Sue Cauhape: How HAM radio operators are your friends |

Sue Cauhape: How HAM radio operators are your friends

Sue Cauhape
Tom Tabacco, KE7NJC, assists another HAM radio operator during last year’s Field Day event, sponsored by SIERA, at the Minden-Tahoe Airport.
Courtesy |

A recent radio conversation between two HAMs raised a disturbing issue that surprised both of them.

The conversation involved the NTS (National Traffic Service) that uses amateur radio operators throughout the United States to relay information during large-scale emergencies, such as earthquakes.

When phone connections are down, residents in stricken areas want to contact relatives outside the area. HAM radio operators offer this volunteer service to anyone able to come to their locations

One of the HAMs in the above conversation stated that sometimes in calling people with such information, he is met with suspicion and even hostility. Is he a telemarketer? Is he a drug dealer? Or worse yet, is he a terrorist?

Surprisingly, most people haven’t even heard of amateur radio. If they have, they consider it an obsolete technology. HAMs still perform many services for their communities by providing communications for large sports events, parades, and point-of-delivery vaccination operations.

In Carson Valley, SIERA (Sierra Intermountain Emergency Radio Association) has stepped in during last winter’s floods. Many members also work through CERT, DCART and other emergency organizations to provide assistance, either at the 911 Call Center or in setting up the Red Cross shelter for residents of a Gardnerville mobile home park.

Summer is especially busy for SIERA. During all the bicycle marathons, the Pony Express Re-Ride, and the Nevada Day Parade, radio operators set up remote stations to relay progress or emergency information. These communications are vital to the safety of participants in remote areas.

Occasionally, a HAM will come upon a roadside emergency in a cell phone dead zone. Reaching for his mobile unit mic, the HAM can call out to another HAM and ask them to call 911. This often happens in our mountainous regions where recreationists sometimes need assistance.

For some reason, though, public resistance to HAM radio operations makes it difficult to set up a residential station. HOA’s in particular, as well as planning departments, test the perseverance and creativity of HAMs as they navigate what seem like arbitrary and hostile regulations for setting up towers, antennas, and other paraphernalia on their properties.

Decades ago, HAM stations often created interference with neighbors’ TVs and other electronic devices. Radio technology has improved to the point where many times such interference is caused by faulty wiring or equipment of the offended party. The FCC encourages HAMs to help neighbors work out these problems to everyone’s satisfaction. Despite this, hostility still persists toward HAMs.

The FCC and the HAMs themselves also regulate those who violate FCC rules. It is to everyone’s advantage to play nice and respect the radio waves for proper use.

Unlike CBers, HAMs must pass tests before they can legally use radios. Morse Code is no longer required, but amateur radio operators must understand national and international regulations as well as concepts of electricity, physics and math. The FCC has granted radio frequencies to amateurs with the understanding that these frequencies will not be abused. Those who do abuse their privileges will lose their licenses.

It is highly unlikely that criminals and terrorists will have the “bandwidth” or ambition to earn a HAM license, especially when cell phones and CBs are so easily available.

So, when you see that unsightly antenna or tower erected in your neighborhood, don’t recoil in disdain. Knock on the door and introduce yourself to your local HAM. He can help you in time of need. He is your friend.

SIERA holds a general meeting every fourth Saturday of the month at 1 p.m. at the United Methodist Church on Centerville Road in Gardnerville. Everyone is welcome to meet the HAMs and learn more about how they serve your community.

Another opportunity to see HAMs in action is Field Day, a 24-hour contest held the last weekend in June. SIERA will hold its Field Day June 24-25 at the Minden-Tahoe Airport. Come by and check it all out.