Newport Beach volunteers spent 24 hours straight at Coastal Peak Park last weekend, communicating via ham radio with people around the world.
Volunteers from NB Police Department’s Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service and NB Fire Department’s Community Emergency Response Team participated in the American Radio Relay League Field Day last Saturday and Sunday.
It‘s a helpful training event for both CERT and RACES volunteers of all experience levels, said Matt Brisbois, NBFD Life Safety Specialist.
“It’s a great opportunity for our more tech savvy operators and skilled operators,” to practice and improve, Brisbois said. It’s also a good opportunity “to teach new people and expose others to radio.”
Beginners were allowed to set up station and operate it under supervision of someone with more experience, explained RACES and CERT volunteer, Peter Putnam. They also held informative classes prior to the event, he added.
“The objectives of this 24 hour national event are to make contact with as many stations as possible all over the world on the amateur radio bands and to learn to operate in abnormal situations in less than optimal conditions, such as might happen in the event of a disaster or emergency situation,” a CERT press release states.
The event started at noon June 28 and ended at noon June 29. It is ARRL’s biggest event of the year. More than 35,000 people across North America participated.
About 50 Newport Beach people joined in and many more stopped by to check out the event throughout the day, including NBPD Deputy Chief Dave McGill.
Visitors saw firsthand how exciting it can be to talk with other radio operators around the globe.
“You don’t know who is going to pop up,” on the other end of the radio, Brisbois said.
The NB team logged nearly 500 contacts from around the world.
Most of the contacts were in the U.S., Putnam said, concentrated in the more populated areas like Texas and Florida. But they also came in as far away as Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Venezuela, Islands of the Pacific, and Canada.
It was a big improvement over last year, both Brisbois and Putnam agreed, when they contacted about 300 radio operators.
Last year was the first time the Newport Beach group made a significant effort, Putnam explained. During previous years, they would work the radios for just a couple hours before calling it a day, he noted.
In 2013, the group decided to participate for the full 24 hours. They wanted to test their staffing and management skills, Putnam said. They had to plan meals, keep the generator running, work the scheduling and more.
“It was a test of staffing as much as it was a test of stamina,” Putnam said.
It’s a more thought-out event when it’s 24 hours, he added.
Last year’s event went well and the group aimed to do even better this year.
“It is part contest, social event and emergency training rolled into one 24-hour operation,“ the CERT message explains.
“It is exciting in a number of different ways,” Brisbois added.
It gave RACES and CERT team members an opportunity to utilize the city’s Emergency Services Volunteer Management trailer, which is set up with communication tools and equipment, and use it as a remote outpost.
Working the full 24 hours also gave volunteers a chance to test their organizational and management skills.
The field day was also a sort of friendly competition, Brisbois said, as operators tried to see how many other stations they could communicate with from around the world.
“It worked on a number of different levels,” he said.
Overall, Field Day in Newport Beach went really well, Putnam added. He was pleased with the improvement and effort everyone put into the event.
“Everybody pitched in and that’s what made it work,” he said.
The volunteer run event took a lot of effort and planning, both agreed.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without all the volunteers,” Brisbois said. “I’m very, very excited for both RACES and CERT groups.”
For more information about Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, visit nbpd.org/programs/races_program.asp.
For more information about the American Radio Relay League, visit arrl.org.