Ham Radio Volunteers Relay Messages During Emergencies

EUGENE, Ore. — Western Oregon counties have emergency plans in place in the event of a major catastrophe like an earthquake or tsunami. Part of the plan includes volunteers.

Monday through Saturday, like clockwork, Bob Welfel checks his home weather station.

His automated systems give rain totals and current temperatures, and it’s fed into his ham shack.

This is where he gives his daily report.

Broadcasting via amateur radio is a hobby Welfel picked up 50 years ago.

With his antennas, he can reach Alaska, Japan and even Australia.

Reaching someone is relatively easy. You have to make sure you’re on the same frequency and the person you are trying to reach is available at the same time.

Matt Dillon is also an amateur radio operator as well as an instructor and engineer.

While you might think new technology would render ham radios obsolete, Dillon say’s that’s not the case.

“Amateur radio is a growing hobby. There are now over 704,000 amateurs,” Dillon said.

Transmitting by frequency is old school but reliable, especially during an emergency when cell phone service can be overloaded

Dillon belongs to a network of volunteers ready to relay information in the event of a major crisis. They are linked to hospitals, fire departments, the American Red Cross and law enforcement agencies.

According to Lane County Emergency Management, they have about 30 volunteers. Many of them were called to assist earlier this year.

“Sometimes we will go out and do water level monitoring. We did that in the flood in January in the floods on Coast Range and Mohawk Valley,” Dillon said.

Most days it is a hobby. But in the event of an emergency, these radios can be a lifeline.

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