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Reflections on Public Service

Coming ‘round the corner. This past month has been a total blur for me. I was asked to make a presentation at the Peoria Ham Fest (a really wonderful Fest, by the way…unfortunately it conflicts with the W9DXCC convention…we will have to work on that!!). My talk was to discuss the impact that the Boston Marathon has had on ham radio. You should know that every single American Marathon uses ham radio teams in one form or another. The older ones, like NY and Boston, even the Marine Corps have well defined roles that the hams have played for years. Some people within the ham radio community think that we should not be doing this work. Chicago has only utilized hams in the past 5 years and because of that, we have navigated the legal complexities of serving these public/private events pretty well. For us, we work very closely with the other 12,000 volunteers who help make this event run. We report directly to the medical director and our traffic is only medical dispatch and related calls. We don’t do event logistics…we only provide medical support. There is still quite a bit of disagreement within our community about exactly what our place is in events like this…and to be sure, it is good to have this discussion. We are not allowed to accept money or to support for-profit organizations. This point has been drilled home pretty clearly recently with discussions about how ham radio has supported hospitals. Basically, if you are a ham employed by a for-profit hospital, you have to go off the clock to do your ham radio work. This has been well defined by the FCC and has cleaned up many relationships where hams have been used to support organizations that really should not have used us in the first place (the Rose Bowl parade, for instance).

Now, once you allow us to the table, then it is up to us to act professionally and perform. Frankly, I cannot think of a better training ground for our up and coming hams or even our experienced teams, to practice our skills and talent under stressful conditions. I really don’t see many other opportunities for us to do this work…an added advantage is that this gives ham radio a public face, especially with the Police and Fire Departments, who in the past have often had bad experiences with some ham groups. I know when I came to the Red Cross to work, I was told that the local Chapter would not use hams ever again for their communications because the group that had been supporting them walked out of the building with all of their gear and quit! Needless to say, during the 10 years I worked with the local Chapter, we bridged that gap, but the point is well made: as a group we can be our own worst enemies. Our egos, our demands or attention, do not play well with a group that is looking for you to protect their backs. While we have a history of offering service, we don’t always perform that service in a manner that those agencies might prefer. Too often I have heard stories about hams who assumed space in facilities and behaved liked they owned the place…rather than being respectful of the agency and taking a true subservient role. The organizers of the Chicago Marathon have often heard that many of the other marathons struggle with the hams on their team because they are not serving the mission of the group. This message plays well for any of us who aspire to do public service work, through ARES, RACES or any ad hoc group. Be humble and serve should be our motto…and let’s face it, we are not the hottest technology heap. We are not the only game in town, even though many of us think we are. These are things to reflect upon.

27 of us served the Evanston Bike Club’s North Shore Century…and they had a record year with our 2600 bikers. This is another event where our work with them has improved every year and they have been extraordinarily grateful for our service. In this case, we do a bit more than what is strictly allowed by law, but this is a true charitable event where all the money goes back to good causes. Thanks to all who have help make our participation over the years such a success.

So, come Oct 13, when the Chicago Marathon ends, I hope to get my life back again!!