world.
“Depending on the conditions, we can talk to Europe or Japan, who knows?” Wren said. “I’ve talked to a dentist in Bulgaria on his way to work, and a jazz musician traveling cross country.”
Don Garrett, a past Truckee resident now living in Reno got started through his work in law enforcement.
“I’ve always been into electronics, and law enforcement got me into public service,” Garrett said.
Jim Duffy, a retired Truckee resident said he started because it allowed him to talk to people around the world before the advent of the Internet.
The group of local ham buffs met through their radios, but now get together for coffee every Friday, Duffy said.
But one thing the group can’t divulge is exactly what ham means.
“Nobody knows what the origins of the name ham is,” Tavan said.
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