City, Repeater Club hold Amateur Radio Field Day
By LYNETTE SOWELL
During a disaster, forms of commonly-used communication like cell phones and even landline phones could be useless. Combined with that and any power outage that might occur could leave the area without a means of communication.
On Saturday, the Copperas Cove’s Division of Emergency Management and the Copperas Cove Repeater Association, along with the Texas Department of State Health Services hosted a 24-hour amateur radio field day at High Chaparral Park starting at 1 p.m.
The event was part of a nationwide field day, during which amateur radio operators attempt to communicate with each other and keep track of everyone they connect with. When a radio operator at High Chaparral Park made contact with a radio operator in Puerto Rico on Saturday afternoon, there were congratulations all round.
However, the overnight event served as more than a chance for bragging rights or the thrill of accomplishment at making a connection with someone thousands of miles away. It was also a chance for the city’s emergency response personnel as well as local amateur radio operators to work in cooperation as if it were an actual emergency or disaster and there was a need to communicate.
This year was a first for the event being held at High Chaparral Park, which at elevation 1,240 feet is the highest park in the city. The group set up several antennas in a perimeter around the Lion’s Club pavilion where they had their equipment.
On Saturday morning, they set up in the pouring rain, which cleared up right before noon, said Copperas Cove’s deputy fire chief and emergency management coordinator, Gary Young.
The group then set to work and kept a log of every contact they made. In the 24-hour period, they made more than 300 connections with operators as far away as Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii and even Cuba. This was with the assistance of different radios set up at several different stations.
“We’re doing stations a little different. We took advantage of the playscape. We very carefully attached an antenna and installed a dipole,” Gary said.
One antenna also served as a sort of “flashlight,” as far as radio signals are concerned.
“You turn it and you point it where you want to talk. It will beam a lot of energy and pick up a signal a long way away,” said Young. “We’re hearing a ton of signaling,”
One of the radio stations was a digital setup, with computers connected to the radio, and operators made contact with other operators doing the same thing in Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana.
Young said there are a lot of individuals attempting to make contact with each other and compared it to 25 people, all wanting to sit on a king size bed at once. Anything electric was run by generator power, as if it were a real emergency.
Another repeater association member, Carlos Crespo, set up an AREDN communication system—amateur radio emergency data network—at the park. Using a lawnmower battery and a Black & Decker power convertor, Crespo had his laptop hooked up to his emergency power and used the computer to communicate via radio with a voice over internet protocol system. He even had a phone on hand to see if he could make contact with another operator using the same type of system somewhere else in the country.
Jim and Mary Hanson, both members of the Copperas Cove Repeater Association, were there on Saturday, along with their two grandchildren.
Mary has only been a licensed amateur radio operator for two weeks. A retired teacher, she said she got her license because she would like to get involved in emergency response efforts in the area.
Licensed amateur radio operators like Matt Janis took turns on Saturday sitting in front of a radio and put out the call for “Four-A-Whiskey-Five-Charlie”, all the while listening to the radio noise of other operators putting out their call signs as well. When another operator would confirm the sign for Copperas Cove, Janis would give the call sign again and “NTX”, which stands for North Texas. Then the operator on the radio would give the Copperas Cove operator the call sign from their area.
Unlicensed operators could also try using the radio, something that’s permissible while working under the supervision of licensed operators, Young said.
During the field day, groups could claim “points” for certain criteria, such as when a local official attended the event. On Saturday, Copperas Cove’s mayor, Frank Seffrood, stopped by at the start of the event and read a proclamation which designated the week of June 19-25 as Amateur Radio Week. For that, the group received 100 points. They also received points for using solar power to operate some of the equipment, engaging the local media prior to the event, and having at least five attendees under the age of 18.