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Radio operators on the communications frontline

ANNIE BLACKBURN
Staff Writer

With events in recent history like Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist attacks on September 11 still fresh in the public’s memory, the emergency preparedness of a community at any given time is always an important topic of conversation.
Mobilizing law enforcement and fire departments as well as medical resources is crucial when it comes to saving lives in time of public crisis, but one of the more underappreciated aspects of any emergency plan are communications, and that’s where ham radio comes in.
Clifford Brommer, call sign WD4PIC, is the current president of Lincoln County Volunteer Communications. His initial interest in amateur radio began about 15 years ago, when he was invited to a Lincoln County Volunteer Communications Christmas dinner. Since then, he’s served several times as the president of the organization.
“I’ve been hooked on it ever since,” Brommer said.
Along with the Carolina Amateur Radio Club, Volunteer Communications is literally on the frontlines when it comes to emergency preparedness. All of the members fall under the umbrella of the ARRL, the Amateur Radio Relay League, and while operating a ham radio is 100-percent hobby, it is also 100-percent hard work.
According to Brommer, members must be incident-command qualified as well as being listed on a state database for an emergency response team. This means being willing and able to travel to a location in order to provide relief support for a communications network. There are a total of 16 radios in the county, including a complete station in the courthouse. In the event of an emergency, Volunteer Communications has a duty to maintain communications with the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh.
The duties of amateur radio aren’t all doom and gloom, however. In addition to stepping in for communications in a crisis situation, the Carolina Amateur Radio Club and Volunteer Communications actively participate in the Lincolnton Apple Festival, Denver Days and the Lincolnton Christmas Parade, setting up stations along the parade route to monitor any medical issues or important information that needs to be relayed to parade organizers.
With the integration of smart phones, tablets, laptops and all kinds of technological advancement, at one time ham radio was thought to be on its way to extinction, but Brommer says it is quite the contrary.
“This club, even though it’s been a short time, has just taken off,” he said. “I’m not sure if there’s anything we put our minds to, we can’t get it done. Younger people are becoming more interested in amateur radio. We have more members than we did 10 years ago.”
Amateur radio appealed to Bill Bush. Call sign N4WGB, Bush has been interested in ham radio since he was a teenager, but has only been certified as a technician since September. He heard about the club and decided to attend a meeting. For him, the importance of the existence of ham radio is evident in recent events.
“The major thing is if you think to Katrina and 9/11, when events like that happen, you’re either going to lose power everywhere or you’re going to lose cell service,” Bush said. “Ham radio provides a tremendous service there as far as emergency communications, so that’s the primary thing I think about is the ability to do that. If someone is trying to find out if my daughter okay, I know she’s in that area, then the ham radio operators will send out messages looking for people. There’s lots of new technology but in the event it hits the fan, there won’t be any communications other than ham radio.”
For more information on amateur radio, visit www.arrl.org.

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