“Ghostbusters-like crew of amateur radio operators help in emergencies”
This article appeared in the Denver Post on September 13th, 2013, and was written by Andy Vuong
When disaster strikes and traditional telecommunications services are curtailed, who do emergency responders call? A Ghostbusters-like crew of amateur radio operators.
Better known as hams, these are hobbyists who spend their days toiling as divorce attorneys, software engineers or drone- helicopter designers.
During their free time, they serve as experts in old-school communications technology that rides on radio frequencies referred to as the amateur band.
On Friday afternoon, about 65 volunteer ham radio operators were stationed at emergency operations centers, or EOCs, and shelters along the Front Range.
Some started helping just as the Colorado floods hit Thursday, and a couple hundred hams have been rotating shifts.
"From Colorado Springs all the way up to Fort Collins, we've had hams involved at each EOC and the state EOC," said Jack Ciaccia, Colorado section manager for the American Radio Relay League, the national association of amateur radio operators. "We've looped them all together via ham radio, and we've linked all of the shelters that we had access to via ham radio. In some cases, like in Lyons, in James- town, in Estes Park, ham radio has been primarily the only communications in and out for a while."
Ciaccia, who manned the Boulder County station Friday, said there are several thousand licensed hams in Colorado. About 700 are members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, which provides support during floods, fires and other disasters.
"We've been active literally since the forecast came out two days ago," said Robert Wareham, section emergency coordinator for Colorado ARES. "The state and local governments couldn't afford to have us on payroll, but when disaster strikes, they find us indispensable."
More than 50 repeater systems are installed along the Front Range, atop mountain peaks and commercial towers, enabling communications among 5-watt handheld radios and other equipment.
"We can tie multiple repeaters together so we can cover a wide area," Wareham said. "The real magic of amateur radio is we can put together things very quickly."
If there are areas with insufficient coverage, Wareham said hams could get a portable repeater system up and running in as little as 30 minutes.
"During the High Park fire, several of our people worked with the Forest Service and assisted them in setting up their own repeaters out on various mountain peaks because we knew the area, and we also know how to set up the technology equipment," he said.
The Mile High Chapter of the Red Cross sought assistance from ARES on Friday and lauded the group's help.
"We are very fortunate ... to have a representative from the Denver Amateur Radio Emergency Service here, volunteering his expertise and service 24/7," said Elisa DiTrolio, a volunteer spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Denver. "He is monitoring traffic and shelters, and staying in regular contact with the state EOC."
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