Members of the local amateur radio community have overcome the social-separation issue imposed during the coronavirus by meeting using their radios.
For amateur radio operators, also known as “hams,” this is not a new activity since most active hams communicate daily with other hams locally, regionally, across oceans and even globally through the use of earth orbiting satellites --- including the International Space Station.
What is new is that local ham radio groups such as the Queen Creek Amateur Radio Club and the Queen Creek Emergency Communications Group are now including checks on their members’ status during this pandemic event.
Hams refer to this as “health and welfare” checks, a common practice during any emergency event in which amateur radios operators provide communications support to public safety organizations. These hams informally check up on each other daily and also weekly during formally scheduled meetings referred to as on air “nets.”
The members of the local ham groups meet using a radio repeater located in San Tan Valley allowing them to share time together on a wide variety of topics, covering the East Valley region and beyond.
Ham radio does not use the Internet or telecommunications infrastructure but, if available, can link through gateways extending communications worldwide by just using a simple handheld two-way radio or what non-hams may refer to as a walkie-talkie. Ham radio communication is always reliable and constant especially when Internet, cellular and normal telecommunications are not available.
The weekly Queen Creek Emergency Group net usually includes some 15 to 20 participants who "check in" through a central network control operator and then take turns sharing information. “Check-ins” normally range from Glendale, Ahwatukee, Mesa, Apache Junction, Gilbert, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Casa Grande and Florence. Keep in mind, this same activity is happening all over the country by local ham radio groups daily. That is a lot of health and welfare checking going on.
Topics can be anything from "how are you coping" to relaying tips and hints, posing technical questions, commenting on a good book to read, TV show or movie to watch, trivia questions, sharing info on lines and the availability of items at local markets, phone numbers of service providers for seniors, or one might just say nothing while listening and monitoring the conversation.
Even non-hams can listen in to these exchanges since an FCC license is only required to transmit --- i.e. anyone can listen in.
You don’t even need a radio or scanner for the Queen Creek nets. One can listen in via the Internet at broadcastify.com/webPlayer/10544.
Using home stations, mobile radios or even hand-helds (walkie-talkies), operators are free to join the group while walking the dog, running errands, hiking the local trails, or relaxing in their homes.
The weekly meetings are hosted by volunteer coordinators, some of which include Joe Sammartino, N2QOJ, Janet Cooper, KF7SLQ, John Schappert, KI7PPW, Clint Hawkins, KG7BWD, Court Hilton, KF7VF, Steve Knab, KG7BME, Dennis Lawrence, KF7RYX, Ron Earl, K7RWE, Dave Waller, KG7NCV, and others when necessary.
In addition to the exchange of health and welfare, the operators are honing their skills in case they're needed to assist others in a time of emergency.
But in the near term, amateur radio provides a means to escape the barriers of sheltering in place, linking with others, sharing experiences and being social without the need to gather in person.
An FCC Amateur Radio license is required to transmit but those with scanner radios can listen in on 449.325 MHz daily and weekly nets at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and 8 p.m. Sundays.
Editor's note: Joe Sammartino, N2QOJ, is a volunteer coordinator with the Queen Creek Emergency Group.