Local amateur radio enthusiasts – from the Pasadena Radio Club, JPL Amateur Radio Club, and Caltech Amateur Radio Club, among several others, – will be practicing their craft and honing their emergency communication skills this weekend, June 25 to 26, in an event known as Field Day.
What’s unique about this weekend’s exercise is that most of the radio enthusiasts will be using emergency power, said district emergency coordinator for the Los Angeles Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) Northeast district Oliver Dully, call sign K6OLI.
“The purpose of this event is to try out amateur radio operations without power preferably,” Dully said. “So setting up as it says in the field, one of the key points of amateur radio is preparedness. And so one of the goals there is to be able to operate even when commercial power or regular power is gone. That’s what’s being tested by many stations this weekend.”
Dully stressed that one of the other objectives of Field Day is to remind people that during a disaster, one of the services that would be negatively impacted would be communications.
“In our case, we would actually activate during a large earthquake or in other situations where commercial communications options have failed or need to be rebuilt,” Dully added. “We would bridge the gap by providing the local communications between the hospitals, between various hospitals and between the hospitals and the Medical Alert Center, which is the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) for LA county hospitals. So that is one of the things that we practice.”
Field Day is an annual exercise during which amateur radio groups across the United States and Canada compete to make the greatest number of contacts as a demonstration of their teamwork and operating skill. In the U.S., Field Day is typically the largest single emergency preparedness exercise, with over 30,000 operators participating each year.
Field Day is coordinated by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national organization representing ham radio enthusiasts throughout the U.S. As set down by the ARRL, Field Day will be from 11 a.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Pasadena Radio Club president Jim Marr, call sign AA6QI, explained in detail what will be happening during the over 24-hour event.
“Sometime early in the morning on Saturday, the 26th, people would begin setting up, whether they’re doing it in the field, like one of the groups at JPL, they’re actually going up to a site near Mount Pinos where they’ll be setting up,”Marr said. “They’ll bring all the equipment, antennas, radios, food, toilet facilities, everything that you would need to go to a site during an emergency. And once they’re all set up starting at 11 o’clock PDT, they would begin contacting other stations in North America and Canada.”
Marr said the stations will be exchanging a particular set of information, telling the other station how many transmitters they have on the air and what class of operation they are.
“There are six classes and they’re located in one of the American radio relay league sections, or one of the Royal amateur Royal Canadian amateur radio sections in Canada,” Marr continued. “They’ll operate then for 24 hours making a record of every contact that they’ve made and what that exchange is. And then at the end, they’ll tear everything down, pack it up and go home.”
Last year, about 26,000 individuals took part on Field Day, Marr said. That was out of about 700,000 radio amateurs in the U.S. and an estimated two million worldwide.
Many of the radio enthusiasts participating in Field Day will be testing not only their radio base sets or handheld radios but also their batteries and solar power supply systems, if they’re available. Field Day would actually be simulating a crisis situation when most commercial power sources, and most commercial cell sites, would be out of service.
Bruce Nolte, call sign N1BN, a member of the Pasadena Radio Club, said amateur radio remains to be the most complete and comprehensive communication system that can work off the grid.
“If the power is out, if the Internet’s down, if the cell systems are down, our radios still work,” Nolte said. “Most of the repeaters that we have available have backup power. The one in Pasadena here has backup power. So there’s a good chance even after an earthquake that our radio systems will still be working.”
Local radio enthusiasts don’t limit their practice to Field Day, but regularly hone their skills to be ready to respond anytime. In Altadena, the Altadena Emergency Response Team (ALERT) meets every Monday night to reach out to surrounding areas.
“So if there was an earthquake, we already know how far we can reach, which frequencies to use,” said team leader for ALERT Nancee Darling, call sign K8NBD. “We are familiar with the other radio operators that are out there so that we know we can check. I mean, basically TV will not be working. Frequencies will be working, especially simplex, which means without repeaters. And we can listen to what’s going on by amateur radio operators.”
Darling is also a member of the Pasadena Radio Club. The Club calls this year’s Field Day a “special pandemic-enabled Field Day,” when members won’t be assembling in-person for a massive event like they did in 2019 at the ArtCenter College of Design. Instead, each member will be operating from his own location and setting up his own system, including the method of logging contacts.
But it would still be typical on the weekend to see small teams of operators camped out around Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley and trying out their equipment. In these small gatherings, young people in the community and others who want to learn about amateur radio will be welcome to watch and listen in as the operators practice their craft.
This year, participants will be trying out more modern equipment, such as radios that can transmit digital voice and images, without having to use commercial internet services. Some Pasadena Radio Club members have been experimenting with Winlink, which allows amateur operators to send pictures and text.
“It’s basically the internet over the radio,” Marr said. “It does everything you can do on an internet, but over the radio – doesn’t use any wires anywhere so that people can put messages into what’s known as the National Traffic System, which is sponsored by the ARRL. All of these groups will send messages to other people through the National Traffic System to practice using that system.”
The Pasadena Radio Club and other communication groups in the San Gabriel Valley frequently hold seminars or orientation sessions where they encourage more and more people to learn about the importance of radio communications. For Bruce Nolte at the Pasadena Radio Club, amateur radio is a pursuit that’s available to anybody who’s interested.
“It doesn’t matter whether your age or specific background,” Notle said. “There are people of all ages and backgrounds that are in amateur radio. Some of the astronauts that fly in the international space station are amateur radio operators. And there’s other notable people, some celebrities, such as the late Senator Barry Goldwater, who was a really topnotch amateur radio operator among the others. So it just sort of cuts across all society.”
Altadena Emergency Response Team (ALERT), Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) Los Angeles, and the South Pasadena Amateur Radio Club (SPARC) will also be part of the field day exercise this weekend, said Marr.
The ARRL has set up a page where radio enthusiasts and others who are interested can get guidelines and useful information about Field Day this weekend. Visit the site at www.arrl.org/field-day.
To learn more about the Pasadena Radio Club, visit their website, https://w6ka.net.