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
, 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.