Oklahoma ‘Hams’ Participate In National Field Day
Amateur radio is known as the hobby of hobbies. However, 'hams' as they are called, also use their skills to help in natural disasters.
There are around 3,000 licensed ham radio operators in Oklahoma. Each year during the annual National Amateur Radio Field Day, they spend 24 hours straight honing their skills.
“What we do here is train for an emergency,” said ham operator Dan DuBray. “We’re prepared to communicate when all else fails.”
On Sunday, a group of amateur ham radio operators in Edmond made contact with the outside.
“It's great for practice, if you don't practice you don't improve your skills,” said Marcus Sutliff, President of the Edmond Amateur Radio Society.
Since 1933, ham operators have set up temporary locations on field day like the one set up inside Edmond Fire House 5. Using antennas and equipment powered by generators, the Edmond hams worked at more than half a dozen stations, trying to connect with other hams nationwide. They made those contacts through voice, computers and Morse code.
“Morse code is a very powerful mode because people can text really quick,” said Sutliff. “Well they can send Morse extremely fast as well. You have a 100-watt light bulb in your house, they're using a hundred watts of RF power and they're able to reach around the world.”
Ham operators serve as both storm spotters and give backup communications during natural disasters.
“The power goes out, towers blow down, cell phone communications aren’t very reliable all the time,” said DuBray. “I have a handheld and I can communicate over regular airwaves in this community, with a little more power and a bigger antenna, I can get out of the state and reach people and tell them ‘I’m ok’ or ‘I may need some help here.’”
Most recently, operators volunteered their equipment and time after Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“Amateur radio operators were there to help connect them to the rest of the world,” DuBray said.
The Edmond hams also help locally, providing support in testing tornado sirens and during public events like parades.
“If you need to stop that event because of something that is happening, one radio call everybody hears it you don't have to call 15 people on the cell phone or 30 people,” Sutliff said. “If we need to stop a parade within seconds, everyone would hear it and put a stop to it.”
The annual event is also a fun competition, with each location earning points for every contact made. During this year’s field day, ham operators in Edmond made more than 1,500 connections across the United States.