A natural disaster or power outage can be a nightmare for a society whose modes of communication depend on technology and computers. One Utah group, however, can communicate by radio in bleak conditions using a never-fail power source - the sun.
The Davis County Radio Club, an amateur radio organization, traveled to East Canyon Saturday to test a radio powered solely by batteries and solar panels. Club members can touch base with thousands of people using the solar station, and have already assisted in several natural disasters in Idaho and parts of Utah."If we had a major earthquake, we would be without power and would be isolated," said Lon Stuart, club publicity chairman. "But solar stations can keep people in contact during a natural disaster."
The group uses an amateur ham radio station, licensed for a maximum of about 1,500 watts and a large number of radio frequency bands, rather than a commercial radio, which operates on 40 channels and five watts. The station is powered by large batteries that are hooked up to two solar panels.
There are thousand of ham radio stations in the world, run with commercial, solar or battery power. Every year, the stations designate a day to practice communicating in case of an emergency. The emergency exercise has developed into a contest called Field Day, where the stations compete against one another to see who can obtain the most contacts in a 27-hour period.
"We contacted close to a thousand stations last year. Stations from all over the world - Europe, Canada, South America, Africa, the Orient," said John Mabey, Field Day chairman. The club placed in the top 10 percent in last year's competition.
This year, local Field Day activities were held at East Canyon Resort, 45 minutes up Parleys Canyon and the East Canyon highway. Club members arrived early Saturday with trailers and trucks full of radio equipment, camping supplies and family members.
The contest was scheduled to begin at noon. Around 11 a.m. the club members constructed a large radio antenna and set up a makeshift station beneath a canopy. The station consisted of a computer, solar panels, batteries and a transmitter donated by club members. Rules specify that all of the equipment must be located within a 300-meter area.
When the contest began, members gathered around the computer and transmitter. The first radio contacts were in code. One club member deciphered the code while another logged it into the computer by call number, class and location. The logs are spot checked by contest moderators.
Mabey said some of the contacts are made by code and others by conversation. He said that because the object of the contest is to make as many contacts as possible, people don't waste time "shooting the bull."
"It's easy to communicate because everybody knows English. Some people only know a few words, but it's enough. Most people just make contact and ask some questions," he said.
The station will continuing operating on solar power alone until 3 p.m. Sunday. Although ham radios are licensed for up to 1500 watts, the station is operating on about 100 watts during the contest."We keep the batteries charged to the maximum during the day, drain them at night and recharge them in the morning," Mabey said. The contest requires that stations operate for the full 27 hours, so club members will rotate shifts during the night.