ENMU group organizing ham radio operators

By Sarah Meyer, PNT Staff Writer

How do people communicate in the event of a disaster such as a tornado that knocks out typical communication methods?

One way is amateur or “ham” radio, and a recently formed group in Portales hopes more people will get involved with what they say is tried and true technology.

Members of the Greyhound Amateur Radio Club at Eastern New Mexico University say ham radio is fun, but it’s also important during emergency situations.

“It’s fun,” said club president Rick Taylor, who works in telecommunications at ENMU. “You get to meet people from all over the world.”

If telephones, radio and television go down, amateur radio operators can still send and receive information, said club secretary Jeff Burmeister, who is director of engineering at KENW-TV.

Club member Keith Wattenbarger, emergency management director for Portales and Roosevelt County, said many people view ham radio as “kind of old fashioned, but if everything else fails, it still allows us to communicate. … It’s still very reliable, dependable communication.”

Wattenbarger said the club hopes to get one or two people licensed from each area volunteer fire department and from the police department.
A license is required to use ham radios, and the local club conducts classes and gives examinations for licensure, Burmeister said.
Members recalled the tornado that struck Clovis in March 2007, pointing out that normal communication methods were down for some time.
“Our folks couldn’t talk to each other,” Wattenbarger said.

Burmeister said situations such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and last year’s tornado encouraged him to get more involved with ham radio.
About two years ago, he said, he was named emergency coordinator for amateur radio in Roosevelt County.

The club will help with communication in the event of an emergency in the community, such as a toxic spill from a train car or a tornado, he said.
“We’d really like the community to get involved,” Taylor said. “It’s a lot of fun and with the weather the way it’s been, you never know …”

Burmeister said a basic amateur radio set-up can cost as little as $200.

The club meets at 10 a.m. the first and third Saturday of each month in a building behind the old broadcast center at ENMU. Interested persons are welcome to attend.

More information is available by e-mailing KE5RUE@enmu.edu.