More than a hobby

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ARCON hosts information session on emergency communications

Being an amateur radio operator is a great hobby for some, but last week, those hobbyists proved just how important their pastime activity can be in an emergency situation.

CHECKING IN — Calvin Janes of ARCON checks in with other amateur radio operators across Newfoundland and Labrador during last week’s meeting at the Gander fire hall.

Last Thursday, as snow fell outside the Gander fire hall, members of ARCON (Amateur Radio Club Of Newfoundland) were inside hosting an information session on amateur radios, but more importantly, how they can be used in an emergency situation.

“In the past year, our club got some equipment together and put it in a console at the fire hall in Gander, so this would be the communication centre for Central Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Ken Tucker, president of ARCON, and also the district emergency co-ordinator for Central Newfoundland and Labrador for Radio Amateurs of Canada. “We basically have two types of equipment: we have a VHF (very high frequency) radio system here, and we have a HF (high frequency) radio system here, also. Both of those systems can be used if there is an emergency or disaster here, or anywhere in Central Newfoundland or around the province, so we’ll be capable of providing communications if required.

“It’s an awareness session for us. A lot of people know about amateur radio, but they don’t know anything about our setup for emergency communication. We did this tonight to make groups like town councils aware of who we are and this is a service that we can offer. It may never be required, but if it is, we’re here ready to go.”

Gander never saw a lot of snowfall last Thursday, but if the little snow that did fall was actually an historic storm that caused province-wide blackouts and took out telephone poles, members of ARCON would still be able to communicate with other amateur radio operators.

This line of communication would especially come in handy if an emergency situation occurred in an area without cell coverage.

“We are probably the last line that anybody would look for. In a case where all normal modes of communications fail, we are able to provide a method of communication. We’re able to communicate in the local area, anywhere around the province, and even outside of the province with the equipment we have here at the fire hall,” said Mr. Tucker. “Let’s say if something happened on the other side of Gander Lake, for example, they can take a small, handheld portable radio and through our repeater system, they can communicate anywhere in Gander, and, basically, anywhere in Central Newfoundland right now.

“In the near future, when we get our repeaters upgraded in the area, they’ll probably be able to communicate by VHF right through to St. John’s. If there is an emergency declared somewhere, we, or anybody in this area, could communicate with the emergency services communications centre in St. John’s. In most instances, when a state of emergency is called, a command centre is usually setup in St. John’s, and this would give us a direct link into those people.”

Members of ARCON demonstrated what they could do with their equipment. At 7 p.m., Calvin Janes used the club’s HF radio system to communicate with other amateur radio operators stationed all across the province, in St. Pierre, and even in Massachusetts, U.S.A.

However, those interested in becoming amateur radio operators have to get licensed to do so. Along with members of the general public, Mr. Tucker would like to see those associated with groups like fire departments and hospitals get licensed.

“A definite goal would be to encourage more people to get into amateur radio and to probably get licensed. The other emergency groups, like local hospitals, for example, we want to make sure those people are aware of what we could offer, and then we could partner with those guys so in case of a disaster or emergency, everybody is on the same page.”

Present at last week’s meeting were representatives from the Towns and fire departments of Gander and Centreville-Wareham-Trinity, along with representatives of the James Paton Memorial Regional Health Centre.

Also present were members of the Gander Boy Scouts, and Mr. Tucker was especially happy to see them there.

“Most of the people involved with amateur radio are anywhere from 50 years of age or older, and you don’t see a lot of younger people,” said Mr. Tucker. “We have to try and encourage the youth to get involved if it’s going to continue.”

mmolloy@ganderbeacon.ca

Twitter: @BeaconSports12

Organizations: ARCON, Radio Club Of Newfoundland, Radio Amateurs

Geographic location: Gander, Central Newfoundland, Canada Gander Lake Massachusetts

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