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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Amateur radio operators hone vital skills during annual competition

Aug 10, 2020 11:11AM ● By Josh Wood

CHARC members monitored their field day progress while explaining the process to visitors. (Josh Wood/City Journals)

By Joshua Wood | [email protected]

The Cottonwood Heights Amateur Radio Club, or CHARC, assembled this summer for a 24-hour marathon competition. The object was to contact as many radio operators on the continent as possible. Their goal was to demonstrate again that CHARC is one of the elite groups of radio operators in the country. They also serve as a key component of Cottonwood Heights’s emergency planning.

“Our main mission is to help with emergency communication,” said CHARC member Crista Thompson. “We function as a group that will be able to assist if the city needs help with emergency communications.”

During a major event like an earthquake, the Cottonwood Heights emergency preparedness plan calls for reports from throughout the city. Block captains check on eight or more homes in their neighborhood and they report to precinct leaders checking on a larger area. Precinct leaders then report to one of six district leaders in the city. They report on the status of each household during an emergency, from major injuries to deaths.

Radio operators relay this critical information to the city’s emergency operations center at City Hall.

The amateur radio operator field day in late June provided CHARC with the opportunity to practice their communications skills. The 24-hour competition gives them the feel of what an emergency situation would be like. It also gives them a chance to hold onto bragging rights for another year.

“We’ve been first in the nation two of the past four years, and we’re hoping to make it three out of five,” said Carlos Cardon of CHARC. “The whole idea is to operate under extended conditions, which is kind of like an emergency, and since you keep score there’s a little bit of pressure to get communications accurately.”

At the end of the day, CHARC amassed 3,062 points, 600 higher than last year when they finished first in the nation. They will find out the official standings in November after the American Radio Relay League reviews tens of thousands of field day submissions.

The CHARC team worked in two-hour shifts from noon on Saturday, June 27 to noon the next day contacting radio operators throughout the U.S. and Canada. “We’re rotating in shifts of two hours, so all the people who want to participate have an opportunity,” Thompson said.

CHARC worked out of City Hall on field day. Two or three radio operators huddled over radio equipment while endlessly moving columns of data rained down from the display projected on a screen above. “All these waterfalls on the display are people communicating,” Thompson said.

The radio signals come in the form of voice communications, data, even Morse code. “It’s a talent that not a lot of people have,” Thompson said. “We’re trying to continue that talent, so we are always welcoming people who want to learn. We’re reaching out to anyone who’s interested from all ages.”

Anyone interested in joining a group like CHARC can become a ham radio operator and receive an individual call sign upon completing a state licensure test. CHARC members are drawn to ham radio for a number of reasons.

“Some people love communicating by satellites, other people like communicating with as many people as they can,” said Bart Van Allen of CHARC. “Some people just love the technical aspects of it, working with computers and radios together to see how good you can get them. That’s what I really like. If you have a little bit of geek in you, you’ll love it.”

CHARC has over 30 members in Cottonwood Heights. It’s a relatively small number of people carrying on a niche hobby. But the skills they practiced on their annual field day would play a vital role in a disaster.

“It turns out often in a major emergency that you’re going to lose power, you’re going to lose internet, you’re going to lose telephone,” Cardon said. “It often comes down to people using ham radio equipment to get messages through.”