Over at her blog, Tam relates observing a particularly new and specialized kind of holster-sniffer: a (possible ham) radio enthusiast with a DHS yen.
While guys like that are sometimes encountered in ham radio, along with a gun-show level of OFWGism, there is one difference: some of those fellows with antenna-bristling cars are doing Good And Useful Work.
Storm-spotting, for instance; about 50 percent of all Skywarn storm-spotters are amateur radio operators and in some place --Indiana, for instance -- well more than half of the information passed to the National Weather Service comes in via ham radio.
The Feds have a whole volunteer organization of amateurs, signed up, trained and on-tap for Federally-declared emergencies. In WW II, it took half a year (at least) from the wartime shut-down of ham radio to the formation of the War Emergency Radio Service, which provided communications for natural disasters and in support of Civil Defense efforts. That seems a bit long, so the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service was formed in 1952, unfortunate acronym and all.
For emergencies of less-than-WW II scope, a parallel organization set up and run by the U.S. and Canadian national ham clubs (ARRL and RAC, respectively) called ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) provides communication support.
What do RACES and ARES do, exactly? After all, police/fire/EMT services have their own radios these days, with local coverage every bit as good as any bunch of hobbyists, right? Yep; but A) they're not the only game in town (a prominent example, check your local Red Cross building for antennas; they make extensive use of ham volunteers in emergencies); B) there's a lot of admin traffic that normally uses the telephone or internet and while a lot of it may go by the wayside in an emergency, there's still plenty left; C) there are a great deal of "welfare" messages in and out of a disaster area; if there is telephone service, it is often overwhelmed and if there isn't -- in either case, there's ham radio, with yet another bunch of volunteers, who relay messages for the fun of it; outside of emergencies, they're by law about trivial matters only -- "Having a wonderful time, wish you were here" -- but after a hurricane or whatever, it may be the only way Great-Uncle Hank can tell you he's okay.
Mind you, any of these organizations can be clique-y; no doubt some of the membership are outright, monomanical geeks. But it's geekery in harness and when it is needed, it pulls its own weight.
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