Ham radio operators save the day


XENIA — A tornado rips though a town.

Power lines are down. Phone service is out. All means of public communication … gone.

Fortunately, amateur or ham radio is there to save the day as hundreds of operators use their skills to help public safety and government officials.

The above scenario is generic in nature. But anyone who was around Xenia in April 1974 knows all to well that situation can happen.

It did.

An F5 twister tore Xenia apart late in the afternoon April 3. Many had no power. Phone service was disrupted. Cell phones and other portable communication devices weren’t around then. But because of the ham radio operators, Xenia was not shut off from the rest of the world.

And as 30,000 ham operators converge on Xenia and the Greene County Fairgrounds May 19-21 to celebrate their passion, the rebuilt city is a reminder of the importance of hams.

“We’re able to provide communications for at least an extended period of time when all the other ways of communicating are down,” said Marion County Common Pleas Court Judge William Finnegan, a student at University of Dayton when the 1974 tornado hit. “We can use a lot more power than a CB can. Our range can go world-wide. I’ve talked to almost 200 countries. We can communicate thousands of miles if we needed to.”

Once the tornado hit, Finnegan went to Xenia to help in any way he could.

“They found out I was a ham radio operator,” he said. “They put me in the emergency shelter that was set up at the Blue Moon dance hall. There was no power. There were no other ways of communicating. We had the ability.”

That’s not the only local success story.

Ham radio actually saved a life when Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake. According to local radio operator Janese Brooks, the Dayton Amateur Radio Association (DARA) maintained a radio communication listening station in conjunction with the Salvation Army Team Emergency Network (SATERN) for any communications from Haiti. One of the DARA ham operators was able to hear a ham operator in Haiti request help obtaining insulin for a Haitian. This information was communicated to SATERN, which made arrangements for the insulin to be available. The DARA operator then communicated the details back to the operator in Haiti.

It’s unlikely citizen band (CB) or cell phones would have been able to accomplish that feat.

“We can communicate further,” Brooks said. “We also have a repeater system in place, located throughout this area and throughout the U.S. and the world.” A repeater is an electronic device that receives a weak or low-level amateur radio signal and re-transmits it at a higher level or higher power, so that the signal can cover longer distances without degradation.

Responding after a disaster is only one way ham radio shows its vitality.

Ham radio operators are generally weather spotters for the National Weather Service,” Brooks said. “I have instantaneous communications with the National Weather Service to tell them I see something bad in Xenia.”

Xenia Weather Amateur Radio Net (XWARN) — organized after the 1974 tornado — maintains a portable emergency communication trailer, which is stored in Beavercreek, Brooks said. Several “hams” have committed to move the trailer wherever and whenever it is needed. The Bellbrook Amateur Radio Club (BARC) also maintains an emergency communications center in its clubhouse. DARA has a large box truck with state-of-the-art communications equipment as well, Brooks said.

Hams also provide non-tragedy related public service work, such as at the United States Air Force Marathon.

“We provide safety and communication every so many feet or miles or whatever,” Brooks said. “Public service events are another great way we use to give back to the community.”

By Scott Halasz

[email protected]

Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.

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