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Radio buffs ham it up.

Byline: Tucker Worthington Wade

WORCESTER - Dirk Hart is always prepared for the next emergency.

"Today is an emergency preparedness exercise," said Mr. Hart of Stow, and amateur radio operator since 2002. "We are always preparing for the next big one."

Mr. Hart and other licensed, volunteer amateur radio operators, known as "hams," broadcast live yesterday from the National Guard headquarters for the eighth annual Worcester Emergency Communications Team Field Day.

Hams from around the Worcester area convened at the National Guard base to show their resourcefulness in times of distress. "As hams, we are part of the solution for the next crisis," Mr. Hart said.

The Worcester Emergency Communications Team is composed of volunteer radio operators licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve as an autonomous force that acts when the telecommunications infrastructure has failed. This communications team functions under the auspices of the American Radio Relay League.

For John Ruggiero, a Worcester ham since 1994, the emergency communications team is "another tool in the bag. We are the last line of communication for the Worcester area."

The team broadcasts from a room in the National Guard base at 50 Skyline Drive. The room consists of donated equipment that lets the team relay messages over microwave signals, which are directed by repeaters dispersed throughout a region. Hams will relay messages concerning states of emergency or other information directly to a distant recipient.

In addition to broadcasting in times of distress, hams will volunteer for civic events.

Hams serve in the Marathon Amateur Radio Association for the Boston Marathon, coordinating logistics for aid stations throughout Boston.

Hams also volunteer as auxiliary weather reporters with the National Weather Service, through SKYWARN. These operators are trained as weather spotters, relaying timely on-the-ground information to authorities.

On a national level, amateur radio operators provided communications assistance during the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort, as well as in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

However, hams transcend borders.

Serving in the Disaster Medical Assistance Team under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, hams were enlisted to provide communications assistance during the Haiti relief effort.

To demonstrate their abilities yesterday, Worcester area operators let visitors chat with fellow hams throughout North America. People communicated directly with individuals in Georgia, Texas, California and Ontario.

The Field Day also serves as a recruitment drive.

Andy Coniglio, a graduate student at Clark University, became a ham two years ago after attending the Worcester-area Field Day. Mr. Coniglio was seen operating a "Get on the Air" station on the front lawn of the National Guard center. For Mr. Coniglio, being a ham is all about direct communication. "It's us, the sky, and the other guy," he said.

Tucker Worthington Wade can be reached by e-mail at twade@telegram.com.

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Ham radio operator Ben Holmes of Oxford tapes conversations on his laptop while listening on earphones at the Worcester Emergency Communications Team Field Day. Dirk Hart, team leader and field day manager, watches at right.

PHOTOG: RICH DUGAS
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 27, 2010
Words:514
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