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Ham radio operators play role in communication

Amateur (or ham) radio operators are playing a major role in communications in the states hit hard by Hurricane Katrina.

The wind and rain hampered other means of communication, so it was estimated as of Wednesday that 250 Amateur Radio Emergency Service members have been working with relief organizations and emergency management agencies to assist with communication.

Amateur radio operators are volunteers who get licensed through the Federal Communications Commission.

St. Francois County 911 Director Alan Wells said there are networks of volunteers who relay information from one site to another site. They have the ability to communicate with people from other countries.

Wells said they play a vital role in passing on information. He said they could be utilized in an emergency, even here, to communicate with organizations outside the area and also with relaying information about someone to family members.

There are several ham operators here in St. Francois County.

Deion Christopher, an amateur radio operator who works for the Farmington Police Department, said he has been listening to the radio traffic to and from FEMA, the Salvation Army and the Coast Guard.

He said on Thursday they were asking for immediate assistance at some of the hospitals.

He said he heard one ham operator ask for officers with weapons for vigilantes that were in the area of one hospital.

He heard another ham operator asking how a VA hospital in Biloxi, Miss., could be evacuated because there was no way in or out of the hospital and they were running out of power.

Christopher said people there were also being told to be on the lookout for news media to ask to use their satellite phones.

The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service RACES organization provides or supplements communications during emergencies where normal communication systems have sustained damage. It may be used in a wide variety of situations, including natural and technological disasters, nuclear accidents and attacks, terrorists incidents, and bomb threats.

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