EMO worker tries to drum up enthusiasm for ham radio

A ham radio probably isn't the first form of communication a person thinks about in an emergency, but sometimes, it's the only one that works.

In an emergency, ham radio is an essential form of communication, Mike Johnson says

A free workshop about ham radios will be held in Sackville on Oct. 22. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

A ham radio probably isn't the first form of communication a person thinks about in an emergency, but sometimes, it's the only one that works. 

Ham radios can use wireless transmission to send messages to battery-operated radios.

And they can be useful when large storms knock out telecommunications, says Mike Johnson, the Cumberland Regional Emergency Management co-ordinator.

He is partnering up with EOS Eco-Energy and the WestCumb Amateur Radio Club to hold a free workshop in Sackville to try get more people interested in ham radios. 

Different technology

Johnson, who is also a member of the WestCumb club in Amherst, N.S., said that when we lose essential communications such as cellphones, landlines and the Internet — a ham radio can come to the rescue. Hurricane Michael, which struck Florida this week, devastated normal channels of communications. 

Storms that knock out telecommunications for long periods of time create more problems for co-ordinated emergency response, he said.

He said he's already seen how ham radios could help in New Brunswick.

In January 2017, a massive ice storm knocked out power to thousands in the northeast for days. 

Operators dwindling

"It became very difficult," said Johnson. 

Today, ham radios are considered a hobby more than a necessity, and not many people know how they work. 

"Our numbers are dwindling," Johnson said of the amateur radio clubs.

But younger members are needed, especially since the clubs' services may be needed even more as the climate changes. 

"We still use Morse code to this day," he said.

Requires a test

Johnson said there are a few steps to becoming a ham radio operator.

"You need to study, take the test, once you pass it's a one-time cost," he said. "It's good for life."

After that, it's just buying the equipment to use. Equipment for amateur radio costs between $300 and $5,000.

The workshop will be held at the Sackville Royal Canadian Legion on Monday, Oct. 22, at 6:30 p.m.