Cellphones keep us connected when systems are working well. But when a natural disaster wipes out power and cellular towers are destroyed or jammed with high call volume, emergency respondents rely on a much simpler technology to keep us together when the going gets tough.

Amateur shortwave radio, or ham radio, while largely forgotten by the general public, can be an invaluable technology in emergencies and natural disasters.

In recent years, there has been a shortage of licensed emergency radio operators, as few learn about the value of shortwave radio.

As wireless communications become more accessible through the increasing popularity of Internet-accessible cellphones, the value of ham radio seems to have been replaced. Amateur radio can contact across the world with the right equipment and conditions, but so can applications like Skype and Tango.

“We like to think we always have communication with Internet and cellphones, but in an earthquake or hurricane when the power grid goes out, without electricity all those forms of communications go away quickly,” said Bryan Gembusia, South Middleton Twp. supervisor and licensed shortwave radio operator.

To educate the community on amateur radio and begin to refill the pool of potential emergency operators, the St. John’s Masonic Lodge 260 is hosting a two-day training course that will end in an optional licensing exam.

The entry-level course prepares potential operators for the first of three license levels, the technician’s license.

The course covers the basic history, math and physics involved with shortwave radio, but Gembusia said that neither the course nor the license exam is too difficult.

When he was licensed last summer, he said a 6-year-old and 10-year-old passed the exam and became licensed operators.

The class is not limited to Carlisle-area residents and will feature light refreshments.

“You’re going to gain a valuable skill, whether you’ll use the radio to communicate from town to town or put up an antennae and use it all over the world,” said Gembusia, a member of the Masonic Lodge 260.

Battery operated shortwave radios will transmit in almost any weather condition and don’t rely on external systems like cellular towers, power grids or the Internet to broadcast and receive signals.

“During the earthquake in August, the cell signal was out, and I couldn’t make a call,” Gembusia said. “I got on the radio, and I was able to talk to people all the way down in Virginia to find out what happened there.”

When an emergency is triggered, amateur radio operators who are signed up on a notification list will be alerted that emergency systems have been activated.

Amateur radio is more than an emergency system; it’s also a common educational hobby.

“You can be a part of a real piece of history,” Gembusia said. “You can use the radio to just communicate with people all over the world, and there’s all kinds of information on how to build your own radio and antennas.”


Source: www.pennlive.com -

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