It seems that natural and man-made disasters are increasingly frequent phenomena capable of striking at any time, irrespective of local, regional or international borders.
The role and the extent of involvement that governments should have mitigating the effects of disasters are subjects for legitimate debate; but one constant in disaster response is the involvement of trained volunteers supplementing and enhancing the work of emergency officials.
Disaster Preparedness is one of six volunteer focus areas that the Corporation for National and Community Service endorses for its Retired & Senior Volunteer Program grantees throughout the United States.
RSVP-Racine County offers more than a half dozen Disaster Preparedness Volunteer stations: including two complementary amateur (ham) organizations: the Racine County Amateur Radio Emergency Services and the Megacycle Club.
Both organizations operate four amateur radio stations, housed at the Volunteer Center, during emergency simulations and actual situations when cellphones and the Internet are often rendered unusable.
Amateur radio is a century-old technology that is often overlooked in the 21st century world of communication options. When disaster strikes, high-tech communication often yields to ham radio, providing wireless service locally and regionally through repeater systems located in Racine County. Other equipment operates voice and Internet communications nationally and internationally on specific frequencies.
The Volunteer Center is equipped with emergency generators that power amateur equipment in the event of an electrical outage; ARES maintains a communication trailer also with emergency power backup.
All volunteers using the ham radio equipment are licensed as amateur radio operators by the Federal Communications Commission after passing qualifying examinations of electronic theory.
The Racine County ARES is the field arm of the Amateur Radio Relay League, which specifically deals with emergencies, facilitating communication in search and rescue operations, assisting ships at sea and Red Cross shelters.
Organized in 1927, the Racine Megacycle Club is one of the oldest amateur radio clubs in Wisconsin. The club was first affiliated with the American Radio Relay League in 1948. In 1976 the club became associated with the American Red Cross and currently operates its Lakeshore Repeater from Red Cross headquarters on Taylor Avenue.
The Racine Megacycle club offers complimentary licensing classes, except for the price of the study materials, conducted by ham operators.
The Racine Megacycle Club supports parades, festivals and triathlons with free radio communications support. Participation in these events gives Megacycle members an opportunity to practice communications skills in non-emergency situations.
Every summer, the Racine Megacycle Club sponsors its annual Field Day, a test of hams’ abilities under adverse conditions. It is also a chance to fine-tune emergency communications skills, use alternative power sources like generators and batteries, and to set up field antennae.
Hams hope that their emergency skills and services are never needed. However, recently local ARES and Megacycle Club members were reminded of the randomness of disasters as they monitored amateur radio transmissions from New York and New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Amateur radio operators, operating on 12-volt systems charged by their automobiles, were a constant source of comfort and assistance as they relayed messages concerning the health and welfare of their neighbors to emergency authorities.
If you have a skill, talent and time, consider how you might make a positive difference in the lives of your Racine County friends and neighbors. Contact the Volunteer Center of Racine County, 6216 Washington Ave., Suite G. , Racine, WI 53406; call (262) 886-9612 or visit www.volunteercenterofracine.org.