Tenn. Emergency Crews Train w/ Ham Operators

WTVF News Channel 5

FRANKLIN, TN, Jan. 20, 2007 – What would happen if disaster hit Middle Tennessee and wiped out emergency radio communication?

It turns out many communities would rely on amateur radio operators.

When county radios and cell phones won’t work, battery-powered radios manned by ham or amateur radio operators would still be up and running.

A network of such operators would help deliver crucial information and get help where it’s needed. For example, after Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast in 2005, some of the first calls for help came from ham radios.

At the Williamson County Emergency Communication Center, dispatchers spent Saturday working alongside about two dozen

volunteer radio operators. The county dispatchers, radio operators and sheriff’s deputies worked together to prepare for a possible emergency.

“I think a lot of people, if they think of us at all, think of us as people who talk to people in other countries,” said Alan Biddle, an amateur radio operator. “But, if they look around, in times of emergency, we’re there.”

“They play a very important role when disaster strikes,” said Bill Jorgensen, director of Williamson County Emergency Communication department.

He said that if a major disaster were to wipe out county communication, emergency personnel would be able to contact one another through HAM Radios.

“We could dispatch a rider – amateur operator with his own equipment — to communicate tactically with the 911 call center,” said Myron Maker, a radio operator.

Both groups practiced doing that on Saturday by adding HAM equipment to patrol cars and having operators contact the 911 center on both radios.

“We’re the alternative,” Biddle said. “When nothing else works, our equipment does.”

Biddle said he and fellow amateur radios operators are glad to use their hobby to help others.

“I think it’s an excellent opportunity,” Biddle said. “It allows us to see what the requirements and needs are and it also allows us to see what we can provide.”

While the county has worked with amateur radio operators in the past, this was the first time for this type of training.

A group of amateur radio operators in Williamson County are offering a class on Feb. 3 for individuals interested in learning how to be an amateur radio operator.

For information, call 615-776-5865.