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Amateur radio can be big help in crisis

June 03, 2009
Anyone who likes to talk, help their community, play with electronic gadgets or just be a part of local emergency communications during disasters can now sign up for training to do all of the above.

The Southern Indiana Tri-County Amateur Radio Club is looking for more good people to operate amateur radios and to be part of its Skywarn weather spotters volunteer program.

Darren Echterling, who serves as board president of the radio club, said the organization, which formed in December, already has 15 amateur radio volunteers.

"We're now an official, licensed nonprofit organization," Echterling said. "The Southern Indiana Tri-County Amateur Radio Club represents Crawford, Harrison and Orange counties, and we are a part of the nationwide RACES team that provides emergency communications when an area experiences a disaster and other types of communication fails.

"District 10, which includes 12 counties, was awarded a $350,000 grant from Indiana Homeland Security to purchase needed equipment. We now have three radios, which we installed at our headquarters at the Emergency Management Agency office in English, and we have two repeaters, one in Marengo and one in Leavenworth. The tower in Leavenworth was furnished by Henry Roberts for our use."

The frequencies used by the club include 147.015 and 443.300.

"The 147.015 frequency covers as far as Birdseye," Echterling said. "The 443.300 frequency covers 150 miles in any direction, as far as Indianapolis to the north and Tennessee to the south. We also can be linked to other repeaters around the world, providing we have the proper code for a particular repeater."

Crawford County EMA Director Kent Barrow, who is also a licensed amateur radio operator, believes the system can be an important part of emergency communications when other systems fail.

"Anytime all other communications go down in the county, we'll utilize the amateur radio operators," Barrow said.

"We've already used them during the high winds from the hurricane. The program has already grown to 15 radio operators. And when severe weather approaches, the National Weather Service in Louisville brings an amateur radio operator into their office to have back-up communications."

Anyone wanting to be an amateur radio operator must have their own radio equipment, which can be purchased online, on e-Bay and from radio stores.

"It's not really that expensive," Echterling said. "A used mobile radio and a two-meter antenna can be purchased for $50 to $100, and that's all you need to start out."

Skywarn storm spotters are trained by the National Weather Service, at no charge, by attending a training session once a year. The training scheduled to take place at the Crawford County Judicial Complex in English in March was postponed by the National Weather Service due to the illness of the trainer; it will be rescheduled as soon as possible.

"We have storm spotters out all the time during severe weather," Echterling said.

"Spotters go to various locations, set up and monitor wind, rain, hail and any severe weather such as tornados. If anything is spotted, we contact the National Weather Service directly, and we will monitor the storms on radar and inform our spotters if they are in the path of the storm. And there's no cost to the county for any of this."

The radio club sponsors free classes for radio operators once a month. For the next training session, contact Echterling at 1-317-677-8232.

There is also an online test site at QRZ.com, where anyone interested in acquiring an amateur radio license can take sample tests. Morse Code is no longer required to get an amateur radio operator license.

"You have to score 70 percent or better on these tests," Echterling said. "If you can get 90 percent, give me a call."

Information is available on the club's Web site, www.QSL.net/kc9olf.

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