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Public service events a great way to enjoy amateur radio

February 7, 2011

OK, so you’ve passed your amateur radio exam and are waiting for your “ticket” (license). All that studying, cramming, and worrying are behind you. It’s about this time that you start to ask yourself, “What do I do now?” Great question.

Your first step is to consider the type of equipment to buy. That’s something your Elmer (mentor) can help you with. My focus here is to help you put your ham radio skills and enthusiasm to work for the betterment of your community.

One of the more rewarding ways is to get involved with a public service event. Most often a walk or bike ride, these events support the efforts of many fine organizations, including the American Cancer Society, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, to name a few.

It doesn’t make sense for organizers to buy and maintain equipment for just a one-day event, so they turn to local amateur radio operators. “Hams” are happy to help out, particularly for the larger events.

How might you, a new ham radio operator, help? Each event needs operators at numerous points along the route. Hams provide extra sets of eyes, and help ensure a smooth operation. There are a number of areas to choose from:

1. Net control – The command center of all public service events, net control contains the “dispatchers” (net control operators) who keep all radio traffic flowing smoothly. Net operators tend to be more experienced; newer hams may assist with logging, monitoring the APRS system (similar to GPS), or other duties.

2. Aboard a SAG wagon – Support and Gear vehicles ride a predetermined route, looking for injured walkers/riders and broken bikes that are then transported to the appropriate location. You may also be asked to deliver supplies to a rest stop during the event. (Initial supplies are provided by event organizers.) With your radio, your vehicle can be dispatched as needed.

3. At a rest stop – This can be a more relaxing assignment. Ham radio operators stay in touch with the event volunteers on the scene, and stand ready to call in any needs. Occasionally you’ll hear from someone with a broken bike or pooped walker/rider who wants a ride to the finish line.

4. With a Sentry Captain – Some rides employ Sentry Captains. These folks are assigned a particular route, and are responsible for the flag-carrying volunteers (sentries) you see along the route and at many intersections. The Sentry Captain rides the route continuously, making sure the sentries have sufficient water, munchies, and so forth. If you spot any walker or rider needing assistance, you call net control for help.

5. At an intersection – Some intersections are staffed by ham radio operators. Much like at the rest stops, you watch the crowd go by, and stand ready to call in assistance for a rider or walker.

As you can see, there are many opportunities during a charity walk or ride for you to put your amateur radio license and gear to good use. Although you need to get up early, and the morning can seem long, you will feel very satisfied afterward. You helped a worthwhile organization meet its fundraising goals, and in the process, you gave back something to your community.

Your Elmer should be able to help you get involved in public service. You can also learn more at most ham radio club meetings and by monitoring the repeater nets. Have fun!

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From → Amateur radio

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