Ham Radio

The Skagit Amateur Radio Emergency Comm. Club is sponsoring classes for new Hams.

Where: Shelter Bay community hall

When: February 26th, 28th March 2nd 7th, 9th and 13th

Time: 6:00pm - 8:00pm

The Technician class license is the entry-level license of choice for most new ham radio operators. To earn the Technician license requires passing one examination totaling 35 questions on radio theory, regulations and operating practices. The license gives access to all Amateur Radio frequencies above 30 megahertz, allowing these licensees the ability to communicate locally and most often within North America.

Cost is $29.95 for the Study Material and $15 for the FCC test. Ham radios begin for as little as $35. Successful completion includes a one year membership in the SARECC (Anacortes) Ham Radio Club

sincerely Peter

The Radio Amateurs of Skagit County (RASC) was formed in the aftermath of the flood of 1975. Many of the Skagit County Hams had talked about forming a new club for years, but nothing much came of it. Some attempts were made, however the new clubs failed in a short period of time. The flood and the inability of the radio amateurs to make any concerted effort to help in the emergency was the catalyst that got enough amateurs together to form the Radio Amateurs of Skagit County.

The credit for getting the ball rolling toward a new ham club in Skagit County must go to Edward J.Wirtz Jr. (W7JGM). It was Ed, who in November of 1975, organized the original push by getting Roger Monroe (N7NTW), Paul Cook (WA7WZQ), Doug Matthies (WA7MSQ now (KE7AV), Gary Pierson (WA7GVM now WW7Q), and Pat Smith (WA7GMX) together to obtain the names of Skagit County amateurs and mail invitations to them to help form some sort of Amateur Radio Society. Other amateurs who quickly became involved were Ted Gray (W7IXF), Roger Haner (WN7BDQ now WB7BDQ), Mike Young (WN7BMW now WB7BMW), and Loren Pelkey WA2NRI/2 now WB7OCA).

At the first small meeting in December 1975, thirteen hams showed up to discuss how to advertise that they were organizing. Ed (W7JGM) and Doug (KE7AV) handled the advertising so well that it made the front page and headlines of the Skagit Valley Herald. The result was that when they met in January 1976, thirty-six hams showed up and decided to form a club. Ted (W7IXF) was elected President, Roger (K7NTW) Vice President, and Paul (WA7GMX) Secretary/Treasurer. With that out of the way, the next thing was to decide what to call ourselves. Many suggestions were entered but none of them was quite right.

However, the one by Paul (WA7WZQ), ie, Radio Club of Skagit County came the closest to what we wanted but many members didn’t like the word “club” in the name.

Paul suggested changing the word “club” to amateurs”. The group had a little coffee, discussed it, came back to order and unanimously approved it. And with the vote counted, Ted (W7IXF) announced “we are so formed”. The Radio Amateurs of Skagit County was born.

So much more than a hobby: Ham radio essential for emergency communication

  • Kathy Boyd Mar 14, 2010

Amateur radio operator Loren Wohlgemuth begins a test of the District 1 emergency radio systems at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, in the Emergency Operations Center at the Department of Emergency Management in Mount Vernon. Wohlgemuth is the public information officer for the Radio Amateurs of Skagit County.

If anyone thinks ham radio is outdated, think again.

When a 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti in January and knocked out most communications — even cell phones — ham radio operators were able to contact the United States and other countries to relay the extent of the initial damage.

Closer to home, when a major power outage engulfed Skagit County in April 2009 and disabled most traditional communication, area ham operators were able to determine the parameters of the outage in about five minutes.

And during a major disaster, hospitals and emergency crews still depend on the volunteer service of ham operators.

“If the phone and all other communications are down, hospitals can contact another hospital or the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) for supplies or other essentials,” said Dwayne Campbell, emergency coordinator for Radio Amateurs of Skagit County (RASC). In fact, all hospitals and emergency services in Skagit County are equipped with ham radios in case of a disaster.

