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« Reflections on Public Service | Main | Antenna party »

Marathon Hams

What caught my eye in my college’s Alumni magazine was the headline, ″Boston Alumni Share Bombing Stories.″ There are many folks who have been writing about their perspective on the infamous attack on innocent people at the Boston Marathon. What was interesting about this story was that it was from a ham radio operator – N9JBT, Bruce Tinkler, a Lake Forest College alum from 1987. Turns out he was one of several hundred hams who volunteered their time to support the event. (You may have seen the two-part article in the July and August issues of CQ magazine).

As some of you know, I have taken on the responsibility to lead a team of hams who will do the same for the Chicago Marathon; in fact this will be our fifth year. We have about 120 hams signed up again this year. As these things go, we are relatively new to this game. The folks who lead the Boston ham teams have been there almost from the beginning…well, at least a long time. The event grew around their skills and capabilities. For us in Chicago, we have carefully defined our role to provide primary communication for the medical teams in the field. This is no small task. They have nearly 1500 licensed medical personnel along the course and we provide the link for them to the main medical tent in Balbo Park and the ambulance company that provides most of the medical support for the 21 aid stations. I am just beginning to get myself engaged with this project again, but was struck by Bruce’s single line…″once we realized that we were all safe and ok, we continued to do what we were trained to do: communicate.″

As we move into our busiest public service season of the year (the NSRC supports the Evanston Century Bike Ride and the Chicago Marathon) we are reminded that these can be much more than a simple day in the sun. Often people’s safety, even their lives, can be at stake. So, we take these events seriously. These activities are great ways for us to train for even larger roles, if we are ever needed. They are also terrific, high profile events for our hobby. We are presenting the public face of ham radio - a technology that many assumed died with their parents Zenith television! Yes, Virginia, ham radio is alive and actually doing pretty well. And yes, we are getting older (at least I am!) But it feels pretty darn good to be able to provide a valuable service to our community. Since the Chicagoland area is so well represented by professional first responders, these events really are the closest we get to providing urgent communication services. And, frankly, we are fortunate, because serving in real disaster events is not fun.

I would like to thank all who have dragged your gear out of your shacks and helped out with one of these events. It is good to know that we are still needed.