Did you know there are a number of ham radio operators that work at AVI-SPL?
Ham radio (AKA amateur radio) is two-way radio communications for people to talk to friends across town, in another country or even orbiting the planet (yes, people can, and do, use ham radios in space!). The amateur radio frequencies are the last remaining place in the usable radio spectrum where individuals can develop and experiment with wireless communications.
When cell phones, land-line phones, the Internet and other systems are down or overloaded, amateur radio is a reliable communication method. The government gives many privileges to hams because they regularly assist the community during emergencies. They can play a major part in communications during virtually any catastrophe, from natural disasters (extreme weather like tornadoes or hurricanes, major earthquakes, tsunamis), or man-made problems (industrial accidents, chemical spills).
“The National Weather Service and other government entities cannot see what is happening on the ground during a disaster,” said Jim Kelly, AVI-SPL videoconferencing engineer. “They need real world feedback on what is happening. About 10 years ago North Carolina had several tornadoes come through so I reported back to the National Weather Service about the size of hail in addition to details about the shapes of the clouds.”
Tod Andrews, design engineer from our Columbia, MD office, recalls assisting in a natural disaster more than a decade ago. “I remember being the packet hub coordinator for health and welfare during the 1994 Northridge earthquake into the affected area. It felt really good to help so many families reconnect after an awful earthquake.”
Connie Valentine, AVI-SPL senior design engineer adds: “The storm watchers and the emergency people do it to help other people. The FCC is making a real effort to eliminate the radio bands that hams talk on. Cell phones have given a way for people to communicate easily, but in a real emergency, when the cell phone towers are down, the ham radio operators will be there.”
In addition to helping the community, Andrews also enjoys amateur radio as a hobby. “You can go camping and bring your ham gear; you can get involved in public safety with local officials. You can even communicate with the space shuttle or the International Space Station!”
Project Manager Doug Wilkens got involved in ham radio while growing up in India where his family was without much contact to the rest of the world. Wilkens began listening to BBC and Voice of America over a shortwave radio to stay connected. His interest in radios grew from there and he began building his own when he was still just a kid. When he returned to the U.S., Wilkens immediately began working on getting his ham radio license. Like all radio, Amateur Radio is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and must abide by international agreements.
“I wanted to be able to make my own transmissions to virtually anywhere in the world, just like the operators I listened to,” Wilkens said. “Now years later, I’ve made friends all over the world through ham radio.”
Kelly, Andrews, Valentine and Wilkens are a part of nearly 700,000 Amateur Radio operators in the U.S. and more than two million more around the world. Want to join this group of “hams” or learn more about amateur radio? The ARRL has some great resources on their website!