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Members of Antietam Radio Association display ham radio emergency response skills during Field Day

June 25, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER | kate.alexander@herald-mail.com

LEITERSBURG — "We have a saying," Bob Long said. "When all else fails — amateur radio."

Disaster can silence communication in an instant, but just a little box, hooked to an antenna drawing a few watts of power, and a ham — as amateur radio operators often are called — can send messages across the globe, said Long of Mount Aetna.

"A small antenna pulling enough power for a nightlight and I can talk to Russia," he said.

Long and about 30 other amateur radio operators from the Antietam Radio Association gathered Saturday at Leitersburg Ruritan Community Park to compete in a nationwide event known as Field Day.

To the untrained eye, the set up at the hilltop park might not look like much.

Nothing matched. Bright bungee cords held systems together. A few skinny poles sprung out of the grass.

Yet for 24 hours, local hams joined about 35,000 others across the country to put their emergency response skills on display.

Field Day is hosted by the American Radio Relay League and challenges hams to make as many connections as possible in a 24-hour period, said Butch Eigenbrode of Smithsburg.

While the event is fun for those who have made amateur radio a hobby, it also is practical.

According to the ARRL website, www.arrl.org, the objective is to work as many stations as possible on any and all amateur bands to learn to operate in abnormal situations in less than optimal conditions. It also is a public demonstration of ham radio's emergency capabilities.

Modern communication systems are not disaster-proof, said Sam Anderson, emergency planner with the Washington County Division of Emergency Services.

"Everything we have — landlines, satellite phones, cell phones and radios — can go down during disaster," he said. "At least we know that a simple amateur radio with an antenna can suck enough power out of a generator to get our message out."

Anderson, the public and other local officials were invited to come see the setup and experience the event Saturday, Eigenbrode said.

While Field Day only is held once a year, amateur radio operators train frequently to be available to transmit messages for emergency response, Long said.

"We are messengers," he said. Gesturing to Anderson, he continued by saying, "In an emergency, he says, 'I need this (message) sent.' Our responsibility is to deliver a carbon copy of that message."

On Saturday, the operators were sending a simple message as part of Field Day that included their class and signal report, Eigenbrode said.

The event started Saturday at 2 p.m. and continues through today at 2 p.m.

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