We get so sophisticated and we have gotten so used to the reliability and resilience in our wireless and wired and our broadcast industry and all of our public safety communications, that we can never fathom that they’ll fail. They do. They have. They will. I think a strong Amateur Radio community [needs to be] plugged into these plans.
—Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator (2009-2017), 3 May 2011
The Role of Amateur Radio
Ham radio operators by the hundreds volunteered for service to the devastated areas of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and her sisters, Rita and Wilma, pounded a five-state area and destroyed other communications systems. For their life-saving work, the hams received commendations from the President and Congress, as well as international praise. It truly proved the saying, “When all else fails, ham radio works!”
Within minutes of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, ham operators were busy communicating from emergency operations systems. The ham operators continued for weeks, as the amateurs handled emergency and other important messages for disaster and government agencies, as well as for displaced families.
Hams use all sorts of radios and antennas on a wide variety of frequencies to communicate with other hams across town, or around the world. They use ham radio for personal enjoyment, for keeping in touch with friends and family, for public service communications and to experiment with radio technology.
You Can Have This Capability for Yourself and Your Family
If you’d like to become an amateur radio operator, the first step is to study for the FCC licensing test. There are three levels of licensing: Technician, General, and Extra. Technicians operate on a more limited range of frequencies than those with the General or Extra license, but it’s the most common type and sufficient for most people’s needs.
Some people can pass the test just by studying online materials or books, but the rest of us need to take a class.
- Online Programs: AA9PW Exam Practice, HAM Test Online, QRZ.com, eHAM.net
- Literature: ARRL Store, No-Nonsense Technician Class License Study Guide [Editor’s note: I used the ARRL textbooks from the ARRL Store to prepare for all of the exams and passed without difficulty. They are not bad.]
Nearby Test Preparation Classes
- The Portland NET program often offers Ham classes. Once you’ve completed the NET Basic Training, you’ll have access to an array of advanced trainings, including amateur radio.
- The Piedmont Neighborhood Emergency Team offers free Technician and General Class training and test preparation quarterly. Register at PDXPiedmont.net.
FCC Examination Sites
- If you take the amateur radio class through the NET program (the Piedmont Neighborhood Emergency Team), testing will be done at the end of the class.
- The Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the national host organization for the hobby. Among its many roles, it serves as a major Volunteer Examination Coordinators, training and certifying Volunteer Examiners (VEs) who administer the amateur radio licensing tests for the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). It publishes a list of testing options by location
Listen into Amateur Radio Nets without a License
A lot of the learning opportunities exist “on the air” in amateur radio nets. The weekly Portland NET Net has a curriculum that covers topics direct interest to both new hams and folks thinking about becoming hams. For example, they talk about how to pick out a first amateur radio hand-held radio for emergency communications that would also be suitable for search and rescue operations.
To listen to these nets, however, you have to be able to listen in on amateur radio frequencies. That would seem to be an expensive undertaking, even if you could figure out how to do it. Wrong. There are several inexpensive ways to start listening to ham radio forums and nets without a ham license, and we explain all that on the PortlandPrepares.org web page entitled “Listen In!”.
Keep up to Date with Carrie W7CAC
Another great list of up-to-date events, courses, and resources is a Google Doc maintained by one of the Portland NET ARO Radio Training Liaisons (RTLs), Carrie Conte. The PDX NET ARO Info doc is described by its author as “the intersection in a venn diagram of PDX NET and Ham Radio. PDX NET is *much* broader than just radio…and radio is much broader than just NET.” Among the topics listed are:
- Recreational Radio Opportunities
- Regional Info for Additional Training and Networking
- Recommended Nets
- Special Interest Groups, and
That gives you a rough idea, but by all means check it out.
Getting the license is only the fist step on the road to becoming an amateur radio operator. Many who pass the license regrettably never buy a radio, much less learn to use one. The links below take you to the next levels
- Learning to use your radio and learning basic operating skills
- Practice these skills by participating in some the radio nets established for beginners and new NET hams
- Become a certified Portland NET ARO and begin working on advanced communication skills such as message handling and net control