Webster County's amateur radio operators are an important part of any disaster relief plan, and ARES, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, is ready to jump into action at any time.
The organization is also ready to jump into some fun on Saturday, June 22, with a field day 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Marshfield's North Park.
ARES representatives help in many ways in disasters large and small, according to member and county Emergency Management director Tom Simmons. A few years back, for instance, they helped seven responding fire agencies to communicate with each other during a large fire north of Marshfield. The responding agencies used different frequencies and could not easily coordinate by radio without ARES members' help.
ARES members were also an invaluable part of the Joplin tornado rescue and recovery effort, since cell towers and phone lines were down. Radio volunteers could communicate where to find injured people who needed help or where to find the bodies of those who were killed by the storm.
Simmons is a big believer in the work amateur radio operators do.
In a recent training exercise, for instance, one of the aims of organizers was to disrupt communications. ARES members found a workaround for every challenge that was thrown their way, with members using their creativity and the equipment at hand to share essential messages.
Before Simmons was the Emergency Management director, he was in law enforcement, but he said he has been a radio operator for a very long time.
"The reason I do what I do is this is my community, and I care about it," he said simply.
This kind of caring is typical of amateur radio operators, according to Dick Mann, another member of ARES. Mann recalled when he served in Vietnam and ham radio operators used their own time, equipment and resources, including the cost of long-distance phone calls, to help connect service members overseas with loved ones back home.
"There was a 10-second delay in communication, but you got to talk to someone," he recalled. "That was my first connection to ham radio, and let me tell you, these are good-hearted people."
Those interested in learning more about amateur radio in general or ARES in particular are encouraged to visit the group at the field day event.