Ham radio is a hobby, but it’s also a public service, according to information at ARRL.org, the National Association for Amateur Radio. And since those radios can be operated only by licensed technicians, amateur radio operators train for many hours to provide communication for emergency services in any disaster.

RASC is one of several organized groups of local ham or amateur radio operators. Some 60 area hams are RASC members, and most belong to the national Amateur Radio Emergency Service or to the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services.

Bruce McBane, Homeland Security program coordinator at the Skagit County Department of Emergency Management (or DEM) in Mount Vernon, works with amateur radio operators in the department’s Emergency Operations Center.

McBane said the hams work in teams to help provide communications for Skagit County by operating the public-safety and ham radios in the EOC, which serves as a command or support facility in an emergency or during a disaster.

The teams stay sharp because they train constantly and one or two members of each team take turns testing all of the county’s emergency radios at precisely 10 a.m. every Tuesday year-round.

On a recent Tuesday tour at the DEM, Campbell said this level of preparedness is essential if, for instance, the Red Cross needs to move people or establish triage centers or emergency shelters in a disaster.

McBane said the Skagit County DEM bought a used motor home with a Homeland Security grant, and RASC volunteers converted it into a mobile command post. The kitchen and other facilities were retained — luxuries that Campbell said he and older RASC members can remember doing without.

“The restroom is nice to have,” he said, grinning.

McBane said the post was used at Blanchard Mountain and in Concrete when hikers were lost. In both situations, he said the hams relayed information from county search-and-rescue teams to emergency personnel.

“It’s wonderful,” Campbell said. “It can be deployed where needed.”

The mobile command post is equipped with nine ham radios covering all of the emergency frequency bands and stations for three operators.

In addition to the mobile post, many amateur operators have ham radios in their cars, which has proven essential in emergencies.

During the winter storms in January 2009, ham operators scouted places upriver to report trouble spots and impassable roads to the EOC, and relayed the information to Skagit County workers.

“Those eyes and ears in the remote parts of the county were a huge help to the EOC in getting the word out to the public and keeping people safe,” McBane said.

RASC secretary Anita Jackson said hams carry “Go Kits” that literally go with them everywhere, for use in emergencies or power outages. The kits contain backup power supplies, food, water and other essentials.

Ham operators’ devotion to public service is a factor many RASC members hope will encourage more youth to consider ham radio — that and the challenge of linking the low-tech radios to e-mail and computers.

RASC member Bev Mohr said it’s difficult for young people to view ham radio as exciting and rewarding. While the focus is on disaster preparedness and public service, amateur radio operators really do have fun, she said.

“I was amazed that I could talk to someone halfway across the world with the power to run a 100-watt light bulb,” said Loren Wohlgemuth, the club’s public information officer and a relative newcomer to ham radio. “Then I got interested in the public-service aspect and it’s fun too. It’s magic.”

RASC members hold annual Kids Day activities, where for one day, kids can talk to people all over the nation and even the planet. Club members also provide communication links for the Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage, the Bike MS and other running or biking events.

Mohr said the RASC group was formed because of a Skagit County disaster. The flood of 1975 and the inability of ham radio operators to help organize communications was the catalyst.

In December of that year, she said 13 of the amateur operators started the organization. They elected Ted Gray, Roger Monroe and Pat Smith in January 1976 to lead the 36 hams known as Radio Amateurs of Skagit County.

Now the nonprofit RASC group consists of 62 members who meet the second Friday evening of each month at Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon. The meetings are just one more layer of training for the amateur operators.

While most of us don’t see or hear the amateur radio operators on a daily basis, Mohr said they are easy to reach by usual methods. Send an e-mail to rasconline@gmail.com, visitwww.rasconline.org or pick up the phone and call Wohlgemuth (KD7ZPL) at 360-445-3538. He has a day job as an architect and photographer, but he’ll call (or radio) you back as soon as he can.

Kathy Boyd can be reached at 360-416-2153 or kboyd@skagitpublishing.com.