July 24, 2011
The Rookie Ham Radio Operator and Public Service Events
After a hiatus of nearly six years, I immersed myself back into the amateur radio hobby. I was originally licensed in 2003 and was only active for about two years. When I recently keyed up the mike after that break, I felt like I was absolutely starting over.
I plunged back into the hobby on the slopes of Mt. Washington at the epic Climb to the Clouds auto race. Two weeks later I was back on the peak nearly at the top working a bicycle race. Six days later I was deep in the trees at the New England Forest Rally.
Amateur (ham) radio operators volunteer across the USA, and I'm sure other nations, to assist in communications at countless events. Marathons, car races, dog-sled races, bicycle events, etc. These are all non-emergency events, but emergencies can and do happen at any time during these contests.
Ham radio operators pride themselves with being able to mobilize and communicate during emergencies, so it's a natural to have hams at public service events. They have the equipment and the training. It's a core strength of the hobby.
I made mistakes at each event that could have been prevented. Some were due to my rookie status, others might be a mixture of my inexperience and oversights on the part of event organizers.
Here's my short list of Do's and Don'ts for a rookie ham operator working a public service event.
This is just a partial list of suggestions. I'm sure experienced ham operators have a boatload of other tips that can make public service work go off without a hitch.
At my last event, the New England Forest Rally, I made a terrible mistake. It caused the most popular stage of the rally to be cancelled. I felt horrible after this happened, and I'm sure the drivers wanted to choke me to death.
Because I was a rookie, I thought that meant to stop all cars on the course, as I didn't know if the cars passing me were about to come upon the wreck.
Not having anyone with me, I immediately got out my red cross card and waved it at drivers who were zooming past me. The INSTANT I displayed the red cross, the race stage was over. My action caused drivers to slow down and stop, ruining their run.
What the "Stop all cars" call on the radio meant, was to stop any further cars from starting. My suggestion, to all race organizers, is to come up with a word or phrase similar to MayDay, that is ONLY used on the frequency to communicate what should happen in an emergency situation.
I so wish I could replay what happened and have the organizers agree to broadcast this over the radios: "Red Cross Red Cross - All stations display the Red Cross." But what do I know, I'm just a rookie.
Posted by Tim Carter at July 24, 2011 4:03 PM