Despite the internet, cell phones, email and modern communications, every year whole regions of the world find themselves in the dark. Tornadoes, fires, storms, ice and even the occasional cutting of phone or internet cables leave people without the means to communicate.
In these cases, the one consistent service that has never failed has been Amateur Radio. In the relatively “sheltered” environment of the Cook Islands, cyclones, tsunamis, or even serious fire or other damage to Te Aponga Uira or Telecom facilities could black out all communications
Amateur radio operators, often called “hams”, provide backup communications for everything from the International Red Cross to the International Space Station. Last weekend, Rarotonga hams joined with thousands of other amateur radio operators worldwide showing their emergency communications capabilities.
This annual event, called “Field Day”, is the climax of the week-long “Amateur Radio Week” sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the US national association for Amateur Radio.
Using only emergency power supplies, ham operators constructed emergency stations in parks, shopping malls, schools and backyards around the US. Their slogan, “When All Else Fails, Ham Radio Works”, is more than just words to the hams as they prove they can send messages in many forms without the use of phone systems, internet or any other infrastructure that can be compromised in a crisis.
Between noon on Saturday and 1am on Sunday, Rarotonga ham operators used battery-powered transmitters to communicate to other operators worldwide by making more than 600 contacts with other ham radio operators in 38 different counties on five different continents within one 12-hour period. The exercise demonstrated that, without using commercial power sources or infrastructure, it was possible to establish effective communications worldwide. Contacts were made to Australia, New Zealand, all over the United States and Canada, numerous “Eastern Block” and European countries, Japan, and even other Pacific Islands.
For the exercise, the hams used a large antenna located in Inave; however, if a cyclone took out the tower and antenna, the Cook Islands hams have portable antennas that can be set up in a few minutes to enable them to establish world-wide communications even when everything else is down.
Overall, more than 35,000 amateur radio operators around the world participated actively in the event, and thousands of others joined in by making contacts with participating stations.