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SCV radio club holds disaster prep event

Posted: June 30, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 30, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Ben Grokett, right, and Ron Klein, left, coordinate to write down places they've contacted via morse code for the Santa Clarita Amateur Radio Club's participation in the Amateur Radio Field Day, an international competition for amateur radio operators, at Castaic Lake Water Agency in Saugus on Saturday. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.

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When it comes to disaster preparedness, the folks at the Santa Clarita Amateur Radio Club are the ones law enforcement and fire officials look to for keeping the lines of communication open and Sunday was their day to prove it.

This weekend, more than 40 club members — all ham radio operators — spent 24 hours duplicating a disaster scenario atop the hill overlooking Central Park, manning equipment powered by generators and solar panels in an effort to simulate a disaster-triggered power outage.

The club’s annual “Field Day” takes place at the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant on Bouquet Canyon Road. It involves headphone-wearing men and women huddled over ham radio equipment, tweaking dials and speaking into microphones non-stop for 24 hours.

“During the earthquake of ‘94 the communications in City Hall were taken out completely... the sheriff and fire officials couldn’t talk to each other,” said Danny White, the club’s vice president. “We were that link.

“We relayed information from the city to the hospital, so that was a real asset,” he said.

The whole purpose of the local ham radio club is to promote amateur radio activity within the community and to provide the Santa Clarita Valley with service when needed.

On Saturday and Sunday, more than 50 “non ham” people showed up at the event to see what was going on, White said.

People who were not ham radio operators signed a guest book using their email addresses as contact information. Ham radio operators, however, signed in using their radio call signs.

“During the 24 hour period we tried to contact as many states as possible,” White explained.

At 10 a.m. Sunday, an hour before this year’s Field Day activities came to a close, club members had contacted every state in the country except for North Dakota, Kentucky and Hawaii.

At this time, every year, they join amateur radio operators across the country leaving the comfort of their home-based radio “shacks” to spend a weekend roughing it as they take part in emergency preparedness.

The whole idea of “Field Day” is to simulate the conditions that could occur during a hurricane, tornado or other emergency, including man-made disasters. The very first Field Day took place in 1933.

They do it, in part, to test the skills of radio operators in setting up and operating radio communication equipment in situations where electrical power is limited or unavailable.

Field Day 2014 got underway for local “hams” at 6 a.m. Saturday and wrapped at 11 a.m. Sunday.

This year, they had a problem getting the emergency power system started, said Bryan Herbert one of the club’s assigned technical people.

“The first day we had problems with the generator,” he said. “But, we have a backup.”

Solar panels hooked up “in series,” however, provided the group with enough power to continue broadcasting for “weeks” if need be, he said.

Field Day allows ham radio participants to step in and help emergency officials when disaster actually strikes. Cell phones, the Internet and other communications technologies have yet to replace what Amateur Radio operators can accomplish during a disaster.

They have a long track record of getting the message through when all other systems fail and the infrastructure has collapsed, club members claim on their website.

The director of Homeland Security said it best on the agency’s website: “ . . . they are the first of the first responders when it comes to disasters.”
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