EMA/RACES test ham radio signals for reception across county

By Julie Fann
star staff

Members of the organization Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES) and officials with the Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Management Agency (E/CCEMA) on Tuesday evening conducted a drill to test mobile-to-mobile ham radio signals throughout the county for reception in the event of a total black-out.
   "It went extremely well," said RACES President Richard Hicks following the drill. "Everyone throughout the county was able to communicate with each other."
   Hicks, Constable for the 6th District, is acting as the liaison between the EMA and RACES, a group of ham radio operators backed by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) who have donated their services for local emergency planning.
   "We set up a situation where we could talk to the main headquarters (EMA office in the Carter County courthouse) in Elizabethton. It's called Simplex, a mobile-to-mobile system that doesn't use any repeaters, in case of a total black-out in the county," Hicks said. "The test was to determine how many people we actually need and where to station them so that the signal transfers back to the main office."
   RACES members, roughly 12 men that Hicks hand-picked himself, were stationed in vehicles at ten different locations throughout the county at 6 p.m. Some men acted as relay messengers in more remote locations in the event that a signal didn't transfer.
   Locations, which would also serve as emergency Red Cross shelters in the event of a catastrophe, included Little Milligan Elementary School (with a relay operator stationed at Fish Springs Baptist Church), Cloudland High School (with a relay operator stationed at Whiteway Grill) Hampton Elementary, Central Elementary, Happy Valley High School, Unaka High School, and Elizabethton High School.
   "We use ham radios that operate on low power and that have different power settings. These radios can be hooked up to a car battery with an outside antennae," Hicks said. "If necessary, we can also place antennas on school flag poles so that the signal will reach farther."
   The success of the drill made it possible to officially activate the county-wide communication system for emergency purposes in the event of a disaster. A chief advantage to the system is that ham radio signals are numerous and not congested, an occurrence that often happens to telephone lines during an emergency such as Sept. 11, 2001.
   Ham radio operators receive their license from testing officials with the Federal Communications Center (FCC) who are stationed in regions throughout the nation.