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June 24, 2013

Exercise puts local 'hams' to the test

Three local amateur radio operators joined others from across the country this weekend to practice communicating in mock emergency situations. 

But the local exercise was cut short by a generator malfunction, according to Kevin Bonney of Colliersville, who organized the practice session near the Davenport and Maryland town line this weekend. 

“It’s a learning experience,” Bonney said Sunday.

Thousands of operators were expected to participate in the Amateur Radio Relay League’s annual exercise, which was the culmination of Amateur Radio Week, a media release said. In the U.S., there are more than 700,000 amateur radio licensees, the release said, and through the league’s emergency services program, ham volunteers have provided free communications in critical and nonemergency situations. 

Bonney said he was joined by Ken Leonard and Leonard’s wife, Patricia Mattice, of Davenport. Each operated a ham radio. They reached about 500 other operators in 48 states, with no contacts made with operators in Alaska or Hawaii, Bonney said. 

“We tried to contact as many ham stations as possible and exchange a small report,” Bonney said. The result was more contacts than he thought possible, he said.

The operators worked in shifts with the idea of someone being on around the clock, Bonney said. Sometimes, all three operators were working, he said, and for about two hours during their exercise, operations were down. 

To create worst-case conditions with limited access to communications and resources during the exercise, the three local operators set up a campsite off of Turner Hill Road on South Hill State Forest land, Bonney said. They made camp on Friday, then began the establishing the radio operations at about 10 a.m. Saturday — a job that involved using a fishing pole to set up antennas in trees, he said.

Bonney said their exercise was cut short because of a mechanical failure of the generator used to recharge the deep-cycle marine batteries used. After the generator quit, he tried using jumper cables connected to a vehicle, he said, but the recharging would have taken too long.

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