Story and photos by Lucie Roy
Morinville – Ever wonder what would happen if the phones and Internet went down in a crisis? Ham radio operators know. Ham radios can work even when the phone lines and electricity go down, said David Gervais President of the North Central Alberta Amateur Radio Club (NCAARC). Amateur radio operators from the NCAARC and the Quarter Century Amateur Radio Club held a joint open house to feature Amateur Radio at the Rendez-Vous Centre Oct. 1.
The clubs want to promote amateur radio as a hobby and service to the community. Operators demonstrated how to send messages around the world using equipment that can take the place of current modes of communications in a crisis. Different aspects of amateur radio technology were demonstrated, from the past days of Morse Code to today’s digital and computer-based radio. The event featured seminars on radio High Frequency (HF), Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP), EchoLink, Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES), Radio Amateurs of Canada and Very High Frequency (VHF). Amateur radio operators use a variety of voice, text, image and data communications modes and have access to frequency allocations to enable communications across a city, region, a country, a continent or the whole world.
One of the slogans, “When all else fails, ham radio works” are more than just words to the hams, as they proved they can send messages in many forms without the use of the phone system, Internet or any other infrastructure that can be compromised in a crisis. In the world today where you can make a cell phone call from the top of Mount Everest and log onto the Internet from a polar ice flow, you might expect ham radios to be near extinction. But amateur radio endures, nourished by enthusiasts and sustained by its ability to transmit critical information even after the power goes out. Cellphone towers get jammed and TV and radio are out. The ham radio technology is an emergency communication tool of last resort. They bridge ‘the last mile”- the area where conventional communications have been totally disrupted or overloaded by an emergency situation. A cellphone-sized radio can reach other ham operators within a 40-mile radius with just a couple of AA batteries.
“The purpose of the open house was to acquaint and promote the amateur radio hobby to the public in Morinville and area, fellow hams in Edmonton area and other community organizations, for example the Cadets, Scouts and Guides and students from grades 8-12,” Gervais said. “’To see them develop an interest. The texting the younger generation does now, the ham operators have been doing it for years but differently- without wires. Morse Code is a form of texting.”
Gervais also contacted 100 inactive ham operator members in the area hoping to have them reactivate their interest. The NCAARC is a radio club based in St. Albert whose area encompasses St. Albert, Legal, Sturgeon County and Morinville. John Heppleston, Chair of the Open House Committee and Vice-President NCAARC, spoke of community involvement by aiding communities in emergency situations such as was found in Slave Lake in May after the wildfires hit. The helping “hams” are always ready. They also support community groups who need radio communications such as the Halloween Patrol, St. Albert Mayor’s Walk and the Tour de l’Alberta.