Join in the Fun for Field Day

Things have changed a lot in amateur radio since I was first licensed. Back then, VHF radio was a way to get out of having a cell phone, or supplemented it when you lived so far out in the country there wasn’t any signal. As I have gotten older and emerged from my unintended sabbatical, some things have changed, and yet a lot remains the same.

Technology has advanced beyond belief. There are modes in heavy use today that hadn’t even been thought of when I passed my Technician exam. But, the core function of ham radio, beyond being a fun STEM based hobby, has been and continues to be public service, especially in times of disaster. We live in a connected world, and I’m as bad as it as anybody. Between WiFi, 4G, and my smart phone, I am constantly IMing, texting, and posting to social media. When those connections become overloaded or go down completely, Ham Radio is ready to stand in the gap.

It does not take much imagination to visualize situations where it may be needed. From basic public service like volunteering for a race to emergency communications in times of widespread disasters, public service is where amateur radio operators move from hobbyests to valuable assets to emergency management.

PrintTomorrow, operators from around the United States, the world, and beyond will participate in a national emergency drill, known simply as Field Day. The purpose is simple, make as many contacts as possible within the specified time frame under less than optimal conditions. This year, the Milledgeville Amateur Radio Club will be set up at Georgia College’s West Campus. I will be out there for most of the evening, and hope to see you there. I’ll also be trying to at least stop by the Piedmont ARES site outside of Eatonton, if time allows.

Field Day is always a fun experience. The ARRL Website has a locator form for a site near you. I hope you get to join in!

Baofeng UV-5RA

While I by no means think this is the greatest radio ever built, it is largely responsible for me getting back into the hobby. Let’s face it, I work in education and the compensation is more intrinsic than quantifiable. That made this perfect for the budget.

While it can be a pain to program (go ahead and buy the cable, it’s the only way to do more than five channels and maintain any resemblance of sanity), once the memories are set, it is fairly easy to use. It allows you to rapidly move between frequencies by directly entering the memory number. You can also use the A/B button to toggle between two frequencies. It has a FM Broadcast feature that allows you to listen to the radio while you are not actively talking. And, for pure cool points, it has a flashlight/strobe. While it is not extremely bright, it is functional to see your way in the dark.

One drawback I’ve seen is that is very susceptible to interference. Being on campus, it is not uncommon for me to overhear the ground and maintenance crew on amateur frequencies.

No one will confuse it with a top of the line hand held, it does make a great first radio (since Radio Shack decided to get rid of the HTX-202) and lets new operators get their feet wet in the hobby before shelling out more money. With the low cost, it is also possible to get several to have as back ups, or paired with a portable TNC for APRS/Data use.

Being Prepared without being a Prepper

I do not know what it is, but prepper culture is huge right now. I don’t know if it is the success of television shows like The Walking Dead, or fact that we now have a culture who has lived through Y2K, 9/11, the end of the Mayan Calendar, and as of last Saturday, the end of the Viking Calendar. Since I have been accused of being a prepper several times in the last few weeks, I wanted to give this some discussion.

There is a HUGE difference in being prepared for natural and man-made disasters, and stockpiling everything, getting ready to live off the grid for years at a time, and looking forward, some with eager anticipation, to “the end of the world as we know it.” One is being prudent, one is being a fear monger.

In the last few weeks we have had two ice storms, a tornado, and an earthquake in and near Milledgeville. Going back further, we can add a bomb threat leading to a campus evacuation and automobile accidents leading to power outages to the list. While these are not events that would lead to the end of the world, they are events that could make a big difference is your life, at least for the short term.

Everyone is different, and so being prepared means something different to each person. We have a lot of storms in our area, but not many earthquakes. So, it is more important to be ready for a storm. Ice storms, while they have happened twice in the past month, are generally a every 2-3 year occurrence.

So, what should you have to be prepared, without going to the level of being a prepper? Here are some of my thoughts. There are two things you need to think about. What do you need, and where do you need it. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes into play here. While self-actualization is good, it is not what you’re going to be thinking about when you do not have food and shelter.

As for where, think about where you spend most of your time and what would happen while you were there. Most of us are normally either at home, at work/school, or in our car. If you get iced in at your home and the lights and water go out, what would you do? What about at work? What about in your car? It does you no good to prepared at one place, but have nothing at the others. What you need at each location varies. Your goal for each location would also vary. For example, if you were at work or in your car, your goal would most likely to be to get home. Where, if you were at home, you’d want to be able to hunker down and make it through whatever the problem was.

Every individual’s level of preparation is going to be different. It could be as simple as having a blanket and flashlight in your car, although I strongly encourage you to at least add jumper cables, walking shoes, some snacks, and bottled water to that list. Keep some peanut butter, crackers, and water in your dorm room or office in case there’s an extended lockdown. Flashlights would also come in handy there. Think through how you would contact your family if the telephone and cell phone networks are down or overloaded (Hint: getting a text message out is easier than a voice call).

Both the federal government and the State of Georgia have extensive resources and lists of things to think about. Or, you can even go on some prepper sites. Just keep in mind that you are more likely to need the kit for 72-96 hours due to a storm than for the end of the world as we know it.