Local amateur radio enthusiasts will join thousands of others nationwide this weekend in a 24-hour event designed to test communication skills.
The American Radio Relay Leagueâ€™s annual Field Day will take place this weekend at the courthouse, starting at 2 p.m. Saturday and ending at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Radio operators will work around the clock to set up field radio communications stations, get on their air and contact thousands of other operators in the United States and Canada.
The event serves several purposes, said Relay Chairman Bill Fisher with Lincoln County Amateur Radio Emergency Service/Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, or ARES/RACES.
It helps amateur â€œhamâ€ radio operators hone their emergency radio skills, gives them a chance to communicate with others who share their hobby and shows the public exactly what they do.
Operators will practice skills under what they call â€œprimitiveâ€ conditions â€” using generator power and portable antennas.
â€œItâ€™s an emergency preparedness drill, and the intent of it is if thereâ€™s hurricane or if thereâ€™s a disaster, itâ€™s a drill to get us prepared for any type of emergency,â€ Fisher said.
Cliff Brommer, emergency coordinator of Lincoln County ARES/RACES, said it gives the organization a good chance to fine-tune communication skills.
â€œWe use generators anad battery power, and we set up antennas on the courthouse property,â€ Brommer said. â€œThe idea is to put together a self-sufficient, working station quickly and begin making contacts.â€
ARES/RACES operators are licensed and recognized by the countyâ€™s Emergency Management department as a back-up when additional communication services are needed. An example, Fisher said, would be if the Red Cross needed to set up emergency shelters during an ice storm. If phone lines at those shelters go down, ARES/RACES members could set up communication stations.
â€œCell phones are great, but when the power goes out, the cell phones die,â€ Fisher said. â€œOur signals can get through when traditional ones might not be able to.â€
The National Weather Service has even trained a network of ham radio operators to do weather spotting, Fisher said. When the service canâ€™t see whatâ€™s happening on the ground, the operators can give real-world reports.
â€œWhen weâ€™re not doing emergency management stuff, weâ€™re still â€” particularly this time of year â€” looking for flooding or tornadoes or things that might give the Weather Service a clue that the storm is worse (on the ground),â€ he said.
But itâ€™s not all work and no play for the network of radio enthusiasts.
â€œWe love to talk and we love to make contact,â€ Fisher said. â€œWeâ€™ll get on there and chit-chat with our buddies. Weâ€™ll keep up with each other.â€
Fisher hopes Field Day will give the public a chance to understand better what the licensed operators do.
During the weekend, theyâ€™ll attempt to set long distance contact records and even contact the International Space Station. Two years ago it worked, Fisher said, but the astronaut was Russian and his thick foreign accent made him difficult to understand.
The public is invited to come watch and also get on the air and make contacts.
Field Day is the nationâ€™s largest ham radio on-air event. It is estimated that more than 35,000 hams particpate every year.
by Alice Smith