River Heights hums ‘Ham Radio Blues,’ seeks volunteer operators

RIVER HEIGHTS—Disaster strikes at its leisure, and River Heights may find itself short-handed if telephones and electricity are down. Councilwoman Kathryn Hadfield said River Heights needs more licensed amateur radio operators who can volunteer, should an emergency arise. Ted McArthur, assistant coordinator of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service in Cache County, said almost every city has amateur radio equipment, but it has been neglected. “We’re trying to get them back up and running, so when we do have an (emergency) we have those who can contact the county and cities,” McArthur said. The Cache County Sheriff’s office emergency operations plan uses amateur radio operators—also known as “hams”—as a communication backup, Hadfield said. He said a number of River Heights citizens are licensed ham radio operators, but they have other responsibilities and cannot be part of the county emergency operations plan. One operator works at the operations center for the sheriff’s office, another is in the civilian patrol, and another provides emergency services for the LDS Church. When telephones are tied up and the Internet is down, the sheriff’s office uses ham radio operators. They can stay connected with emergency locations via radio. These operators set up their equipment at strategic locations, such as hospitals, Red Cross shelters, and distribution centers, as a sort of backup for the 911 systems. “Our infrastructure is pretty much our own,” McArthur said. “We’re not dependent on the power company or phone company.” Rick Williams, emergency operations manager at the sheriff’s office, said it is unlikely the entire 911 system would fail. However, in a large-scale disaster the phone lines get extremely busy. Ham radios can provide direct contact to the sheriff’s office from emergency service locations around the valley. “It doesn’t take long for those everyday lines to get tied up,” Williams said. River Heights, like any town in Cache County, is vulnerable to disasters that could knock out telephones and electricity. Hadfield said severe weather is most likely to leave communities in need of a ham radio, though earthquakes and power outages are also threats.

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