Ham radio operators sharpen skills with new antenna system

By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - When Hurricane Katrina toppled cell phone towers and knocked down telephone polls, most forms of communication came to a screeching halt but not all.

Ham radio operators helped relay the messages that got emergency workers and supplies flowing into our area. On Saturday, some operators spent time preparing for a national contest and developing the skills it takes to run their new antenna system.

Before the winds of Katrina died down, South Mississippi's Ham Radio operators went to work.

"We were instrumental in the first hours after the storm because most of the communications had been knocked out," said operator John Moore.

The Mississippi Coast Amateur Radio Association's preparation for a national contest is about more than winning or losing.

"I am also the Harrison County Emergency coordinator for the ARRL which is the Amateur Radio Relay League," said Jeff Smith. "I'm responsible for coordinating radio response in case of an emergency. We use these contests as a way to prepare for that. In the field, we would have to set up an antenna for transmit or receive and be able to operate as traffic outside a disaster area."

Smith had his fellow ham operators to put up different types of antennas than they're used to.

"We've done these from my house two years in a row, but this time I delegated the antenna responsibilities," Smith said. "We've just brought parts out. We're having to totally assemble it from scratch instead of me preparing everything and just throwing it up. We're letting the members of the group put it together."

Moore thinks the exercise was extremely useful for the group.

"First of all we check and make sure all of our equipment works. Then we check and make sure we know how to put it up," Moore said. "So it's all just use, experience, like everybody says practice, practice, practice."

Operators say the advantages to the antennas are a clearer sound and quicker installation.

"When there is a disaster or other emergency and we have to set up from a shelter, it will allow us to have the knowledge to be able to go up and set up an antenna system in the field," said Smith. "Instead of at your house where you set it up over the course of two or three months, we're setting this up here in the course of a few hours."

Members of the Mississippi Coast Amateur Radio Association say in the upcoming contest participants will accrue points by making contact with other operators around the world.

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