Local amateur radio enthusiasts – from the Pasadena Radio Club, JPL Amateur Radio Club, and Caltech Amateur Radio Club, among others – will practice their craft and hone their emergency communication skills this weekend, June 25-26 , during an event known as Field Day.
What’s unique about this weekend’s exercise is that most radio enthusiasts will be using backup power, said Los Angeles Amateur Radio Emergency Service district emergency coordinator Oliver Dully ( ARES) of the North Eastern District, call sign K6OLI.
“The purpose of this event is to try amateur radio operations preferably without electricity,” Dully said. “So settling as they say in the field, one of the key points of amateur radio is preparation. And so one of the goals is to be able to operate even when commercial electricity or regular electricity runs out. This is what is being tested by many stations this weekend.
Dully pointed out that another purpose of Field Day is to remind people that during a disaster, one of the services that would be negatively impacted would be communications.
“In our case, we would actually be activated during a large earthquake or other situations where business communication options have failed or need to be rebuilt,” Dully added. “We would bridge the gap by providing local communications between hospitals, between various hospitals, and between hospitals and the Medical Alert Center, which is the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) for hospitals in Los Angeles County. So that’s one of the things we practice.
Field Day is an annual exercise in which groups of radio amateurs across the United States and Canada compete to make the most contacts to demonstrate their teamwork and operational skills. In the United States, Field Day is typically the largest emergency preparedness exercise, attended by more than 30,000 operators each year.
Field Day is coordinated by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national organization representing amateur radio enthusiasts across the United States.
Pasadena Radio Club President Jim Marr, call sign AA6QI, went into detail about what will happen during the 24-plus-hour event.
“Early in the morning of Saturday the 26th, people were starting to settle in, whether they were doing it on the ground, like one of the JPL groups, they were actually going up to a site near Mount Pinos where they I will m ‘install,” Marr said. “They will bring all the equipment, antennas, radios, food, toilets, anything you would need to get to a site in an emergency. And once they’re all settled by 11 a.m. PDT, they start contacting other stations in North America and Canada. »
Marr said the stations will exchange a particular set of information, telling the other station how many transmitters they have on the air and what class of operation they belong to.
“There are six classes and they are located in one of the American Radio Relay League sections or one of the Royal Canadian Amateur Radio Sections in Canada,” Marr continued. “They will then operate for 24 hours recording every contact they have made and what that exchange is. And then at the end they will take everything apart, pack it up and go home.
Last year, about 26,000 people attended Field Day, Marr said. It was about 700,000 radio amateurs in the United States and about two million worldwide.
Many radio enthusiasts attending Field Day will test not only their radio bases or portable radios, but also their batteries and solar power systems, if available. Field Day would effectively simulate a crisis situation when most commercial power sources and most commercial cell sites would be out of service.
Bruce Nolte, call sign N1BN, member of the Pasadena Radio Club, said that amateur radio remains the most comprehensive and comprehensive communication system that can operate off the grid.
“If the power is out, if the internet is down, if the cellular systems are down, our radios are still working,” Nolte said. “Most of the repeaters we have have backup power. The one in Pasadena here has backup power. So there is a good chance that even after an earthquake, our radio systems will still work.
Local radio enthusiasts don’t limit their practice to Field Day, but regularly hone their skills to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice. In Altadena, the Altadena Emergency Response Team (ALERT) meets every Monday evening to reach surrounding areas.
“So if there was an earthquake, we already know how far we can go, what frequencies to use,” said ALERT team leader Nancee Darling, call sign K8NBD. “We know the other radio operators who are there so we know we can check. I mean basically the TV won’t work. Frequencies will work, especially simplex, i.e. without repeaters. And we can listen to what is happening through radio amateurs.
Darling is also a member of the Pasadena Radio Club. The Club is calling this year’s Field Day a “Special Pandemic Field Day,” when members won’t gather in person for a massive event like they did in 2019 at the ArtCenter College of Design. Instead, each member will operate from their own location and set up their own system, including the contact logging method.
But it would still be typical on weekends to see small teams of operators camping around Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley and trying out their gear. At these small gatherings, young people from the community and others interested in learning more about amateur radio will be welcome to watch and listen as the operators practice their craft.
This year, participants will test more modern equipment, such as radios capable of transmitting voice and digital images, without having to use commercial Internet services. Some members of the Pasadena Radio Club have experimented with Winlink, which allows amateur operators to send images and text.
“It’s basically the Internet via radio,” Marr said. “It does everything you can do on the Internet, but over the radio – uses no wires anywhere for people to send messages in what’s called the National Traffic System, which is sponsored by the ARRL All of these groups will message others through the national traffic system to practice using that system.
The Pasadena Radio Club and other communications groups in the San Gabriel Valley frequently hold seminars or orientation sessions where they encourage more and more people to learn about the importance of radio communications. For Bruce Nolte of the Pasadena Radio Club, amateur radio is an activity accessible to anyone interested.
“It doesn’t matter your age or specific background,” Notle said. “There are people of all ages and backgrounds who work in amateur radio. Some of the astronauts who fly on the International Space Station are radio amateurs. And there are other notable people, some celebrities, like the late Senator Barry Goldwater, who was a really first rate ham radio operator among the rest. So it sort of goes through the whole society.
Also part of the exercise on the field this weekend, Marr said.
The ARRL has set up a page where radio enthusiasts and other interested individuals can get helpful guidelines and information about Field Day this weekend. Visit the site at www.arrl.org/field-day.
To learn more about the Pasadena Radio Club, visit their website, https://w6ka.net.