They usually chew the fat via short-wave radio or reach out to others simply to make friends.
But when hurricanes knock out cell phones and other lines of communications, HAM radio operators get down to business, passing along crucial information to residents and government officials.
Thousands of HAM, or amateur, radio operators across South Florida on June 28-29 are participating in "Field Day,' an exercise to practice sending and receiving messages under simulated post-storm conditions.
"It's pretty much a dress rehearsal," said Chris Hite, of the Wellington Radio Club, which has about 50 members from Coral Springs to Jupiter and which meets monthly to review procedures and share experiences.
During the upcoming drill, HAMs will attempt to contact as many other operators as possible in a 24-hour period, locally, across the United States and around the globe.
Most will rely on emergency power and batteries, since that's all they might have in the aftermath of a storm, said Larry Lazar, president of the Wellington Club.
"During Field Day, we practice sending short messages accurately over long distances – and create a sense of pressure," he said.
The exercise also is an opportunity to train new HAM operators to "think imaginatively and spontaneously" to get their messages across during a real disaster, Lazar said.
As part of the drill, the HAMs will hold a competition, where they receive points for the most contacts and for using different communications modes, such as voice, text, Morse code and Amateur Radio satellites. Last year, more than 36,500 operators nationwide sent "literally millions of messages," Lazar said.
The Wellington Radio Club will hold its Field Day starting at 2 p.m. in Pavilion 3 at Village Park. The public is invited.
In past hurricanes, HAM radio operators have helped emergency managers send and receive information to residents in need of help. They also directed recovery agencies, such as the Salvation Army, where to distribute food and emergency supplies.
Additionally, local HAM operators have helped out in earthquakes, tornadoes and floods, where whole regions have been blacked out and isolated.
Robin Terrill, a member of the Davie-Cooper City Amateur Radio Club, said another purpose of the exercise is to entice new HAM operators into the fold. HAM operators must pass an exam to obtain a Federal Communications Commission license.
"When you make your first contact, say in California or South America or Japan, your eyes will just light up," Terrill said.
His club will hold its Field Day in Pavilion 1 at Markham Park in Sunrise. The public is invited. "We'll even put you at a mike and let you operate," he said.
Terrill, a trained weather spotter, said being a HAM operator "draws people together. The best thing about it is the camaraderie."
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