Columbia Amateur Radio Operators Fill Airwaves, Train for Emergencies During National Field Day
For many, the first thing they do when getting into the car for the morning commute is turn on the radio. It can seem almost like background noise. However, for those camped around Hickam Cabin at Rock Bridge State Park, it is much more.
Today is National Amateur Radio Field Day. Radio hobbyists and professionals have gathered here to take part in this airwave interaction.
Bill McFarland is the Emergency Coordinator for Amateur Radio Emergency Services in Boone County. He became an amateur radio operator, often called ham radio, for over 40 years.
“I’m fascinated by the fact that you just take this wire and a signal comes off of it that someone can hear hundreds of miles away,” McFarland says.
For McFarland, the best part about this event is making connections. While he doesn’t like to talk on the radio very much, he loves to see that he connected with someone across the country. The fact that he can do that without heavy equipment fascinates him.
This field day features nearly 40,000 participants nationwide every year. The Central Missouri Radio Association hosts these local broadcasters who will work to make connections across the country for 24-hours.
McFarland has seen the ham radio community grow, which means every year there are more contacts to make. McFarland became interested in ham radio when he wanted to communicate with his wife from long distances.
“I was at the University working, and we wanted to be able to communicate with each other. So, we each got our ham license, there was a repeater in town. So, we could talk to each other from the car, from my office, or from my hand-held radio,” McFarland reminisces.
For David Isgur, who is the communications manager for the American Radio Relay League, the organizers of this national effort, his curiosity got the best of him.
“It’s infectious. Once they start to tell you about who they’ve talked to, how they’ve done it and it just encouraged me to want to want to get involved with it and I think it would to anybody who listened to them,” Isgur said.
He says while ham radio can be fun, it also serves a major role for the community. Operators can use ham radio in just about any condition, even in a natural disaster.
In 2011 a tornado tore through Joplin, causing mass destruction. Chris Swisher works at KOMU News and has seen that in natural disasters people can rely on ham radio.
“Even the public safety communications were down. Ham radio was easily moved into position and handled a lot of that information exchange that was impossible,” Swisher said.
Swisher knows cell phones and phone lines aren’t always going to work. That’s why today is also serves as a training exercise.
McFarland loves the communication side of ham radio, but as someone involved in emergency services, he understands the importance of amateur radio in emergencies.
“For me, I’m trying to make sure, should we have any real disasters and emergencies where ham radio is needed, that our ham radio community can respond well and be of service to the community,” McFarland said.
At the core, the field day is meant to educate and help serve the community. If this year’s event can do that, McFarland would consider it a success.