The last weekend in June is the highlight of the year for the nation’s 700,000 amateur radio operators, or “hams,” as they are familiarly known,  including members of the Evanston Amateur Radio Community.

Dubbed “Field Day,” it’s a time when hams set up simulated emergency operations in public parks, beaches, mountaintops, baseball diamonds, atop parking garages, and yes, even in fields, and try to communicate with as many other Field Day locations as possible, earning points in the process from their national organization, the American Radio Relay League.

During a real emergency, such as a major snowstorm, hurricane, tornado, or a terriorist attack, one of the first casualties is an overwhelmed cell phone network that often fails at the point where the ability to communicate means the difference between life and death.

That’s why hams, operating with their own equipment using emergency power, have adopted the motto, “When all else fails…”

In Evanston, the 200 licensed hams in the community have organized with the express purpose of working with the city to be ready to provide emergency communications if and when the need arises.

To hone their emergency operating skills, they participate in simulated statewide tests, conduct weekly “nets,” and have a nationwide fun activity, complete with picnics and family events on this June weekend.

The Field Day tent set up by the Evanston Amateur Radio Community near the Civic Center.

Local hams set up their emergency equipment Saturday adjacent to the city’s emergency operations center near the Morton Civic Center. With sufficient volunteers, they hope to operate through the night until the national Field Day event ends at 1 p.m. Sunday.

During the year, the local hams meet regularly, usually the last Monday of each month, at the Fire Department training room at 909 Lake St., with programs designed to help them upgrade their emergency communication skills and gear.

The arrangement is cost-effective for the city, as the hams use their own equipment at their own expense. In fact, federal regulations effectively prohibit hams from profiting monetarily from their hobby.

EARC President Scott Irwin, W8UFO, makes the first contact in the 2012 Field Day competition.

From time to time, the local group conducts classes to help potential hams study for the federal examination required to obtain a license. 

Until 2006, a test of proficiency in sending and receiving Morse code was a requirement for some licenses, but that has now been waived. Since then, the number of licensees has grown steadily from a yearend low of 655,000 in 2007 to 704,000 at the end of March, 2012.

More information about the local group is available on its website.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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