If you’ve ever wondered how messages can get through to first responders when a tornado hits and the power lines are down, you can witness how amateur radio operators perform during emergencies on Saturday June 22 and Sunday, June 23.

More than 35,000 ham radio hobbyists all across the nation will set up and operate portable radio stations using emergency power in an annual exercise to test emergency preparedness.  One of those stations will operate from Blue Lake, near Emmaville, north of Park Rapids.  The public is invited to watch and even to participate.  The event begins on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. and ends 24 hours later on Sunday. 

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL), which is the national organization for radio “hams” sponsors the annual event, which is intended to demonstrate how amateur radio operators can provide vital links when normal lines of communication break down due to natural disasters, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and fires.  It also provides an opportunity for hams to test their emergency equipment.  A requirement for the simulated emergency operation is that no main power lines be utilized.  Power for the equipment used in the operation will come from temporary sources, such as batteries and gasoline generators.  Some stations even use portable solar panels.

“It’s easy for anyone to pick up a computer or smartphone, connect to the internet and communicate, with no knowledge of how the devices function or connect to each other,” said David Isgur, communications manager for the ARRL.  “But if there’s an interruption of service or you’re out of range of a cell tower, you have no way to communicate. Ham radio functions completely independent of the Internet or cell phone infrastructure, can interface with tablets or smartphones, and can be set up almost anywhere in minutes. That’s the beauty of amateur radio during a communications outage.”

A group of  hams from Minnesota will operate at the Blue Lake location, making contacts with other emergency stations throughout the country.    

The operators, who must be licensed by the FCC, have home stations and have been assigned call letters. Participants include Ron Dohmen, NØAT, Plymouth, whose family cabin camp is supplying the location; Bill Dean, WØOR, Bloomington; Al Dewey, KØAD, Plymouth; Kirk Pengelly, NØKK, New Hope, and Christopher Williams, KØAUG, Plymouth.

The location of the emergency test is at the Freitag property, 17484 County Road 40, Park Rapids.