On January 2, the Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club dedicated its communications facility atop Vic Trace Reservoir to Bill Talanian, a former club administrator who has dedicated more than 40 years of volunteer work.
“I was quite surprised when I received the plaque as I consider my job somewhat insignificant within the scope of what the club does,” Talanian told Noozhawk. “But I will accept the dedication of everyone who works with me and the amazing team we have.”
The Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club is a non-profit public benefit corporation that was founded in 1920 when a group of local wireless experimenters assembled an antenna on the roof of the YMCA building in Santa Barbara.
Over its 100-year history, the club has come to operate an extensive network of analog and digital communications systems that don’t rely on traditional landline or cellular network infrastructure, according to club general manager Levi Maaia and administrator of K6TZ.
The 150-member club of volunteer amateur radio operators has proven crucial in disaster situations and regularly supports many civic and educational activities.
When the roaring Thomas Fire engulfed the hills of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in 2017, SBARC members were able to observe aerial firefighting efforts firsthand and relay immediate information often before it was reported. by official sources or local media, Maaia said.
“We started sharing information with people at the edge of the fire zone and asked others to listen for police scanners or traffic on the radio,” he said. “We had data collection that would make a lot of newsrooms jealous because we were such a good frontline aggregator of information from other efforts.”
The radio club also operates emergency radio stations at the Santa Barbara chapter of the American Red Cross and the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management, and has a mobile vehicle with global communications capabilities , according to Maaia.
“We are like a fire extinguisher on the wall,” Talanian said. “In case something happens, we are ready. We don’t have emergency communications every day, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be prepared.
With its wide range of systems, SBARC is able to pick up and track wireless signals and transmissions from ships and aircraft, among other wireless frequencies.
“We have a multitude of technologies. It’s not just one thing. It’s a whole network of different technologies and different kinds of frequencies,” Maaia said.
First responders and other disaster relief groups monitor the local airwaves remotely using software-defined radios hosted by the club, Maaia said. Additionally, a microwave data link built by club volunteers provides internet connectivity to the remote Diablo Peak on Santa Cruz Island.
From there, a high-definition video camera provides live footage from the summit, allowing sailors, aviators, scientists and the public to keep tabs on unprecedented weather conditions.
“It’s really an exciting hobby because we can do something interesting for ourselves, but when we come together we can impact the community in times of disaster or emergency,” Maaia said. .
Levi Maaia is the general manager of the Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club. (Photo by Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club/Santa Barbara Wireless Foundation)
As board members come and go, Talanian has been the only constant at the club for the past 40 years, Maaia said. Talanian ensures the club is in compliance with Federal Communications Commission regulations, provides continuity of leadership at the executive level, and keeps all club members informed and connected to operations.
“My strong point has always been trying to hold everything together like one big classroom with people performing various functions,” Talanian said.
Talanian was instrumental in securing funds to build the state-of-the-art communications facility atop the Vic Trace Reservoir which has been the hub of the SBARC communications network since 2011. He has also ensured that SBARC has ties with important outside agencies, such as the sheriff’s squad, search and rescue and the office of emergency management, according to Maaia.
“I know people much younger than him who do much less,” Maaia said. “The amount of energy he has and what he does for the club is remarkable.”
SBARC recently formed the Santa Barbara Wireless Foundation within its nonprofit structure to develop and support collaborations not only in public safety, but also in educational and scientific research initiatives.
The Scripps Institute in San Diego is using the foundation’s ship tracking data to determine where marine mammals might encounter ship traffic in the Santa Barbara Channel. The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District uses the same tracking data to enforce commercial vessel speed limits in the channel.
Volunteer radio operators also provide communication services during special local events such as Fiesta Old Spanish Days and running and cycling races, Maaia said. Club volunteers also coordinated several radio contacts between local students and astronauts aboard the International Space Station through the Amateur Radio program on the International Space Station.
SBARC and the Santa Barbara Wireless Foundation together operate five remote communications sites throughout the county, each offering unique capabilities to the group and giving educators, researchers and public safety groups essential data.
“There’s something about wireless communication that feels magical to us,” Maaia said.