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Spotlight: Amateur radio operators play vital role in times of disaster

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    Old logo from the side of a trailer

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    From left, Jeff Coleman, Middleport, and Tom Lesisko, New Ringgold, work to transmit from radio to digital technology. 

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    Tom Smith, Minersville and Frank D’Amato, Barnesville

Published July 20. 2018 11:11PM

Static, more static, then a clear voice emerges.

Immediately, Frank D’Amato’s body language changes from easygoing and relaxed, to focused and intent.

At that moment, his sole goal is to communicate with the voice coming to him via another amateur radio operator.

The Barnesville man is one of the members of Tamaqua Wireless Association, a club which participated in an international contest recently.

Beginning at 2 p.m., the club had 24 hours for its members to see how many other amateur operators they could contact from all over the country, and the world.

Their headquarters was Schroeder’s Family Tree Farm, Tuscarora Mountain Road — the farm’s owner is a friend and supporter of the club.

Although the contest was for fun and skills practice, there are times when amateur radio operators are of utmost importance, such as in the event of national disasters or conflicts.

“In Schuylkill County there are more than 300 licensed amateur radio operators, and we (Schuylkill Amateur Repeater Association) have a room within the county’s 911 Center,” Bob McClintock of Girardville said. “In the event of emergency, we can handle some of the communication burden; there have also been times when amateur radio operators were the only means of communication from an area.”

McClintock referenced the county’s floods in 2006 and its two tornadoes in 2012.

“After the tornadoes, we had about two dozen amateur operators sending info to the National Weather Service,” he said. “During the floods, they provided the county with info as to where areas were flooded, where roads were closed, where people needed help.”

Bill Dale of West Penn Township, president of Tamaqua Wireless Association, said that operators can have different reasons for becoming licensed. He explained that all operators must be licensed through the Federal Communications Commission, with three ascending levels of skill (entry technician, general and amateur extra).

“This club (Tamaqua Wireless Association) sponsors a test every quarter,” Dale said. “For most people the interest goes one of two ways — people want to be part of auxiliary communication, or they want to be part of national and international goodwill — well, or both.”

“Once you get a license, your license numbers tells other people where you’re from — for instance all the license numbers in this country start with A, K, N or W,” he explained. “That is followed by a number — for us that would be 3, which is Pennsylvania.”

All around the Schroeder’s Family Farm, at various tents and trailers, members of the club set up and communicated with other operators from all around the country and world. Although there are several antennas in Schuylkill County for the amateur radios (including one on the roof of the Tamaqua Hi-Rise), at the recent gathering the operators were using varying lengths of special cable wire, draped through trees. The longest was 160 feet.

McClintock said that one of the advantages of the system is its simple set up requirements.

“Basically, you can run it off a generator or car battery,” he said. “We don’t need much of an infrastructure. You must be licensed, and you can start with a hand-held radio which you should be able to get for less than $50 new.”

Dale said that the Tamaqua Wireless Association welcomes and assists new members. Club officers are President Bill Dale, Vice President Tom Smith, Secretary Tom Lesisko and Treasurer Kevin Marchetti.

The club’s website is www.w3twa.org.

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