ham radio

Skagit Ham Radio club members Jay Ham, Jim Irving and Henry Parsons examine the club’s new repeater last week. The repeater, to be installed on Mount Erie, improves distance and reliability.

Disaster can cripple a world reliant on cell phones, computers and electric power, but local ham radio operators have taken steps to help ensure emergency communication in a crisis.

The Skagit Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Club, or Skagit Ham Radio, recently bought a new repeater for the top of Mount Erie with help of grants from Shell Puget Sound Refinery and Puget Sound Energy.

The new repeater will increase radio signal coverage and provide more reliability, said club member Richard Rodriguez.

“Ham radio is always there,” he said.

The club hopes to install the repeater at the base of Mount Erie at 1,300 feet, and then an antenna another 100 feet atop a tower owned by PSE, by year’s end.

“The radios we use are pretty much line-of-sight, so the higher you get with an antenna, the more range,” he said.

The club’s mission is to assist with backup communications during disasters, when cell phones and landlines are down.

“We can not only send voice messages, we can send text messages and email to other radio stations in the county,” he said.

Members meet with Anacortes Mayor Laurie Gere each month to coordinate response.

“In times of need, these folks are going to be there,” Gere said during a grant presentation to club members from Shell at the Nov. 21 City Council meeting.

The new repeater, which allows operators to receive messages on one channel and rebroadcast on another, is much more powerful than hand-held radios, 100 watts compared to 5 watts, said club member Jay Ham. Messages may be able to reach as far as Seattle now, he said.

Brenna Clairr O’Tierney, external relations manager at Shell, said the repeater will eliminate gaps in radio communication in Skagit County, not just Anacortes.

“This community needs reliable coverage during an earthquake or flood to be able to assist police, fire, hospital personnel and other first responders,” she said.

Each week, about 25 of the club’s 140 members take part in a four-county roll call to test their radios for when a disaster hits.

“We know the earthquake is coming, and the police and fire departments are going to be overloaded,” said club member Henry Parsons.

Both Rodriguez and club member Jim Irving say they remember using ham radio during the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.

Ham radio operators must earn a license before they can get on the air.

The club hosts certification classes periodically for aspiring operators. Contact club president Peter Witheford at 360-391-5750 for information.

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