When modern methods of communication fail during a time of emergency, having a contingency plan can help maintain order. For the Greater Damascus area, that plan relies on that old standby, the ham radio.
The Damascus Emergency Communications Team will teach residents how to become operators in an amateur radio class from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Tuesdays from April 2 to May 14 at Damascus United Methodist Church.
Amateur — or ham — radio is known as the recreational or noncommercial use of radio to communicate, and is used mainly for fun or as a backup form of communication when normal public safety methods fail or are otherwise unavailable.
Doug Noble, a member of the emergency communications team, was introduced to the world of ham radio decades ago and has been hooked ever since.
“I’ve been a ham since the late ’60s; I was introduced to it back in Illinois when one of our Cub Scout leaders took me out to the parking lot of the church and talked to Cuba,” he said. “It was a way before the Internet to talk to people throughout the world with an inexpensive radio.”
Noble uses his ham radio experience as a member of the team, which has two ham radios and antennas installed in the Damascus fire station in case of emergencies. The club holds drills about four times a year so members are familiar with their roles in such a situation.
The fire chief would activate the team, after which one or two members would act as net control at the station to manage the other ham radio users spread out at different locations — for example, schools, churches and other locations that may be acting as emergency shelters — and use the network to relay needs in different areas.
“We, on our separate frequency, would be able to communicate needs or pass on emergency locations,” Noble said. “People try to use their cell phones, forget it — everyone’s trying to get on the phone to check up on their relatives. When all else fails, ham radio is there.”
This is the third time the team has held these classes for the community, and Noble said he hopes they bring in people interested in helping the team in the future.
“We’ve had people come in 9 or 10 years old, along with their grandfathers,” he said. “There’s no age limit for ham radios — as long as you pass your test, you can get a license, which gets you the ability to use the frequencies, and that’s what we use in emergencies here.”
Interested residents may register for the classes with Noble at 301-414-0228. There is no registration deadline, but the class is limited to 20 participants. The only cost is a $25 fee for the student manual. Damascus United Methodist Church is located at 9700 New Church St.