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Southern Exposure: In case of emergency, start here

Getting the message out when all else fails
By R.J. Marx

The Daily Astorian

Published on October 3, 2017 12:01AM

Ham radio operators Dana Gandy, Irv Emmons, Doug Barker, Carl Yates and Hal Denison.

R.J. Marx/The Daily Astorian

Ham radio operators Dana Gandy, Irv Emmons, Doug Barker, Carl Yates and Hal Denison.

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SEASIDE — In case of emergency, start here.

Ham radio is at the heart of our region’s safety efforts when the Big One hits.

“We know it’s going to happen,” said Hal Denison, president of the Seaside Tsunami Amateur Radio Society and a licensed expert radio operator. “We’ve been training for that on a daily basis.”

Amateur radio is the last resource in an emergency when there is no other means of communication.

“That’s what we prepare for and back up for,” Denison said. “There may not be phones. There may not be cellphones. We don’t really know how many are going to survive. But we know that the amateur radio is running.”

The more operators, the greater the possibility of having people who can help, Denison said.

Local radio enthusiasts watched with great interest the response in Texas and Florida after a season of hurricanes and floods.

“From a ham point of view, we know those were the only communications down there,” Dana Gandy, president of Sunset Empire Amateur Radio Club, said.

Broad-based community

Radio operators in the region range from age 8 to older than 90.

“They all jump in and work together,” Irv Emmons, a former communications professional and amateur radio operator, said. “If anyone has any issues, we all jump in and try to resolve them.”

Terry Williams received her license 10 years ago when she moved to Seaside.

She got hooked after making radio communication with a radio operator in Scotland. “I’ve been on the radio ever since,” Williams said. “I love it.”

Since then she’s served as an officer of the Seaside Tsunami Amateur Radio Society and continues to introduce other women to the hobby.

The women hold a practice session every Sunday night at 8 p.m. and a “hams’ brunch” at the Uptown Cafe in Warrenton.

A power boost

Users find a wide range of technology, from basic packages to sophisticated gadgetry.

A hand-held battery offers low, medium and high power capabilities, Denison said.

On high power, a battery will be dead in one day. Medium power provides two to three days of communications. Low power lasts longer — up to four days — but limits broadcast reach.

Capabilities are rapidly being enhanced, Denison added.

Solar power, backup generators and car-size batteries can provide many days of power after an emergency event.

One operator uses a bicycle power to generate power.

A self-sustaining repeater site in Arch Cape operates on solar power with no connection to the grid, bringing coverage from Nehalem to Warrenton.

Far and wide

Repeater and EchoLink sites allow licensed operators using a computer or smartphone to connect to repeater sites anywhere in the world.

Gearhart approved a repeater site at the city’s September City Council meeting.

The site, including pole, electrical communications and equipment, is budgeted at about $5,000 and will provide amateur radio service from the Arch Cape area to the northern tip of the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington state.

A site in Seaside at the water treatment plant has battery backup and two separate generator backups, Denison said.

A remote message system site in Seaside, located at Seaside Heights Elementary School, uses a laptop capable of sending emails over radio waves.

Global positioning systems capabilities can provide specific information about a user’s location when other means fail, helping to identify victims who may be trapped or isolated.

“If you get in trouble, and you have no other means of communicating, you can type in a code in an emergency with your exact location,” Gandy said.

He said GPS capabilities have so far been sporadic, but will be brought into all of the county’s radio sites.


Training in procedures and communication are not only essential but mandatory, as all operators must be federally licensed.

Amateurs are licensed by class, from the entry technician level to the intermediate general license and the top level of “extra class,” a distinction held by Gandy and Denison.

“The higher you get in, the more complicated it is, but the more benefits you have,” Denison said. “You have more frequencies to operate on.”

Gandy, a former information technology professional, said there are more than 600 members in the area’s two clubs, and the teaching group has trained more than 900 hams since the region’s 2007 storm, which brought the need to the fore.

Investment is about $35 plus a $15 license good for 10 years.

Denison teaches “everything there is to know” to pass the beginning Federal Communications Commission license classes.

Club members help new hams get started, make wise decisions about what they purchase and give them hands-on experience leading to licensing, Gandy said.

Carl Yates attended a class shortly after relocating to Seaside and earned his technician’s license.

“I’m kind of a novice,” he admitted. “But I’m an example of somebody who can start from scratch and go from there.”

How to train

Clatsop County Auxiliary Emergency Communications presents a ham radio licensing class Oct. 20 from 4:30 to 9 p.m. at Clatsop Community College’s South County Campus in Seaside, and all day on Oct. 21.

A similar course takes place Oct. 28 in Astoria.

Groups like STARS check in on a weekly basis by giving their names and information.

A South County check-in — for the communities of Arch Cape, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Gearhart and Warrenton — takes place Wednesdays.

“It’s a great hobby,” Emmons said. “I’ve been in it since 1960.”

“We’re all hams first,” Gandy said.

R.J. Marx is The Daily Astorian’s South County reporter and editor of the Seaside Signal and Cannon Beach Gazette.


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