June 24, 2007

"Field Day" at Spearfish

During the fourth weekend of every June, amateur radio operators take leave of yards that need mowed and fences that need painted in order to participate in "Field Day."

Simulating conditions that often occur during hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters, these "ham" operators crank up gasoline-powered generators, erect temporary antennas, and begin a 24-hour quest to communicate with as many other kindred souls as they can.

While it's something of a contest, it's also an important exercise that helps them hone their skill as communicators -- preparing for that next terrible circumstance that will require their help. Amateur radio operators were there to help communcate in the aftermath of 9-11. And they provided vital communications assistance in the wake of hurricane Katrina.

With makeshift antennas, a generator, and a solar panel, a handful of ham operators gathered last Saturday, June 23rd, in a field west of Spearfish on the edge of the Black Hills. With chirps of morse code messages echoing through the surrounding hills, these folks contacted more than 900 other operators before pulling the plug at noon Sunday. I was there for some of it -- and it was fun.

Ham radio has been a hobby of mine for nearly 50 years, but it always took a back seat to family and work. I looked forward to more time in retirement in order to pursue this fascinating hobby, but other activities have encroached upon it. Between computers, digital photography, and genealogy, my old Yaesue radio hasn't seen much action. But joining the activities of Field Day near Spearfish has helped spark a renewed interest in amateur radio.

Take a look at a few Field Day photos.

For folks with an interest in ham radio, a good place to start for getting information is the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). But I reckon just about any amateur radio operator would be willing to help mentor newcomers to this most fascinating hobby. A hobby that can become a vital resource during times of disaster.


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