Amateur radio operators from Eureka, Pacific, Union, Washington and southern Warren County took part in the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) 2019 Field Day June 22-23.
These area hams joined 35,000 amateur radio operators across the country who set up generators and antenna wires to make contact with as many operators across North America as possible in a 24-hour period.
The exercise is staged annually by the ARRL and monitored to track the number of contacts that are confirmed. The rules are simple. No electricity can be used and each contact must be confirmed by both parties.
“The idea is to simulate emergency conditions and to prove that we can set up operations in short order, under 24 hours, to communicate across the country without commercial power,” said George Mackus, abørx, a member of the Boeing Amateur Radio Club who was in Eureka to help the Eureka Search and Rescue (ESR) team recruit hams to join their organization.
ESR hosted the event at the Eureka Fire District training center on Highway 66, where they were able to borrow the $2 million St. Louis Regional Response command center trailer to introduce new hams to the Field Day.
“This vehicle is equipped to respond to federal disasters anywhere in Region C,” said Tom Tarabelli, ESR communications leader. “Hams wouldn’t usually have an opportunity to operate in a setup like this. But they allowed us to use it for this recruiting event.”
Tarabelli said ham radio is a logical fit to the missing person searches that take ESR teams to remote areas.
“When we are searching in the field we’re spread all over the place. Having hams among the searchers would be another element of communication,” Tarabelli said.
Inside the regional response trailers Chris Bay, keøupm; Bill Haines, kcøjby; Joshua Krull, keøvyd; and Adam Weber, who is studying to be a ham, worked to make contact with other hams. who is studying to be a ham worked to make contact with other hams.
Within the first four hours they had made confirmed contact with hams in Ontario, Canada, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, New York, West Massachusetts and Vermont.
Mackus explained that following a disaster, hams take their hand-carried go boxes that hold a radio, batteries and antenna and within a few hours they can rig a portable antenna, and start contacting hams outside the disaster area.
In addition to the Region C trailer, the ESR trailer, a converted ambulance rigged for remote searches was also available for the Field Day exercise.
Inside that trailer Mackus operated on the 40-meter band and talked novice hams through the protocol of making Field Day contacts that can be confirmed by ARRL.
Tarrabelli explained that ESR, which was organized more than 12 years ago, is often working in remote areas where ham radio would come in handy.
“We work with fire and police to search for anyone who is missing,” Tarabelli said. “We are completely self-funded. We raise funds to operate and to equip our trailer, which cost us about one-tenth of the cost of the Region C command trailer.”
The ESR trailer is equipped with 10 laptops and three workstations. A large screen TV connected to every laptop inside the center, serves as the field assembly area.
Gathered at the rear of the trailer, searchers can view a map of the search area.
“Working from laptops inside the command center, we can create a map in three or four minutes while en route to the search area,” Tarabelli said.
While the big Region C mobile command center and the ESR trailer were impressive, most hams would not have access to such high-tech rigs when responding to a disaster, said Patrick Kelly, kdøyyh, president of the Pacific Meramec Valley Amateur Radio Club that was formed four year ago to provide emergency communications for the Pacific area.
“We were lucky enough to be invited to join a more experienced club for Field Day,” Kelly said. “This was good training for us.”
Zero Beaters Amateur Radio Club (ZBARC) that has hams from the Union, Washington and the Southern Warren County area, invited Pacific Meramec Valley Amateur Radio Club to join them for last week’s event.
Zero Beaters has been in existence for 50 years and the seasoned hams in this club have been conducting Field Day exercises for decades.
They have also provided communication for their share of disasters, including the flood of 1993, Hurricane Katrina and the Joplin tornado.
They conduct monthly meetings in the Washington Public Library, but they have converted the former one-room Indian Prairie brick school on Indian Prairie Road into a clubhouse. For Field Day they also carried radios to a portable trailer on the site to accommodate more operators.
Within the 24-hour period Zero Beaters operators and Kelly, working on five radio bands, completed 260 confirmed contacts that reached two areas of Canada and 40 of the states in the continental U.S.
“It’s only one day a year,” Brune said. “It can get pretty intense, but it’s exciting.”