During an emergency such as an earthquake or wildfire, an effective communication tool is critical to an effective response. That is why some Coastsiders are training on the old art of amateur radio to prepare for the inevitable natural disaster that may cause the coast to lose power and access to cellphone towers for extended periods of time.
Half Moon Bay’s Amateur Radio Club formed about two decades ago for those interested in radio communications as a hobby. More than just a place for those interested in all things electronic, the club’s become a grassroots communication system that could be crucial in a coastal emergency.
In the event of a disaster, cellphones and social media could be one casualty. That’s where amateur radio, or ham radio, is of service. Ham radio works through certain designated radio frequencies so that operators can exchange messages. Today, the Federal Communications Commission regulates all ham radio stations.
Half Moon Bay’s club consists of about 35 members who meet once a month at the Coastside Emergency Operations Center, next to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s substation. The group focuses on various projects and conducts call-outs and training exercises with the county Office of Emergency Services.
“Basically, it’s a roll call and check-in,” said longtime club member Paul Grigorieff. “In an emergency, when no other communications work, we can still maintain a network of communications that can be used to provide assistance.”
Radio operators practice their skills during Coastside events such as the Half Moon Bay Marathon and the Devil’s Slide Ride. Radio operators are positioned at aid stations on race courses to act as a support system during each event.
“So it is a well-policed, well-disciplined communication scheme we would use during an emergency,” said the club’s secretary, Lee Copeland. Copland’s been trained in amateur radio since 2010 and said he was first interested in the hobby because of his background in electronics.
The club uses two open repeater systems covering the Coastside with antennas located at the Half Moon Bay Sheriff’s substation. If an earthquake disrupted traditional communication methods, a network would be established with a ham operator based at the Emergency Operations Center and others. This keeps the communication focused, with the designated operator funneling the information to first responders.
This month the club will participate in an annual event involving all ham radio groups throughout the country. It’s called a field day exercise. On Saturday and Sunday, radio club members will practice setting up their antennas, generators, radios and cables in the parking lot at Venice Beach in Half Moon Bay. For 24 hours, members will participate in an emergency preparedness exercise involving over 30,000 operators.
“It’s to simulate what might happen during a major disaster,” said club member and radio officer Brian Hunt.
Ham operators and the public are invited to come witness how the system works, ask questions and learn about the communication method.
Ham radio operators are required to take a two-day course and pass a test to receive a radio license.
For more information, visit hmbarc.org.