There’s no better time to be an amateur radio geek


Patsy Haggerty-Sollars, formerly of Paradise and now Auburn, Calif., Was only able to evacuate during the camp fire because a neighbor knocked on her door. Patsy left her mobile home court with a friend, each in their own vehicle, but they were separated on the main road where police diverted traffic in multiple directions. “They weren’t even trying to put out the fire,” Patsy said. “They were just trying to get people out. “

Haggerty-Sollars and her neighbor, Judy, were never far from each other, but first Judy lost her cell phone signal, then Haggerty-Sollars lost hers as she walked through the flames – despite being in a rag-roofed convertible – because at that point there was no turning back. It is not surprising that they lost the service. Seventeen cell phone towers burned down on the first day of the blaze, which became the deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record in California.

Two-way portable radios could have provided a backup option, and some GMRS radios can transmit text messages and GPS locations, but only to other GMRS radios, not to cell phones or computers.

If Martin and I have to evacuate, we’ll each have a walkie-talkie in our car in case we lose cell service. Evacuation is a realistic possibility, as California’s worst fire season hasn’t even started. Even so, since August 15, 3.5 million acres have already burned, breaking the previous record of 2 million acres set in 2018.

Across the United States, residents of the east coast are bracing for what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) plans to be a more active hurricane season than usual. Forecasters predict the number of named storms will almost double this year, and they could expand into the Greek alphabet.

Martin and I practiced using the radios from room to room around the house and around the neighborhood, which isn’t really fun, because aren’t we already close enough in our forties?

What would you say The cannonball race?

Another option for two-way radio communication is Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS), which you may know as CB radio. Movies like The cannonball race and Smokey and the bandit popularized CB radios in the 1970s and 1980s. Since most new cars are wired with modern technology, these devices are unlikely to be mounted inside passenger vehicles again (although truckers keep the CB dream alive), but they are an option for those living in high-risk areas who want to stay connected.

People from coast to coast use dozens of apps, all dedicated to emergency preparedness. When hurricanes hit the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, apps can help you navigate evacuation routes, locate temporary shelters, find gas stations, and track the storms themselves. A phone full of apps looks like security, but when cell phone signals are spotty or completely lost, they are more like a debit card without a PIN.

This is where CB radios come in. Although they appear to be an outdated form of communication, knowing that channels 9 and 19 are dedicated to relaying emergency information and traffic / road conditions increases their usefulness. Despite having a Subaru equipped with Starlink, I want one and Martin is here to install it.

Do ordinary people use scanners?

Celine Negrete of Grass Valley, Calif., Recently purchased a few police scanners for her six-person household. Negrete’s family doesn’t have a landline or cell service inside their home, but thanks to a tree climber ready to climb a 150-foot ponderosa pine, they have internet access. Celine can receive a cell signal outside, but in the middle of the night, she cannot receive alerts.

Because Negrete’s house has the Internet, they can check social media groups for emergency information, but when the power goes out, so does the Internet. Their house is built of straw bales and the walls are thick, so they do not receive a clear radio signal inside the house. During times of high fire risk, the family takes turns driving to listen to the radio, but now that they have scanners they can monitor local emergency channels from bed. They just need to remember to keep plenty of batteries on hand.

An invigorated form of communication

For someone who wants a more complete package, amateur radio (aka amateur radio) is the way to go, although it does involve a bit more planning and preparation before you can start using it. Before being legally on-air, users must pass a 35-question written exam in order to receive their technician license and unique call sign from the FCC. After that, there are two more levels – General and Amateur Extra – which require additional exams. Licenses are valid for 10 years and almost anyone can hold them, except officials of a foreign government.

Although I’ve spent most of my life thinking that amateur radio is for geeks and grandparents, I now sit down with Martin for twice weekly recordings with the local amateur radio club. It is a way for radio amateurs not only to get up close but also to test their equipment. Amateur radio operators not only help themselves, but in the event of an emergency, they deploy to help organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross, and local emergency management offices. public security to communicate and coordinate with the public and among themselves.

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