Friday, January 1, 2016
Amateur (Ham) Radio and The December 2015 Tornadoes in Texas
One couple, who are friends of mine and live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, recently got their amateur (ham) radio licenses. They each bought themselves a Baofeng UV-5RV2+ model VHF handheld radio and had these tuned to one of the local RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service) frequencies. On the night of the tornadoes, they had both their TV as well as their VHF radio going and were monitoring the situation. On their VHF radio, they heard "boots on the ground" reports of where the tornadoes were sighted and/or touching down as it was happening; the TV reports lagged significantly behind. Using amateur radio, they were thus able to monitor the situation closely and know whether or not they were in danger at any given time. As one person I know who was affiliated with Skywarn has told me, often the TV reports will come AFTER the storm has come and gone.
On this blog I have stated in other posts how useful amateur (ham) radio can be during a civil emergency. Amateur radio can operate under conditions that wipe out both landline and cellular communications. Having access to amateur radio can mean the difference between having news, information, as well as emergency communications available - or not.
For those who want to make sensible preparations for any number of different emergency scenarios, acquiring an amateur radio license, or at the very least, the equipment to monitor those frequencies, would be a worthwhile investment to make for 2016. The radio shown in the photo above can be bought new for under $40; the kit included the radio, the lithium-ion battery, a "drop-in" style desktop charger, and a stubby antenna. You will definitely want to get the better antenna - the one provided with the radio is almost worthless. The upgrade antenna - a Nagoya NA-771 model - as well as a 12 volt car adapter, together will cost an additional $15 or $20.
The larger battery will likewise cost a few more dollars, but clearly this simple setup is well within the doable range for many people. I recently got my brother the radio, the antenna, as well as the 12 volt car adapter, on eBay for a grand total of under $70.
For those with more money to work with, one can get an Icom or Yaesu brand 2-meter handheld VHF radio for between $160 and $200. I personally own the Yaesu FT-270 and find it to be a superbly constructed and quite rugged 2-meter radio.