Amateur radio club holds annual field day
If a hurricane came along and blew away all the cell phone towers and all other communication infrastructure, these people need only set up an antenna and a generator to get on the airwaves.
The Fort Myers Amateur Radio Club, along with other ham radio clubs nationwide, held its annual field day this past weekend at the North Fort Myers Community Park, setting up shop under the Pop Warner concession stand.
For the next 24 hours, from 2 p.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday, dozens of ham radio operators gathered to make contact with as many people as they could locally and nationally.
Every year, the American Radio Relay League puts on the event in remote or outdoor areas to see how many stations can be contacted in the 80 or so sections of the country and the Canadian provinces.
Joseph Ryan, field day chairman, said their club does as much as it can to make it seem similar to the conditions they would face during a real emergency.
“We want to get people away from their home station that’s set up perfect to have them go out in the field and set up for emergencies,” Ryan said. “It’s different setting up somewhere you’re not familiar with.”
From there, they learn how to troubleshoot. Field day had a tough time getting started as one of the antennae had a wire go down, so they had to fix it before raising it again next to the goal post.
“If it fails, we’re going to put up a wire and still be able to communicate,” Ryan said. “We can get that at a hardware store if we needed it.”
Thankfully, there were several other ham radios in operation, with their own antennas set to pick up other operators. Alongside the concession stand a generator, located inside a camper, kept the power going. A generator is required for the event to simulate disaster conditions.
On a computer there was a map that recorded each new area the group contacted, with the group earning points for each contact they make.
And if the operators got hungry or thirsty, there was plenty of food and drinks.
Paul Ramsden, former club president, said ham radio isn’t all fun and games, especially when a natural disaster occurs.
“We have three or four events we do throughout the year and this is the biggest,” Ramsden said. “We hold meetings every month at the Lee County EOC and we have about 50 who get together.”
If there is an actual emergency, these people would be sent out into the field to communicate with others despite having no power.
During Hurricane Charley, power went out, as did the cell phone towers, so operators went out to all the shelters and hospitals and at the center on Ortiz Avenue. Ham radio became the main line of communications in Lee County to monitor the shelters and report downed power lines.
Tom Muye, club president, said of ham radio “after two days of cell phones not working, they’re the only thing working.”
Guests were invited to see the club in action. Among them was Phil Rosenberg, who had done ham radio decades ago and was impressed by the setup.
“We used to go to Los Angeles on a hilltop on Mulholland Drive with this sized group,” Rosenberg said. “The only problem with this group is there are no youngsters. We see 70-year-olds digging holes.”
His wife, Joan, said her husband stopped ham radio once they got married, but recognized the group would be critical in the event of a disaster.
“We’re glad they’re here practicing and getting ready. You never know when you’ll need them,” Joan said. “It’s a great hobby, with a public service part to it.”
The Fort Myers Amateur Radio Club has about 120 members and is always looking for more.
For more information on the club go to its website at fmarc.net/