Can you hear me now?

February 8, 2011

By Allison Int-Hout

Ham Radio Support Group member Ross Morris operates a ham radio in the mobile communication station. By Allison Int-Hout

An earthquake that brings people to their knees, a window-shattering explosion or flood waters surging through the city’s streets — before the trembling subsides or the water settles, life without telephone, Internet and electricity begins.

These disastrous events, which would lead most people to panic, are precisely the type of situations to which certain Issaquah community members are trained to respond.

Radioing out of a trailer doubling as a communications station in the Issaquah Police Department parking lot Jan. 29, the Issaquah Ham Radio Support Group played out a possible emergency scenario, testing their equipment during a Washington State Emergency Operations Center 5th Saturday Exercise.

“King County does a quarterly exercise where all the ham radio groups test to make sure they can talk across the state,” said Mike Crossley, the Issaquah Radio Amateur civil emergency service officer.

During the EOC exercise, the Issaquah Ham Radio Support Group communicated with other EOC locations throughout the state, including Camp Murray in Tacoma.

Also participating in the event was the Issaquah Community Emergency Response Team, a group sponsored by the Issaquah Citizen Corps, which is trained to provide support in emergency and nonemergency situations. Members of the Issaquah CERT operated ham radios during the drill and also performed rapid impact surveys throughout the area.

“They are just there to do a rapid look around,” Erich Wiesinger said about the surveys. “They are looking for what is working, what isn’t and things that interest the city, such as large structures or water lines.”

Wiesinger, a CERT member and participant in the Issaquah Ham Radio Support Group, said it is important to integrate CERT and ham radio operations, especially during the surveys.

“It’s good to have ham operators within each CERT zone,” he said. “If everything comes apart, you want them to be able to communicate with the emergency operation center over at the police department.”

Sherri Kehnamer, an Issaquah Ham Radio Support Group member for about a year and a half, is also a CERT participant.

“The reason I got into ham radio to start with was emergency preparedness,” she said. “I think taking an attitude that you should be self-sufficient and take care of yourself is the right approach to life in general, and to being prepared in an emergency.”

Crossley said he wanted to emphasize youth participation in the event and encourage other young people to get involved in ham radio.

“Some of our young members are the best radio operators we have,” he said.

Tommy Chittenden, 17, was one of the young operators at the drill; he said he got his radio operator license six months ago. He said the process to receive the ham radio license — taking a course online and then passing the test — is fairly easy, and that he has always been interested in technical things like this.

“I’m thinking of going into electrical engineering in college,” Tommy said, “and I think radio is pretty cool.”

Issaquah Ham Radio Support Group member Brad Dennis attended the drill with both of his sons, Johnny, 11, and Stephen, 13, who encouraged other children to take part in ham radio. They recommended that children looking to get involved take classes through the Lake Washington Ham Club.

“They put classes on that are really geared towards kids,” Dennis said. “They’re trying to get it so that when they grow up, they join a group like this.”

Stephen said he recently made contact with people in Australia and Antarctica. He also described the fun ham radio events available to youths in the area, like the ham radio field day.

“We string antennas all over a park and then talk on the radios,” Stephen said. “We try to make as many contacts as we can.”

Both boys participate in the Internet Radio Linking Project, which connects ham radio operators to other operators all over the world via the Internet.

The Ham Radio Support Group has about 15 active members, Crossley said, and roughly 15 additional reserve members.

Allison Int-Hout is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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