Radio operators transform Star Bus

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - It's a line that stays open when all others are closed. Even when disaster strikes and communication lines are shattered, amateur ham radio operators are connecting with others all over the world.

"We not only do official government stuff and all that, transmitting requests for food and ice and all that," said Operator Darryl Goldman. "We also pass traffic for people in shelters that want to let family in other states know that everything's ok when cell phones aren't working."

The Jackson County Mississippi Amateur Radio Association spent a 24 hour period competing with other operators throughout the U.S. and Canada, from 1p.m. Saturday to 1p.m. Sunday.  The goal was to see which regional club could make the most connections.

They had surpassed 500 contacts by 10:30 Sunday morning, making connections through morse code, phone, and digital formats.

Their office this year was the Pascagoula School District's Star Bus. With just a few extra antennas and skilled operators, the tech education tool can be transformed into a rolling communication hub at a moment's notice.

"When Katrina happened, we did not have this bus," said operator Glen Smith. "And it made the infrastructure very hard to take care of in a quick, easy manner. Payroll of firemen, police officers, school employees.  This is an absolute rolling communication/emergency operation center if need be."

The bus is also equipped to help teachers carry on classes when traditional classrooms and teaching methods are gone.

The messages sent this weekend were simple, but operators are prepared to send more urgent ones if the worst should happen.

Operators say they are starting to incorporate websites like Twitter into their ham radio operations.

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