WARNER ROBINS -- When tornadoes, hurricanes and other disasters rip down power and cable lines or disable cell towers, amateur radio operators are ready to stand in the gap.
To prepare, these ham operators hold an annual, worldwide Field Day in June, with the goal to contact as many stations as possible within a 24-hour period.
The two ham groups in Warner Robins -- The Central Georgia Amateur Radio Club and the Middle Georgia Radio Association -- are scheduled to be set up outside Central Baptist Church on Lake Joy Road for the event that starts at 2 p.m. Saturday and ends at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Most stations transmit from field locations using emergency power, improvised antennas and limited shelter to simulate emergency conditions. Staged under the churchs pavilion near a wooded area, the local ham operators are using electricity from a generator as well as solar panels, said John W. Louth, a spokesman for the area ham operators. Antennas are hung in the pine trees.
The Great Flood of 1994 is a good example of when local amateur radio operators swung into action, Louth said. Most recently, they provided backup communications as needed for local agencies in the line of sight of the Houston County Emergency Management Agency.
Also, depending on the situation, some duties of law enforcement may be given to lay people, such as watching the water level at a bridge and reporting back every half-hour, said Louth, a retired electrical engineer.
Louth, who became interested in amateur radio in high school and got his license while in college in 1966, said hes learned a lot of little things by participating in amateur radio, such as bringing along basic necessities -- insect repellent, sunscreen and water. The 30 to 40 ham operators expected to participate this weekend are fortunate to have access to running water and restrooms behind the churchs pavilion.
Another tip for ham operators is not to expect to be able to repair equipment during the event but to bring extra equipment if a problem arises. With so many ham operators participating, its likely that enough extra equipment will be on hand to meet most needs that might come up, he said.
Besides preparation, the event offers an opportunity for those interested in amateur radio to come out and talk with enthusiasts.
They can see how amateur radio works and learn how they can get their own FCC radio license. Under the supervision of licensed radio operator, members of the public may talk on the air.
About five radio stations, plus the GOTA -- Get on the Air -- station are expected to be set up.
More than 35,000 amateur radio operators across the country took part in last years event, the climax of the Amateur Radio Week sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, the national association for amateur radio.
The ARRL estimates that there are more than 700,000 amateur radio licensees in the U.S. and more than 2.5 million around the world.
The fastest way to turn a crisis into a total disaster is to lose communications, Allen Pitts of the ARRL said in a release. From the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to tornadoes in Missouri, ham radio provided the most reliable communication networks in the first critical hours of the events. Because ham radios are not dependent on the Internet, cell towers or other infrastructure, they work when nothing else is available. We need nothing between us but air.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.