Ham radio operators test skills in case of emergency

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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Dozens of ham radio operators tested their skills all day and all night in Albemarle County. The Field Day 2019 operation started at 2 p.m. on Saturday and continued until 2 p.m. Sunday at the Earlysville Volunteer Fire Company.

John Porter, the public service chairman for the Albemarle Amateur Radio Club, was helping newcomers to make their first connection with someone using a ham radio. Just a couple of hours after the event started, the club had already made contact with other ham radio operators in dozens of states.

The goal of Field Day is to contact as many different stations around the country as possible.

"Just like in field day in grade school, you used to see who could run fastest and jump highest," Porter said. "Here we see who can talk the furthest, who can talk the fastest, who can make the most contacts. We will be getting points for every contact we make. Of course, we want to be number one."

But the event is not just about accumulating points. It is also about practicing skills that might be needed in an emergency.

"If we had a big earthquake or something bad that really knocked out the communications infrastructure in Virginia," Porter said, "so long as we can get a signal to someplace that isn't broken, we can get information out to people quickly."

Porter said the club conducted a test last week at several Albemarle County parks that allowed the radio operators to send messages through email. The radios run on generator power, or solar power, so they can continue to communicate even in a widespread power outage. They can also be set up quickly.

"This was an empty field this morning," Porter said, referring to the plot of grass behind the fire company. "Now it's tents, generators, tables, and lots and lots of radios."

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