By Laura Katauskas | Staff Reporter
In the world of wifi and smart phones, communication can always be at one’s fingertips. But what if that signal is dropped? What happens to emergency communication then?
Enter, the Bolingbrook Amateur Radio Society (BARS), whose experience with radio operations, can be a lifeline for communities in distress or a window to the world on an ordinary day.
“More than just nerds playing around with radios,” as Lawrence Hageman, member of the BARS, would tell it, amateur radio has a place in benefiting the community.
Members of BARS use their experience with electronics and communications techniques to provide a free public service to their communities during a disaster, all without needing a cell phone or the Internet. Ham radio has the ability to work reliably under any conditions from almost any location and create an independent communications network.
BARS was established in the early 1970s, and has a strong membership base plus a year-round calendar of events and activities. BARS specializes in SKYWARN (trained weather spotters), emergency communications, Field Day, and community event communications every year.
The National Association for Amateur Radio believes that amateur radio (ham radio), is a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics and communication together and promotes its use across the world.
“Hams can literally throw a wire in a tree for an antenna, connect it to a battery-powered transmitter and communicate halfway around the world,” Sean Kutzko of the American Radio Relay League, the national association for Amateur Radio. “Hams do this by using a layer of Earth’s atmosphere as a sort of mirror for radio waves. In today’s electronic do-it-yourself (DIY) environment, ham radio remains one of the best ways for people to learn about electronics, physics, meteorology, and numerous other scientific disciplines, and is a huge asset to any community during disasters if the standard communication infrastructure goes down.”
Members of BARS will be participating in the national Amateur Radio Field Day exercise, a 24-hour exercise beginning at 1 p.m. June 24 and concluding June 25 at Meyer Park, 279 W Briarcliff, Bolingbrook. This event is open to the public and all are encouraged to attend.
Since 1933, ham radio operators across North America have established temporary ham radio stations in public locations during Field Day to showcase the science and skill of amateur radio. More than 35,000 people from thousands of locations participated in Field Day in 2016.
“It’s easy for anyone to pick up a computer or smartphone, connect to the Internet and communicate, with no knowledge of how the devices function or connect to each other,” said Kutzko. “But if there’s an interruption of service or you’re out of range of a cell tower, you have no way to communicate. Ham radio functions completely independent of the Internet or cell phone infrastructure, can interface with tablets or smartphones, and can be set up almost anywhere in minutes. That’s the beauty of amateur radio during a communications outage.”
Hageman explains that BARS members are trained in emergency preparedness and are ready to act and assist Bolingbrook first responders in the event of a disaster. BARS offers courses to become certified with FEMA and become FCC approved.
“We are able to go out there, set up and communicate to as many people are possible right on the spot,” sad Hageman. “People don’t often realize what happens if signals are lost. We saw that in events like Hurricane Katrina where ham radio was vital.”
However, it’s not just about coming through in an emergency, it’s also about social interaction and fun. For Hageman, who grew up in the days before cell phones, talking with someone from across the world on a radio was not an everyday occurrence.
“I was 16 when I got my license and I was a science nerd who loved math and electronics. Back then to communicate with Europe was a big deal and I was doing it on a ham radio. It was quite a thrill,” said Hageman.
Anyone may become a licensed amateur radio operator. There are more than 725,000 licensed hams in the United States, as young as five and as old as 100.
The Bolingbrook Amateur Radio Society meets at 7:30 p.m. on the third Monday of each month. Meetings are held at Fire Station #5 which is located at 1900 Rodeo Drive, Bolingbrook. Everyone is welcome to attend the meetings.