Thousands of amateur radio operators across the United States and Canada tested their emergency operating skills over the weekend by taking part in their annual Field Day.
Several amateur radio groups participated this year across Vermont, including Radio Amateurs of Northern Vermont (RANV) by setting up camp on Redmond Road in Williston.
Paul Gayet of Essex Junction, Vermont Section Manager for the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) explained the yearly exercise is critical to the group’s ongoing mission of providing emergency communications.
Gayet said the event gives the amateur radio operators, also known as HAMS, the opportunity to set up in a remote location and boost their transmitters with emergency power sources such as generators.
While ham operators are in all 14 counties, the Field Day event were held in Chittenden, Washington, Rutland, Windsor and Windham Counties.
The radio operators, who started on Saturday and wrapped up on Sunday, attempted to contact as many other ham stations across the country to score points. The top scorers get bragging rights among their peers.
While some amateur radio operators treat it as a contest, others use the opportunity to practice their emergency response capabilities.
Organizers say the Field Day is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate Amateur Radio to organizations and the general public that hams might be the best option to serve in an emergency.
Some clubs, like RANV, set up their amateur radio stations in fields. Other clubs go to places like an emergency operation center, in their private vehicles or their homes. The groups use various methods of ways contacting each other, including microphones, computers and even Morse Code.
Gayet said the importance of the exercise is that ham radio operators know they can set up their stations during unusual emergency conditions and provide communications for agencies like the National Weather Service, Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
Ham radio operators in Vermont played an essential communications role during the Ice Storm in January 1998 and Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. Some radio groups provide communication assistance during public events such as the Burlington City Marathon.
RANV President Bob Allen of Richmond was one of the ham radio operators participating in this year’s Field Day. He said he believes it was something important to do because members are likely one of the first groups who can communicate if traditional means become disrupted. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and Vermont Emergency Management use ham radio operators for two reasons, Allen said.
“One is that we know how to communicate on the air because we do it all the time,” he said. The second is they have a lot of radio equipment. “We have antennas, transmitters and generators stored in places.”
“I love doing this stuff,” Mitch Stern of Essex Junction said. “It’s cool. We basically build a whole ham radio station from scratch.”
The hams can’t give up just because something goes down, Stern said.
“We just don’t do that,” he said. “If something breaks, we fix it and make it work.”