If cellphones and other means of communication go down in a large-scale disaster, Lambton County Radio Club volunteers will be ready to go on the air and provide emergency communications for the community.
For 24 hours from Saturday to Sunday, club amateur radio operators will gold their annual field day in Enniskillen Township’s Krall Park, demonstrating how they can set up an independent communications network when disaster strikes.
Field days have been a tradition among amateur radio groups since the 1930s, said Charles Chivers, president of the Lambton club.
“It’s practice for when all the power goes out, either a natural disaster or manmade disaster, and nobody can communicate,” he said.
One example is if a tornado strikes and causes widespread damage, including taking down communication towers. Amateur, or ham, radios still can operate in those conditions, allowing operators to pass along messages for officials and residents.
“Ham radio functions completely independently of the internet or cellphone infrastructure, yet can interface with tablets or smartphones, and can be set up almost anywhere in minutes,” Chivers said. “That’s the beauty of amateur radio during a communications outage.”
About 20 club members are expected to take part in this year’s field day using radios, emergency power and wire antennas strung in the trees.
This year’s event begins Saturday at 2 p.m., in the park at Oil Heritage Road and Shiloh Line, and runs until 2 p.m. Sunday.
Chivers said the aim is to simulate an emergency, when club members could be called on to operate for 24 hours.
“Some stay awake,” he said. “Some catch a few z’s somewhere away from the action.”
Amateur radio operators have a role to play in provincial and local emergency plans, and also volunteer as storm spotters for Canada’s weather agency, a club release said.
The public is invited to come out and learn about amateur radio and the club, Chivers said. They’ve also invited local politicians to see how the volunteers can respond in an emergency.
“Come out to the park and see what we do,” he said.
The club has used the Enniskillen Township park before for field days, Chivers said. It has room to set up several stations and is in a rural area with little background noise..
Field days are held across North America and more than 45,000 people took part last year, the club said.
The Lambton club has about 50 members.
“The problem is we’re all older,” Chivers said. “I’m one of the younger fellows and I’m 63. We’re looking to recruit younger people into the club, all the time.”
Folks often come to amateur radio because of an interest in electronics and making things, Chivers said. “Some people just want to help out in disasters and emergencies.”
There are more than 75,000 amateur radio operators in Canada and more than 2.5 million worldwide, the club said.
Chivers traces his own interest to a ham radio demonstration years ago at a Scouts’ gathering.
“That got me intrigued and just planted the seed,” he said.
For mire on the Lambton club, visit their website at ve3sar.org..