Ham radio group organizes locally

Published 5:43 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Local amateur radio operators have formed a club to keep county residents in communication with the outside world, especially during another emergency situation, and among emergency responders in the county and elsewhere.

The main objective of the Pearl River County Amateur Radio Club is to give residents a hobby that’s useful in the real world. Backing up emergency communications is also a nice plus.

After Hurricane Katrina passed through town, what remained of the communications system within the county was stretched thin since it was shared by everybody in the county, said club member James Searcy.

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One form of communication was still working well after the storm, though, Searcy said. Now there are plans to try to get more volunteer fire fighters and residents licensed as amateur radio operators, or hams, Searcy said.

Students in the classes are required to learn Morse Code, he said.

“You’re learning an international language,” Searcy said.

Club member Larry Wagoner said that existing emergency radios could be modified with little work to utilize the amateur radio band.

In order for an amateur radio operator to be licensed he or she must first go through classes and take a test for each level of certification, Wagoner said.

The possibility of amateur radio operators doubling as dispatchers in emergency situations has been discussed with Emergency Management Director Bobby Strahan, club member David Moore said. However, club members would need extensive training to perform that task, Moore said.

Another service ham operators could perform would deal with weather service information. The operation could link with the National Weather Service in Slidell to provide emergency responders with vital weather information, Moore said. Many communities in Florida are already doing this, he said.. The Pearl River County Amateur Radio Club will discuss the plan with Strahan to see what it would take to implement, he said.

For the future, Searcy wants to boost the signal transfer of operations with a larger antenna, extending the coverage of the repeater. The ideal solution would be to place a good antenna on a high location with a VHF transmitter with at least 100 watts of transmitting power, Searcy said. A UHF link would be needed to connect substations in the county, he said. This set up, along with other sophisticated modifications, would provide county wide coverage, he said.

The club was formed about a month ago, and holds weekly radio meetings for two-meter radio operators at 7:30 p.m. every Thursday. Licensed operators can join in via the Searcy-owned Poplarville repeater at a frequency of 145.210 to transmit and 144.610 to receive, with an encoder tone for access at 136.5 megahertz, Wagoner said.

Club members elected Max McCumber as president, Carolyn Nelson as secretary, Wagoner as vice president and Roger Aubert as treasurer during the meeting held on Friday.

Members urge any licensed ham operators, or those who would like to become one, to attend their meetings or classes. Classes will be taught by volunteer firefighters, and interested parties can call 601-795-0804. The class is free, but testing has a small fee, Searcy said. Interested parties who may have trouble covering the cost of the test may be able to find financial help, Searcy said.

Meetings will be held the first Monday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Milliard jail court room. For more information, call 601-798-0804.