NMMI HAM radio operators prepare for disaster

October 17, 2010 • Local News

Snowfall blanketed the streets of Roswell Saturday morning, leaving countless travelers stranded in the sudden blizzard.

At least, that was the simulated scenario played out by amateur radio operators across the state yesterday to improve communication during disasters.

The Amateur Radio Emergency Service and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, along with Chaves County Emergency Operation Center, held the annual exercise on the New Mexico Military Institute campus, mocking the December 2006 snowstorm. Three members of the NMMI HAM Radio Club huddled over a computer screen displaying satellite images and made calls over high-frequency radios in a tiny room decorated with world clocks running on Zulu time and an official ARRL Radio Amateur world map.

“Did we get a [auth] name on that missing person?” Dan Musgrave, NMMI chaplain and adviser to the club, asked the cadets.

“No name,” Pvt. Ryan Turner, 16, responded.

The cadets communicated with the EOC in Santa Fe and Las Cruces, WSTV and four local participants using their radio equipment from home.

They transmitted messages about snow depths and transporting persons to the designated shelter, God-dard High School.

In the past, the club has simulated disasters such as a dam breaking on the Pecos River and tornados touching down in Roswell.

“We want to execute our ability to communicate if there’s a disaster,” explained Musgrave, who has been a HAM for 13 years.“We need to find more information about the nodes we’re connecting with, and how chaotic it is when you have messages coming in and out while things are broken.”

For three hours, the group worked out kinks in the communication system and discovered that things were indeed broken. One of the four radios did not work, and they didn’t have the proper codes necessary to reach Las Cruces.

“The whole thing is supposed to be fun,” Rich Brown, the ARES district coordinator, said. “But we’re finding out that things are actually broken.”

Though the 100-year – old club has never been required to respond to an emergency in Roswell, Brown believes it is better to be safe than sorry.

“HAMS are usually involved in almost any disaster,” he said. “We can communicate when no one else can.”

The cadets in the club are also working to receive their FCC HAM Radio Operator licenses.

“It’s going to help me in the future,” new cadet Philip Castillo, 16, said. “I don’t know when, but I believe it will.”

Meanwhile, Turner has been learning how to work the machinery and various radio courtesy terms, like QSL, which means “Can you acknowledge receipt of message?”

“If it’s an actual emergency, I’m pretty certain we could do this formally,” he said.

He fiddles with the radio and hears an incoming message, “Your daughter has been located safe, and is in Goddard High School.” (Mark Wilson Photo)

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