Even though ham radio is often thought of as an off beat hobby, Teton County is sending out the call for ham radio operators for a very serious reasons. The county is encouraging more people to volunteer as emergency radio operators to maintain communications in major emergencies.
Teton County Emergency Management Coordinator Greg Adams said that in case of a disaster that knocks out cell phone, landline and internet communications, ham radios are the only way to be able to talk over distance.
Adams pointed to Idaho Falls’ Eagle Rock club as a good example, he says the club not only helps with emergency preparedness but practices their skills by helping with races, calling in reports of runners in distress and letting organizers know when the last runners have finished.
John Kaelberer lives south of Driggs and is, so far, the county’s only volunteer radio operator. “I’m basically it right now,” he said. Kaelberer is a retired telephone company worker and former reserve police officer who moved to the valley 14 years ago.
He said it’s relatively easy to become an amateur radio operator, people can get started with around $200 of equipment and a $14 fee for a radio operator’s license.
Both Adams and Kaelberer said that amateur radio could help in certain emergencies, especially if the transmitter on Relay Ridge that lets police and fire department radios reach outside of the valley were to go down.
Kaelberer said ham operators, including himself, can use what is called Near Vertical Infinite Skyway (NVIS) transmissions to reach over the mountains to nearby counties for help. He also said that an amateur operator could reach all the way to Boise for help, if cell and landline telephones are down.
Though Kaelberer said it does not take rare, severe emergencies for amateur operators to be of help, saying they are used often in large wildfires, when many different groups need to be able to communicate with one another.
Ham operators can also be useful in situations where emergency shelters are needed. Kaelberer said an amateur radio person would be stationed at each shelter to help keep track of exactly who is at which shelter and to bring help if needed.
Adams said the Red Cross makes sure to station a ham radio operator at each one of it’s emergency shelters.
“It’s a good civic thing someone can do and it protects their family and friends,” Kaelberer said. Though besides the good it does, he said it’s fun.
“Lifetime friendships are made, just by talking,” he said. Kaelberer also mentioned that if around 10 to 12 people volunteer he could see holding monthly meetings so people could meet each other and receive additional training.