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HAM operators stand ready in case of disaster

Amateur radio may be the only communication left after major calamity
The HAM radio room at the Sooke Fire Rescue station could be the last line of communication after a disaster happens. (Tim Collins / Sooke News Mirror)

Ed Gorse has been involved in amateur radio since before Sooke was officially established.

More than 37 years after first licensed as a ham operator (that’s the common term for amateur radio operators), Gorse continues to stand ready to be the last line of communication in the case of a major disaster that could wipe out all other methods of communication.

“We have six people in Sooke who form the Sooke Emergency Group. We get together every Wednesday evening at the communications room at the fire hall to practice our skills and make sure that we’re ready, if and when we’re needed,” said Gorse.

“The services provided by these ham operators have the potential for being a critical link to the outside world in the case that communications are cut with the rest of the world.”

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Gorse said that while B.C. Ambulance, fire departments and police all have radios that operate through the CREST system, there is always the possibility that the system could fail, depending on the severity of the event.

In the case of a major earthquake, for example, there is a possibility that the HAM operators, operating through repeater stations across the province, could be the only long-distance communication left.

“People don’t realize that we are not only able to talk to others, we can also communicate through emails, retrieve data… essentially do everything needed to communicate with the outside world,” said Gorse.

That communication is done through a service called Winlink. That’s an all-volunteer project of the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation, Inc., a non-profit public benefit corporation to which the Sooke group has access.

“The bottom line is that, if there’s no internet or telephones, we can still operate,” said Gorse. “We have batteries to keep us going and a generator that can provide power in the case of a lengthy power outage.”

Sooke Fire Rescue Chief Kenn Mount said that the group would be an indispensable component of the district’s emergency plans, should Sooke be hit with a major catastrophe.

“These people have a lot of experience, and are very professional in their approach,” said Mount.

“They are also very technically savvy and would be able to respond to challenges that could arise after a disaster. These are guys who can jury rig antennas, fix radios, basically respond, no matter what happens. That’s the kind of people you’ll want around if the worst happens.”

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