SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - When Hurricane Katrina knocked out communication services on the Coast, amateur radio operators provided many people with their only contact to the outside world. On Friday, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker came to South Mississippi to personally thank the operators who played a critical role during the disaster. There was another reason behind his visit.
Wicker made his first amateur radio contact Friday. It was a special one to commemorate Hurricane Katrina.
"This is Kilo 5 Alpha, K5A, special events station for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina," Wicker announced over the radio.
Wicker picked up some new communication skills during a visit with some ham operators at the Central Jackson County EOC building in Vancleave.
"It's a good opportunity for us to thank the amateur radio operators for their role in helping the public and helping to save lives and helping to get information out that was vitally needed," said Wicker.
Nick Conner provided that lifeline during the storm. When Katrina's winds tied up the wire antennas at his home in Vancleave, Conner climbed a 60-foot tower to straighten them out.
"I also said to the good Lord, please don't make a lightning strike right now," Conner recalled.
Despite working with a weak signal and relying on battery power, Conner was able to make contact with other ham operators and relayed dozens of messages to people all over the country that their loved ones on the Coast were safe.
"I want more of the ham radio operators and more people to get a license and learn where they can fill in during emergencies and help their fellow man," said Conner.
To do that, Wicker is co-sponsoring the Amateur Radio Parity Act. The legislation would urge the FCC to help ease restrictions so more people can set up amateur radio stations in communities that ban them.
"From place to place, details would need to be ironed out, but what we don't want is just a blanket prohibition of amateur radios," said Wicker. "We're asking the FCC to look at this issue and take care of the needs of property owners and municipalities on the one hand, but also the need for these very important lines of communication to stay open and the needs of the public to be able to depend on this in times of crisis."
"We need to get the stations out of the club houses and back in the homes so that you have more probability of more hams being able to survive a storm and being able to get communications out," said Charlie Hardt, Jackson County Amateur Radio Association President.
Wicker said the bill could be voted on by the Senate Commerce Committee in the next few weeks.
This week, Coast ham operators have been broadcasting the special Katrina call sign over their radios. Anyone who responds to that call will receive a special Katrina anniversary postcard.