Mayor Jeff Palmore said it is premature to go forward with plans to install a digital ham radio repeater system in Pacific because he does not know enough about the project and it’s not his No. 1 priority.
In December 2013, the city approved the purchase of the repeater system that would enable amateur radio operators, “hams,” working in the city’s emergency operations center (EOC) to communicate worldwide in case of a disaster. The city has spent more than $4,000 for the system.
The EOC was wired for the use of ham radio during the city hall expansion to enable the city to use ham volunteers during disasters or emergencies.
When landlines and cell towers are damaged or overloaded following a disaster, ham radio is sometimes the only thing on the air. There is never a charge for the services and equipment provided by hams.
Alderman Mike Pigg sponsored efforts to purchase the necessary equipment and get the ham radios up and running in the Pacific EOC.
Harold Selby, former city administrator and a ham, said since hams bring their own radios to disaster and emergency operations, the city could enter the latest technology in ham radio by purchasing a digital repeater and installing an antenna on one of the two cell towers located on Blackburn Park.
Selby turned to local ham, Bob Masson, to help form the Pacific Meramec Valley Amateur Radio Club (PMVARC) to apply for the federal amateur radio frequencies needed to get on the air.
The installation was delayed in the change of administration following the April election because more information was needed, according to the mayor.
Speaking at the Dec. 2 board of aldermen meeting, Palmore said the former administration started the plan, but he simply did not know enough about ham radio to install the necessary equipment.
“There’s a lot more to this than I realized,” he said.
Palmore asked aldermen to approve a measure to assign engineer Dan Rahn to study the proposal to install the antenna and set up use of the repeater.
Alderman Ed Gass suggested that Rahn talk with Masson, who worked with Selby to assemble the equipment and set up the system to incorporate it into the city’s emergency management process.
Masson, who was present at the meeting, chairs the city’s emergency management committee. He said someone needs to work with the engineer because if he is not a ham radio operator he wouldn’t know how the system works.
“The repeater is only a mechanism that enables the city to use the services of amateur radio operators,” Masson explained. “The city has to have a not-for-profit group to get the frequencies.”
Masson is president of the PMVARC and is the trustee of the club’s federal amateur radio license KDØZEA.
The Missouri Repeater Council, part of the Mid America Coordinating Council, assigns the frequencies from a three-state pool.
Frequencies in the UHF and VHF band were assigned to the PMVARC April 12, giving the club 180 days to install the repeater and get on the air.
Due to the delay in installing the equipment, the club requested and was granted an extension Oct. 20, giving the club another 60 days to get on the air.
Masson said that extension expires Dec. 12. He suggested that the mayor write a letter to show the city’s coordination with emergency management asking for a second extension rather than lose the frequencies.
“These frequencies are allocated based on geographic location,” Masson said. “If they are set up too close to each other, you get interference.”
Palmore asked for approval for Rahn to speak with anyone he needed to talk to, specifically to Masson.
When Masson and Rahn spoke following the meeting they agreed to have a draft of a letter sent to the mayor for his signature requesting that the PMVARC ask for an additional extension for the repeater installation.
Palmore said he personally did not set up the meeting and wanted more time for Rahn to answer more questions before making a request for an extension.
Masson said 22 area hams have joined the Pacific radio club and plans are underway to provide volunteer services to the city’s emergency operations.
Since the approval in December 2013 to purchase the repeater and the cooperation between the city and radio club PMVARC, Masson said it is his hope that the city decides to move on with the project.