Stray Signals

Ham radio operators are ‘safety net’ during storms –

During tropical storms and other weather emergencies, a network of broadcasters often serve as a communications “safety net.” 

There are three amateur radio clubs in Charlotte County: the Peace River Radio Association, the Englewood Amateur Radio Society and the Charlotte Amateur Radio Club.

There are more than 30 amateur radio clubs in Southwest Florida and surrounding areas with almost 800 registered hams in the Federal Communications Commission database for Charlotte County, not including seasonal residents.

Hams are licensed and monitored by the FCC.

There are different classes of licenses for ham operators ranging from basic to expert. More advanced licenses allow for additional operating privileges such as more frequency bands and power. Each license requires a written exam dealing with electronics, operating standards and federal regulations.

“When Charlotte County activates the Emergency Operations Center for a hurricane, amateur radio operators are called upon to man radios that connect our operations center with shelters, hospitals, and other EOCs,” said Gerard Mallet, the county’s emergency management director.

While the county uses many forms of communications — landline, cell, satellite phones and government radio systems — Mallet said amateur radio can fill the gap if those fail.

“(Ham radio) is often our safety net of communications when all other services fail due to weather or other disasters,” said Glenn Tuttle, 68, a retired FBI agent living in Punta Gorda Isles, who operates under the call name KPK.

Amateur radio, or ham radio, operators use a radio frequency spectrum for the non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, private recreation, radio-sport, contesting and emergency communication.

“If communications were to shut down for any reason such as during a hurricane, then high frequency or other radio services would be what people relied on to communicate with the police, the fire department, the Red Cross, FEMA, etc.,” Tuttle said. 

Ronnie Farley, call sign KG4QIV and president of PRRA, said most emergency deployments, such as during hurricanes, will last several days to weeks. Operators must be mobile to cover the needs as they would change in an evolving emergency.

“Maybe your command center gets flooded and you need to pick up and move to another location,” Farley said. “I feel that the clubs provide the glue that pulls together the amateur community and allows resources to be directed as needed.”

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