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Ham radio station improves preparedness

March 6, 2008

Ham radio station improves preparedness

While preparing for a home renovation project in 2001, Doug Oakman, dean of the humanities division, came across the shortwave radio he built in high school. The radio and its wooden case were damaged, and it had been 30 years since Oakman operated the device. Regardless, he opted to repair the radio and get his amateur radio operator license.

“One of the great  joys I find in amateur radio is you have the privilege of talking to anyone in the world you can reach,” he said.

Amateur radio, often called ham radio, is both a hobby and a service that allows operators to communicate with one another. The term “amateur” doesn’t reflect an operator’s skills. Rather, it indicates that amateur radio communications can’t be commercialized.

Oakman now has a collection of shortwave radios, including one in his PLU office. He estimates there are three million amateur radio operators in the world, with more than 600,000 in the United States.

Plans are currently in the works to install an amateur radio station on campus this summer, which Oakman co-chairs with Rob Benton, facilities’ auto mechanic and licensed operator. KPLU’s engineer Nick Winter is the station trustee.

While the funding has yet to be approved, the stations’ call sign, W7PLU, has been licensed and an operator licensing course for students, faculty and staff was offered in April. The course prepared and licensed volunteers to operate the station, which is also part of the PLU Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

Those interested in volunteering at the station can email Campus community members who are already licensed as amateur radio operators (technician, general or extra class) are also asked to contact the station at the above e-mail address.

Currently, the EOC relies on computers and cell phones to function. In the event of a catastrophic event, it’s likely cell phones, the Internet and possibly satellite phones won’t work, Oakman said, pointing to Hurricane Katrina as an example. Shortwave radios may be the only means of communication available.

“There has never been a time in any disaster when amateur radio operators weren’t operating,” Benton said. The radios are portable and don’t rely on a network since radio waves exist in the natural world.

PLU’s station will have two radios that can operate simultaneously on various frequencies. The operators will be able to connect with Willamette University in Oregon, PLU’s emergency partner, and the Pierce County amateur radio system.

Oakman and Benton have further hopes that PLU’s station could spark the formation of a new student club. There’s been interest in the past, and the club would expose students to world cultures and geographic locations, along with promoting “global goodwill,” Oakman said.

“Students can acquire skills that are both rewarding on a personal level and also are generally rewarding for the community,” Oakman added.

For more information about amateur radio, visit the National Association for Amateur Radio Web site.