By: Chris Warren.
When I was a teenager just getting started in the amateur “ham” radio hobby, a local radio club included me in an annual event called Field Day. For the unfamiliar, Field Day is a worldwide contest held on the last weekend in June. The official purpose of Field Day is to practice emergency radio communications under simulated disaster conditions. Participants set up their equipment in a park or other outdoor area, put up temporary antennas and power everything with portable generators or off-grid electricity. Once on the air, the clock is ticking and operators have twenty-four hours to make contact with as many other stations as possible. Obviously, things move quickly. There are no lengthy bull sessions. We just exchange station ID, location, and signal data. Because amateur radio is capable of worldwide communications using only radio signals and does not need any wires or the internet, Field Day is truly a global event with operators in almost every country joining in.
Individuals may participate on their own, but most Field Day activity is organized groups or clubs that have several radios going at the same time, with operators rotating in shifts for the entire 24 hour event. These “encampments” can be quite large and impressive. The stations often attract media attention and the curious public; all are warmly encouraged to ask questions and see for themselves what ham radio is all about. In addition to an emergency drill, Field Day serves the secondary purpose of community outreach.
Anyone watching me get ready for my first Field Day might have thought I was planning a voyage to Mars. I was sixteen. I spent weeks excitedly making supply lists and collecting gear together. After successfully nagging the car out of my parents, I proceeded to cram it with hundreds of pounds of radio equipment, antennas, extension cords, spare electronic parts, tools, test instruments, batteries, a sleeping bag, lots of food and water, and something for almost every possible way-out there scenario. The older guys teased me; at the end of the event 90% of the minutiae I dragged out there went unused and was dragged right back home in the exact same unopened box I originally packed it in. Today, the idea of stuffing enough junk for a NASA mission into a two door Dodge Aspen just to spend one weekend in a suburban park less than an hour from home seems like the brain storm of an obsessed crackpot.
Decades out from that weekend, I am “the older guy” now. I still enjoy ham radio and my predisposition for always being ready for (most) anything is also as strong as ever. My methods have become more thoughtful and refined over the years even if the occasional teasing has not. What I don’t understand is that almost everyone close to me acknowledges the utility in being prepared but almost no one actually does it. There is a cognitive disconnect between thought and action.
The basic daily take-alongs such as keys, wallet, and a cellphone are standard for most, including me. In addition, I can’t feel ok leaving the house without a Leatherman tool (similar to a Swiss Army knife), a flashlight, and sometimes a (legal) gun. The gun is for my personal security because, as the saying goes,“when seconds count, the police are minutes away.” Fortunately I’ve never faced a problem that required a firearm to solve, but the Leatherman and the flashlight come in handy surprisingly often. My friends think I am quirky for bringing all that hardware with me, yet I use it all the time to deal with many small but annoying problems. One time when I was hanging out with my friend and his teen son, I used my Leatherman to rip open a box, tighten a screw, and along with the flashlight, un-jam a vacuum cleaner. When my visit was over and I was leaving, the young son commented that my Leatherman was pretty cool. I told him I’d buy him one for his birthday and he replied, “Thanks, but I can’t see too many times when I would need something like that.” I was speechless.
I got involved with ham radio at a young age because it’s a fun and interesting pastime. Through my hobby, I had a loose awareness that it was important to be ready for trouble but failed to apply it in my own life. Even after participating in several Field Days, the lightbulb did not click on; it seems I too got sucked into a whirlpool of cognitive disconnect. There was no big moment of enlightenment. The lightbulb started dim and came up slowly.
As I paid more attention to current events, it became clear that overdependence on modern convinences creates a complacent society. I can see it in my own neighborhood: The lady who has just-in-time groceries delivered from an on line service. The perfectly able-bodied guy who calls a contractor for even the smallest task. The house with a stack of empty pizza boxes at the curbside every single week for trash pick up. To everyone reading this blog and thinks I’m a little whacked, I ask: If your power went out, all the store shelves were picked clean, and the gas stations were offline, how long could you get by with only what is in your home right now, and what would you do when your supplies ran out? Just sit there cold and hungry and wait for the government to save you? Steal what you need from others?
I think when normally lawful people become desparate to provide for their families no matter what they will resort to looting, probably from folks like me who had the foresight to plan ahead. Be warned that “folks like me” are heavily armed in anticipation of when the pizza box guy and his ilk run out of legitimate options. I may not be the last man standing, but I sure as hell aint going to be the first one down.
As I write this article on July 4, 2014, hurricane Arthur is beating the crap out of the American east coast. Most in the area will either ride it out on luck, resort to crime, or wait like compliant little sheep for the government to bail them out. I choose none of the above. The lessons of Field Day are not only for radio hobbyists. A week or so supply of food & water, some flashlights, and other basics is not particulary expensive. Having them ready before they are needed could mean the difference between being a survivor and being a fatality.
For another article on this topic, please check out Grandma Was A Survivalist Nutjob.
For information about how you can get involved with amateur radio, please visit these highly recommended websites:
The American Radio Relay League (ARRL)