Ham radio operators use Field Day event to test emergency readiness

Lisa Yates, Editor
Todd Trosclair, the club’s vice president, contacts another “ham” operator during the Ascension Amateur Radio Club’s Field Day event.

Members of Ascension Amateur Radio Club joined thousands of other amateur radio operators nationwide demonstrating their emergency capabilities last weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, folks met with amateur – also known as “ham” – radio operators to see technology that allows the operators to provide critical information and communications during emergency situations. Al Taillon of Gonzales, the club’s treasurer, said this is an annual event known as Field Day, which is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League – the national association for Amateur Radio. “The event is three-fold,” he said. “First of all, it’s a drill to set up our trailer and equipment. In the event of an emergency we may have to set up out in a remote location somewhere, so this is good practice. Second, it’s a public awareness event; and, third, it’s a contest to contact as many other ham stations as possible in a 24-hour period.” Todd Trosclair, the club’s vice president, said it took approximately two hours to set up the mobile station. “We run our equipment on a battery and a generator,” he said, noting that they can alternate power sources as needed. The outdoor equipment included a pneumatic telescoping mast with a camera, satellite antenna and emergency repeater, which is used for amplifying the signal; and, a crank-up tower located on a separate trailer. Inside equipment included: a command center, state police and other law enforcement radios, a marine radio, a fire department radio, a GPS satellite reporting system and several mobile hand-held radios. John LeBlanc, a member of the club working IT for the parish, said the GPS is useful for finding missing persons. “We can track the hams on their hand-held radios,” he said. “It gives us their coordinates on a map.” Mervin Simpson, a long-time club member, said the club helped families locate missing persons during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “We set up a radio station at Lamar-Dixon and offered free long-distance calls to people in the shelter,” he said. “Some came and got their relatives out of the shelter. Not everyone could drive across the country to pick up their relatives, but they were very thankful. It put their mind at ease knowing their relatives were okay.” To learn more about the Ascension Amateur Radio Club, visit the club’s Web site at http://k5arc.com/.