As the threat of severe weather grows, Grand Island and the surrounding areas more often turn to amateur radio operators for help.
Jon Rosenlund, Grand Island/Hall County emergency management director, said he often works with ham radio operators.
They are available for storm spotting, during some emergency situations and even during community events, he said, and they are essential.
“Because they are individual, self-contained resources, we can utilize them in a lot of situations when everything else is broken,” Rosenlund said.
Stan Coleman, a member of the GI Hams group, said many hams are also involved with other groups, such as the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Because of that, they can be deployed to many situations, including severe weather, train derailments, chemical spills and evacuations.
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“There are no two deployments that are ever the same,” Coleman said. “They’re always different.”
They can even be stationed at important places, such as the hospital, if 911 lines were to go down, Rosenlund said.
He can page amateur radio operators out just as he does members of the CERT team or emergency personnel. That usually happens about two or three times a year, he said.
Many hams already keep an eye on the weather, Coleman said, and when they are paged out, they spread out in the area. One ham also goes to the emergency operating center, working alongside Rosenlund and his staff. They then start a net, he said, and they maintain contact with each other, reporting radar conditions and what amateur operators are seeing on the ground.
“We want to get an eyewitness account,” Rosenlund said. “We get very accurate, very useful information, which allows us to notify the weather service, and we can get the most accurate information out to the community.”
Hams are also involved at the National Weather Service in Hastings.
That’s why Brad Harpham wanted to get involved in radio to begin with.
When there is severe weather, Harpham will report to the weather station and get in touch with amateurs who are out spotting. Because the radar can become less accurate as it goes farther out, reports from the spotters on the ground can help weather service employees understand exactly what is going on where.
“We have hams that live all over the area, rural areas and in the city, so a lot of times they don’t even have to go anywhere,” he said. “They can just look out their window.”
Additionally, Coleman said, the GI Hams help with communications at local events, including Race for Grace, Harvest of Harmony and the Nebraska State Fair.
“They really care about the community, and they volunteer,” Rosenlund said.
Those involved in ham radio say they are always looking for more volunteers.
Harpham and his father, Allen, said that’s true for storm spotters in Adams County and the surrounding area.
“We need to bring in some younger people because we’re starting to lose spotters,” Allen Harpham said.
Coleman, too, said because getting a radio license and getting involved with spotting or CERT takes time, it’s important for those who want to help in an emergency to get involved now.
“You want to be prepared before an emergency situation,” he said. “You don’t want to be the guy, when an emergency situation comes in, who’s running downtown to get a radio and try to figure out how it works and set it all up.”
Rosenlund said because amateur radio operators are such an important part of his operations, he is always hoping for more people to boost numbers.
“They are an integral part of our warning system in the county, and we need lots of good ham radio operators in the county so we can get the most accurate notifications out and save lives,” he said.
“And ham radio operators are integral in saving lives.”