Hurricane Sandy knocked out approximately one fourth of all cell sites across ten states, according to the Washington Post. What’s more, nearly the same amount of cable customers lost their service as well. But there’s one group that likely fared better than others: ham radio operators.
The storm highlighted just how much we rely on technology, as well as how much we take it for granted. It wasn’t unusual for New Yorkers to walk miles in search of places to charge their cell phones, often finding creative ways to get power. People took turns charging their devices in cars, via ad hoc sidewalk chargers from food trucks, or finding rare buildings with power and all manner of extensions, outlets and adapters snaking out the front door to a waiting throng. Even solar panels got a work out.
Despite all of our advances in communication technology, when the chips were literally down, we were nearly out of luck. However, amateur radio operators — or “Hams” for short — are a committed group of people who have been dealing with the issues of outages and their solutions for decades.
Hams are the quintessential portable, do-it-yourself, mobile developers. Granted, up until recently, they’ve been mostly focused on hardware but as desktops and notebooks have become as common as radios and televisions, so have they appeared in the Hams’ bag of tricks.
They’re best known for building and operating low power, two-way radios, packet radios (digital), satellite communication systems, and sometimes even use Morse code. They have an annual “field day” where they all agree to go off the grid, live in semi-primitive conditions and talk to each other over the radio. It’s a great way to shake out emergency communications processes and build camaraderie.
It’s no surprise, then, that in times of disaster, one of the things Hams do is provide emergency communications service, and it’s mostly volunteer. We probably have a few Hams among Dice readers, who were likely lending a hand during the Sandy event.
As the northeastern part of the United States recovers from the hurricane, it seems that there could be real opportunities to create more solutions to the monumental challenges we face when everything goes dark.
If you are a mobile developer looking to expand your hardware, electronics and radio frequency knowledge, you may be saving lives by adding amateur radio operator to your skill set.
- American Radio Relay League [ARRL.org]
Image: KG6QHK_station [Wikimedia Commons]