Amateur radio operators across Northwestern Ontario geared up this week to test their emergency preparedness.
Disasters like forest fires or ice storms often disable conventional communications. This is where amateur radio comes in.
Using radio frequencies that can transmit over the horizon, amateur radio operators are able to communicate across the region and the country with nothing more than a battery, a long wire and a radio.
If the Internet is down in one area, amateur radio operators are able to send and receive e-mail amongst themselves, and to areas where the Internet is still available.
In this way, amateur radio is able to connect a community back to the outside world after it has been isolated by a natural disaster.
All of this takes training, practice and coordination, which is what this week's Simulated Emergency Test was about.
Amateur radio stations located in municipal Emergency Operations Centres across the region participated in a simulated emergency to practice their skills.
Stations in Atikokan, Sioux Narrows, Nestor Falls, Fort Frances, Dryden, Kenora and Thunder Bay participated.
In this exercise—a simulated forest fire that disabled communications in and around Sioux Narrows, operators practiced sending messages by voice and email, to coordinate assistance from neighbouring communities.
All this was done without traditional phone or Internet. In Fort Frances, operators Rod Davis (callsign VE3RYD), operator Bill Wishart (callsign VE3BVC), operator Frank Pasko (callsign VA3FNP), and operator Kyle Baldwin (callsign VE3KSB) worked out of the airport emergency amateur radio station, as the new station located at the Fort Frances Fire Hall (VA3EFF) was not totally up and running yet.
Roughly nine “hams” are active in Fort Frances area.
In Atikokan, operators Warren Paulson (callsign VE3FYN) and Jason Johnson (callsign VE3PEJ) worked out of an emergency amateur radio station located at the town hall.
Equipment in this station was funded jointly by the Town of Atikokan and the Atikokan Amateur Radio Club with the expectation that it will provide emergency communications for the town when needed.
Exercises like this ensure that the station functions well, and operators are trained.
Amateur radio operators are licensed by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (formerly Industry Canada), and must pass a rigorous test covering electronics, radio theory, operation and regulations.
Roughly eight “hams” are active in Atikokan.
If you are interested in learning more about amateur radio and how to get licensed, contact Warren Paulson at firstname.lastname@example.org.