Ham radio operators host event

PARSONS – Despite the Internet, cell phones, email and modern communications, every year whole regions find themselves in the dark – much like what happened during the recent derecho and Superstorm Sandy. During these occurrences, people find themselves without the means to communicate and often turn to a group of folks who have the means to help – amateur radio operators.

On Saturday and Sunday, local amateur radio operators – called “hams,” gathered at Camp Kidd in Parsons to participate in Field Day, which takes place each year on the last full weekend in June. The weekend offers the public the chance to meet with and talk to members of two local ham radio groups – the Mountain State Transmitters and the Parsons Repeater Group. Amateur radio groups across the nation celebrate Field Day and the radio bands are full of hams making contact with other hams across the United States, teaching about different modes of radio operations and showing their emergency capabilities.

Brett Ware, Tucker County EMS member, said during Superstorm Sandy, local amateur radio operators helped his office save two people’s lives.

“During Superstorm Sandy, our communications went down,” Ware said. “It was a blessing that we had help from local ham radio operators. With their assistance, we were able to get information about an elderly couple in Davis. We used their communications to pass information and get them the assistance they needed.”

Ware, who also owns Mountaineer Radio, earned his amateur radio license last week. He said he is excited about the hobby and is just waiting on his call sign before he gets on the air.

Other officials from the Tucker County 911 Center set up information during Saturday’s Field Day.

Pat Gray, Tucker County Office of Emergency Management Deputy Director; Tiffany Auvil, Tucker County OEM administrative assistant; and Sandy Green, Canaan Valley Fire Chief, brought the Tucker County OEM Mobile Command Center to Field Day. The Mobile Command Center is a 31-foot trailer with three slide out units that operates as a meeting area. Auvil said the unit is set up like a movable 911 center.

West Virginia State Police Special Operatives Sgt. Kevin Keplinger brought his hazardous duty robot to Field Day.

“In the bomb world, this robot is used to transport hazardous materials and for hazardous searches,” Keplinger said. “If a pipe bomb blows off part of a robot, the part can be replaced within 20 hours. If a person looses a hand, leg or arm, it cannot be replaced.”

Keplinger said the robot, an Andros F6A, is made by Remotec out of Tennessee. He said he uses it on a weekly basis.

“It is a great tool that can open doors, travel 1,400 feet and keep people away from the scene in relative safety,” Keplinger said. “It can pick up 100 pounds and dead drag up to 500 pounds. It is easier because a bomb suit weighs 90 pounds and the helmet weighs 10 pounds.”

Keplinger said he is stationed in Tucker County and serves North Central West Virginia and the Northern and Eastern Panhandles.

During the day, Tom DiBacco demonstrated communication with amateur radio satellites using beam antennas. He and other hams attempted to contact the International Space Station, but were unsuccessful.

Mark Sweitzer led participants through the ins and outs of packet radio. Participants were able to check into the DAREN network. A kid’s table offered younger hams the opportunity to build electronic project kits. Other hams were operating various radios to see how many contacts could be made with other ham radio operators throughout the U.S. and those at other Field Days. During the entire event, the only power used is solar, battery and emergency generators.

Tucker County Commissioners Mike Rosenau, Diane Hinkle and Lowell Moore each stopped by to support the ham radio operators gathered for Field Day. Rosenau said the group is very organized and that he is proud of them.

“You can count on these guys, especially when all other communications fail,” Rosenau said. “They are very active and help out always when needed in Tucker County.”

Moore said he wanted to show support for the amateur radio operators during Saturday’s event.

“They provide a very good and much needed service for our county,” Moore said. “The public is not aware of the work this group provides. During Superstorm Sandy, and in any time of emergency, this group offers their help. They are not recognized for their help to the extent they need to be.”

Last year, more than 35,000 amateur radio operators across the country participated in Field Day. There are more than 700,000 amateur radio licensees in the U.S. and more than 2.5 million around the world. Through the American Radio Relay League’s Amateur Radio Emergency Services program, ham volunteers provide both emergency communications for thousands of state and local emergency response agencies and non-emergency community services too, all for free.

To learn more about Amateur Radio, go to www.emergency-radio.org. The public is most cordially invited to come, meet and talk with the hams. The Mountain State Transmitters meet at 1:30 p.m. the first Sunday of the month at the Randolph Technical Center in Elkins.