LOCAL AMATEUR RADIO OPERATORS KEEP NEARLY- 90-YEAR ANNUAL TRADITIONAL NATIONAL EVENT ON THE AIR DESPITE COVID-19 CHALLENGES
At a time when most of our treasured annual events have been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, local amateur radio (HAM) operators found a way to keep this year’s June 27-28 Field Day event up and on the air.
Since 1933, with silence only in 1942-1945 due to World War II, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) has promoted Field Day as an emergency-readiness exercise and as a way to promote amateur radio to newcomers. Normally this event, held on a weekend in June, is a hard-working beehive of people, shoulder-to-shoulder, raising portable antennas and sharing radio microphones and potluck dinners with an extended invitation to the public.
However, when COVID-19 restrictions threatened to eliminate all of that, members of the Santa Cruz County Amateur Radio Club and San Lorenzo Valley Amateur Radio Club were determined to find a way to hold this year’s June 27-28 event safely.
Traditionally the two local Clubs join forces, often including the UCSC Amateur Radio Club members. This year, the UCSC students did not participate, because most of them had left town when COVID-19 shut down the Campus.
“When we looked at everything that had to fall away in order to make the event happen safely, things got simpler,” said Kerry Veenstra, the event coordinator and whose radio call sign is K3RRY. No sharing food at a big public potluck. No huge and complicated antennas that require lots of people working closely together to raise. No open invitations to the public.
Instead, the antenna configurations were simple, and the types of equipment used were reduced. People signed up for short shifts of radio operation so that no one sat side-by-side. Everybody wore masks, sanitized their stations often, and brought their own food and water. The public visited the site via a Zoom conference tour.
From a hill top vineyard deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the radio operators exchanged hundreds of messages with others from throughout North America over a 24-hour period, using power from solar panels and quiet portable generators. This year, some people in the County set up smaller radio stations near their homes as well, and joined the Field Day event remotely.
It was a great success.
Ensuring that this year’s Field Day was not cancelled was important not only because the radio operators treasure the event and it’s rich history, but also because the community service events that normally provide good disaster communication training for the radio operators who volunteer for disaster public service were all cancelled. These include the Big Sur International Marathon, the Sea Otter Classic, and numerous local cycling and triathlon events.
Amateur radio figures heavily into emergency communication plans throughout North America, and especially in Santa Cruz County, which becomes easily isolated in natural disasters. Santa Cruz County has an unusually high number of licensed and active radio operators. They are ready and waiting to lend well-trained assistance when called upon by local Emergency Operations staff in the next emergency or disaster.
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