50 January 2018
THE HAM‘S WIRELESS WORKBENCH ; BY WARD SILVER N0AX
Similar circumstances are reported on the island of
Dominica and across the US Virgin Islands. Less than a
month before, Hurricane Irma flattened French St. Martin
and Barbuda, too. Let’s not forget the deluge Hurricane
Harvey dumped on Houston, either.
So, what takes the place of these important services
(power and communications) during a stricken area’s
Generators — large and small — have been shipped to
the islands for powering lights and refrigerators in homes
and businesses. For phone service and Internet, though,
there are no “Internet batteries” or “cell phone generators.”
Or, are there?
Science, Service, Skill
It’s important to consider what might happen to Nuts
& Volts readers following a similar disaster. Houston came
back to life pretty quickly because volunteers and supplies
could get there. That was a good response (well done!),
but there’s no guarantee of a similar response after the
“next one.” Furthermore, those of us fortunate enough
not to be affected might want to use our
technical talents to help.
This ham radio stuff sounded like it was
pretty valuable ... just what is it again? (A
broad overview of ham radio can be found
at www.arrl.org/what-is-ham-radio, but this
column speaks to the technical hobbyists
who read Nuts & Volts.)
There are lots of books and websites to
explain what ham radio is — like my Ham
Radio for Dummies, 2nd Edition. I won’t
duplicate that content here. This column is
for the technically-inclined reader who may
be thinking of getting their own license after
seeing the value of ham radio. I’ll touch on some of the
common technical tasks that need to get done during a
response or relief effort. Maybe you could do these jobs!
Ham radio and ham radio operators are amazing
resources, although not many people appreciate their
full abilities. Having an electronic or communications or
software background enables you to go beyond operating
the radio. You can build, install, maintain, and troubleshoot
these communication systems. Not only that, your skills
can be put to work supporting related efforts like network
and power systems.
Because you have learned how to “use stuff,” you
can configure, fix, and connect equipment. Experienced
hams — particularly technical hams — are not only valued
for their ham skills, but as “utility players” able to fill in and
make things work.
Bands and Privileges
Hams have access to bands of frequencies ranging
from 176 kHz through mm-wave bands above 100 GHz.
Each different band has unique characteristics that suit
Ham Radio in a Pinch
How can ham radio help you after disaster strikes?
What technical bits and pieces are needed?
s I write this article in mid-October of 2017, Puerto Ricans are still trying
to assess just how badly Hurricane Maria damaged their power and
communication networks. Reports are that for areas away from the main
population centers, reliable electrical service is still weeks (or months) away.
Internet access — at least over the wired networks previously in place — is
gone for at least as long. Cell phone service is slowly returning, but people
still have to hike to a high spot for a couple of bars of signal strength.
Table 1 — Basic Disaster Communications.
Long-distance voice Upper HF bands General Class
Regional voice Lower HF bands General Class
Local coordination and
VHF and UHF bands
Email networks, long-distance HF bands General Class
Email and networking, local Microwave bands Technician Class