Ham radio club drills for potential disasters

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In the woods at Pohick Bay Park on Saturday, members of the Mount Vernon Amateur Radio Club were preparing for the next disaster with their Ham radios and gas generators. It was part of a larger 24-hour test by radio clubs all across the country that use the old school methods with dots and dashes which could be needed in new school emergencies.

The Mount Vernon club has 140 members around the country, but about 50 in the immediate area. Club member Carol Cutchall is from Lorton, while Brennen Ernst, 14, is from Leesburg and club secretary Bob Raevis is from Alexandria. Other area amateur radio clubs include another club in Alexandria, as well as Fairfax, Vienna and Prince William. They all participated in this drill on Saturday, where club members gained points toward their rankings in the American Radio Relay League, (AARL) their main affiliate.

The AARL is based in Newington, Conn. and has 156,000 members nationwide. The league represents amateur radio interests to regulatory bodies, and supports a number of educational programs throughout the country.

Its the NRA of radio, said Howell Crim, the Mount Vernon branch vice president. This field day was the 75th event of its kind for AARL.

Alternate sources
At the park, members erected several temporary antennas and set up stations in a camp sight where radio operators tuned in to conversations at random. Radio operators stayed in contact with each other all night using alternate power sources in case they were in a situation where there was no electricity. At one table, Ernst sat at one table dotting and dashing away. Morse code seems so outdated compared to cell phones, text messaging and email, but Ernst said he can send 30 words a minute and receive 25. Recently, on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Morse code experts competed against text messengers on Blackberrys and the Morse coders beat them decidedly.

Its still a superior way of communicating, said Cutchall.

In the past, the Mount Vernon Amateur Radio Club helped in the 9/11 emergency at the Pentagon, as well as when a tornado hit La Plata, Md., a few years ago. Although theyve always been referred to as ham radio operators, no one knows exactly what ham stands for. Nobody seems to know, said Cutchall.

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