‘Hurricane Radio’: Ham operators prep with disaster drill at Rangerville Park

Ham operators prep with disaster drill at Rangerville Park

HARLINGEN — Punching your contacts list on a cell phone to make a call may not be a communications option in a post-disaster world.

Communications disruptions when mobile phone service and land lines are down, when even power could be out for days or weeks, may prove more than mere inconvenience.

To test readiness to provide vital communications in the event of a disaster, the Texas Southmost Amateur Radio Club, in partnership with Cameron County emergency services, will host a free “Field Day” disaster preparedness event on Saturday, June 22, at Rangerville Park from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

“What we are going to do is we are going to set up an emergency radio station as a drill, a shakedown, for when a hurricane comes and hits us,” said Larry Warner, an amateur radio operator and spokesperson for the area radio club. “The cell phone won’t work because everybody will turn on his or her cell phones and it’ll block all the cell phones and they won’t work.”

Warner calls the event “Hurricane Radio,” acknowledging the most plausible disaster scenario confronting the Rio Grande Valley.

“What we’re doing in coordination with Cameron County emergency services is setting up an emergency communications system,” Warner said. “The important thing is, we’re going to operate without commercial electricity.

“We’re going to do it with the kind of batteries that people are used to seeing go in RVs or go in vessels, that go in boats,” he added. “They take three days to charge up and they work for about three days.”

Amateur radio operators, also known as ham operators, have been key players in previous disasters, and may well be called upon again in the Rio Grande Valley.

They use their equipment and skills to channel critical information to the public in the event other communication modes fail.

Amateur radio operators are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission after an applicant passes an exam on technology and radio rules. Learning Morse code is no longer required, making the current test significantly less imposing for aspiring ham radio operators.

The Texas Southmost Amateur Radio Club offers free classes to prepare interested persons for the exams. Operators do not have to be U.S. citizens and there is no minimum age requirement.

Warner, a former member of the Texas House of Representatives representing the Harlingen area, said his world opened up when his father and uncle purchased a $37 shortwave radio receiver for him when he was 11.

“And the first station I heard was Radio Moscow,” Warner said. “I got a card from them saying, yeah, it was really us, and you were listening to us, and thank you for listening to us.”

Coming at the height of Cold War, Warner’s “first contact” with the Soviet Union made things a little awkward around the house, he recalled.

“My dear mother was afraid the FBI was going to come in,” he said.

If you go

WHAT — Amateur radio operators’ disaster drill

WHEN— Saturday, June 22, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

WHERE — Rangerville Park gazebo, 1101 S. Rangerville Road

COST — Free, open to public