Despite the Internet, cell phones, e-mail and modern communications, every year entire regions find themselves in the dark, said Derek Augsburger, emergency coordinator for the Adams County ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) team.
"Tornadoes, fires, storms, ice and even the occasional cutting of fiber optic cables leave people without the means to communicate," Augsburger said.
"In these cases, the one consistent service that has never failed has been amateur radio. These radio operators, often called “hams,” provide backup communications for everything from the American Red Cross to FEMA and even for the International Space Station."
Adams County "hams" gathered last weekend on the grounds of Decatur's sewage treatment plant for a Field Day, the climax of the week-long Amateur Radio Week sponsored by the ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio.
Using only emergency power supplies, ham operators constructed emergency stations in parks, shopping malls, schools and backyards around the country. Their slogan, "When All Else Fails, Ham Radio Works” is more than just words to the hams as they prove they can send messages in many forms without the use of phone systems, internet or any other infrastructure that can be compromised in a crisis, Augsburger explained.
More than 35,000 amateur radio operators across the country participated in the 2011 event.
Augsburger said amateur radio is growing in the US. There are now over 700,000 amateur radio licensees in the US, and more than 2.5 million around the world. Through the ARRL’s Amateur Radio Emergency Services program, ham volunteers provide both emergency communications for thousands of state and local emergency response agencies and non-emergency community services too, all for free.
The Adams County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) also took part in Saturday's event, as it did on Sunday for an exercise involving the Adams County CERT (Community Emergency Response Team).