RSVP volunteers with Racine & Kenosha ARES/RACES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) are finding new avenues for volunteering in 2020. For the first time in recent memory, ARES did not provide communications support for the Racine Family YMCA Lighthouse Run this year. The run’s organizers adopted a remote, multi-day format in deference to CDC social distancing recommendations.
Last June, Tom Burger (KA9KJE), ARES emergency coordinator, and Dan Miller (KA9OIL), Racine Megacycle Club president, synchronized messages with the Lighthouse Run’s race directors from the ARES communications trailer. Approximately 10 RSVP ARES members assisted another 10 radio amateurs covering nearly 20 Lighthouse Run check points.
FCC licensed amateur (ham) radio operators often provide year-round volunteer communications assistance for foot races, hikes, bicycle rides, fairs and parades. These volunteer projects supplement the communications available for an event, promote safety of event staff and spectators and provide volunteers an opportunity to hone communications skills.
Last year, 20 RSVP ham radio operators contributed more than 250 hours to communications projects in Racine County. This year, in the interest of volunteer safety, ARES is meeting monthly over a Zoom platform while continuing to conduct weekly over-the-air practice of emergency communications protocol.
ARES is a resource of the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) field organization which coordinates regional ham radio responses. Local ARES units are formed at the county level led by an appointed volunteer emergency coordinator.
Amateur radio operators are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission after passing examinations administered and graded by amateur radio operator groups authorized by the FCC. Some prospective amateur radio operators study for the licensing exams using interactive online services.
There are three levels of amateur radio operator proficiency: Technician, general and extra class. Many of the communications exercises conducted by ARES members can be performed by amateurs at the technician level.
Though amateur radio is based on 100-year-old technology, it has special relevance in the 21st Century. When disaster strikes, rendering cell and landline telephones and the Internet unavailable or unreliable, amateur radio, backed by portable and auxiliary power sources, is a viable, reliable communications option.
RSVP amateur radio operators continue volunteering to keep alternative communication channels open and available despite challenging and unusual times.
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