Who are these hams anyway?
Amateur radio operators come from all walks of life, all age brackets, and even all response disciplines.
The ham may be your neighbor, your church member, your coworker, your civic group member.
Many hams are members of Community Emergency Response Teams, Medical Reserve Corp, Neighborhood Watch, or professional police, fire, medical personnel.
They enjoy a robust hobby, from Morse code operation to bouncing signals off the Moon and other celestial bodies to developing new communication technologies to developing new uses for old technology. Their orbiting satellites extend the range of their hand-held radios and those in their cars, these satellites have predated SATphones and operate at a lower cost.
When referring to amateur radio operators, i.e. hams, Part 97 of the Federal Communications Commission is their Bible just as Part 90 impacts public safety channels.
How does this work and how do they help with alerts and warnings?
Amateur radio operators have an Automatic Packet Reporting System (http://www.aprs.fi) allowing properly equipped mobile stations to be tracked around the planet. From one side of the country to another and internationally thanks to satellites and the Internet, a vehicle can be observed moving across the land.
Stations with APRS also get weather warnings from the National Weather Service which are instantly rebroadcast in digital form. Many of the hams conventional repeaters have Weather Service radios linked to them to alert when severe weather is in the area.
These same amateur radio operators enjoy a viable relationship with the National Weather Service so much that NWS has developed the Skywarn™ program to recognize the efforts of volunteer storm spotters and offer training to local Skywarn™ programs. In Oklahoma, from Altus to Tulsa, hams are involved in their local emergency management program to support Skywarn™ activities.
These hams are often the only voice the “Scanner Listener” can hear to learn about what has happened and where to get help.
Hams do this training and spend their own money for radios they use to help their local community. Through the ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES), the majority of dollars into these programs comes from private donations, including those from the operators themselves.
In short, hams give you value given the cost and should not be ignored as a valued resource in the response, planning, mitigation, and recovery efforts.
For more information the central ham organizations is the American Radio Relay League (http://www.arrl.org) and they are valued members of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (http://www.nvoad.org)
Lloyd Colston is emergency manager for City of Altus Emergency Management, a Public Information Coordinator with the American Radio Relay League, and an Incident Command System instructor. He Tweets from @KC5FM as an amateur radio operator with over 40 years experience.