Hurricane season is here. That means a threat of power being knocked out and a loss of telephone service due to a severe storm. Reliable communications are imperative during such an emergency, and licensed amateur radio operators are one of the key sources for first responders communicating with each other.

Amateur or Ham radio operators have been around for about a century. The Orange Amateur Radio Club was chartered in 1957 and is part of the larger American Radio Relay League (ARRL) which was founded in 1914. The Orange Club started as a civil defense organization and currently has 45 members. Nationwide there are over 750,000 Hams. Other nations have similar organizations.

The term Ham actually originated as a belittling tag put on amateur radio operators, much like an actor being called a "ham". Amateur radio operators have embraced the nickname and given it a positive meaning with the service they provide especially when a hurricane or other disaster hits an area.

Mike Manshack is the public information coordinator for the Orange Amateur Radio Club. Manshack said the hams are prepared for hurricanes and their impact on the community. "Knowing were going to have a disaster here, all our guys are staged outside the affected area, and after the hurricane passes through then well have a group of guys that will come in assess the site, report back to our emergency coordinators, and from that point on its transferred over to the local EOCs for any updates," Manshack explained.

Special measures are taken to make sure the hams can communicate with first responders, according to Manshack. "We have special frequencies that we use, a meeting place to go to, and all our guys are staged with emergency backup power," Manshack said. "Our local police and emergency management folks are in constant contact with us, so were deployed out if we need to. Most of the times we stay with the EOCs, or Emergency Operation Centers."

Many years ago Manshack knew some amateur radio operators and became interested in becoming a ham radio operator. He enrolled in a course at Beaumont on being an amateur radio operator, took a test, got his FCC license, and has been a ham ever since.

Amateur radio operators keep in touch with fellow hams from places across the nation. More powerful radios allow hams to talk to operators overseas in Europe. Manshack said he even had club members in Orange that communicated with astronauts in the space shuttle. He said many astronauts are hams.

If being an amateur radio operator has an appeal for you, the ARRL will hold its annual national field day June 22-23. The Orange Club will stage its field day at the Student Center of Lamar State College-Orange from 11 AM on Saturday, June 22, to Sunday, June 23, at 11 AM. Manshack said visitors are welcome and will be allowed to actually sit behind the radios and talk with people from as far away as Europe even. Refreshments will be served according to Manshack.

The field day will also be good preparation for the club to be ready in case there is an emergency. The exercise consists of about 35,000 radio operators across the United States participating. Manshack said, "It is to exercise our equipment, critique it, see what we need to do to make it better, and to have it for emergency backup communications for our emergency operation center, Red Cross, Salvation Army, whoever needs us the most." Manshack recalled previous field day exercises where the local club contacted between 800 to 900 operators in a single 24-hour period.

Again the Field Day for amateur radio operators will be Saturday, June 22, beginning at 11 AM at the Student Center of Lamar State College-Orange and is open to the public.

-Dan Perrine, KOGT-