St. John Amateur Radio Operators Prepared To Assist in Emergencies

Paul Jordan, president of the St. John Amateur Radio Club, sends a message on his ham radio.

With the the peak of hurricane season approaching — as visions of the devastation of last summer’s Hurricane Katrina are still fresh in people’s minds — residents and governmental agencies are preparing for the worst.

A group of local amateur radio operators is doing their part of help the island’s preparedness this summer.

Emergency Preparedness Drill
“A couple of months ago, we held our emergency preparedness drill,” said Paul Jordan, president of the St. John Amateur Radio Club and the Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES). “We made contact with 49 continental states and Hawaii.”

The event takes place across the nation every spring, Jordan explained.

“It is a field day, which implies that you just go out in the field and set up your radio as if you were operating in emergency conditions,” he said. “You are not plugged into the wall. We have battery power, generators and we brought our radios and antennas from home.”

“We just set up our own radio stations at Bellevue so that it was open to the public,” Jordan added.

All-Night Event
The St. John drill attracted about 12 participants, who joined with ham radio operators from across the U.S., Canada and Mexico for the all-night event. “The idea is to operate for 24 hours and try to make as many contacts with other stations as you can,” Jordan said.

Contacting distant stations is part of the fun for ham radio operators, but there is a serious side to their hobby as well. Jordan and weathernet broadcaster George Cline are both federally licensed to help local agencies during emergency situations.

“We back up the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency and we are qualified and trained to use the Emergency Operations Coordinator’s communication equipment case of emergency,” said Jordan.

Ham operators have the ability to contact mainland government officials to communicate needs and assessments. When phone lines are down, these radio operators can get word to off-island family members about their loved ones.

“The idea is that because we had to study and take a test, we understand basic radio principles and we know some formulas,” said Jordan.

Making Station from Scratch “If I had to make an antenna from scratch, I could,” Jordan said. “I could figure out the frequency that I wanted to transmit on. I could use wire and throw the end of it up in a coconut tree and plug the other end into my radio.”

“That way I could transmit health and welfare to the states,” he continued. “I could reach ham operators in various states to contact family members, or the Hurricane Center in Miami, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

FCC Licenses
In order to get involved with the world of ham radios, one must pass a test and receive a license from the Federal Com-munications Commission (FCC).

A Technician license is the first level open to ham operators and allows one to transmit and receive on both ultra high frequency (UHF) and very high frequency (VHF) bands. The next step up is the General license which gives an operator privileges on the high frequency (HF) band.

“The HF allows you to talk to operators around the world,” said Jordan. “The highest level is the Extra license which gives you a wider range of frequencies that you can transmit and receive on — the widest range.”

Anyone interested in becoming a ham radio operator should contact Jordan at 776-6568.