HAM Radio Club Provides Emergency Communication

As members of the Nixa Amateur Radio Club (NARC) in Missouri, McKesson Corp. employees Chris Cochran, Randy Jordan, and Jeff Morrissey had prepared for emergency situations in the face of natural disasters. Given their location in the heart of the Midwest's tornado alley, they assumed that the biggest natural disaster they would have to worry about would never result from a hurricane. But that was before August 29.

The destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina has devastated nearly all means of electronic communication for the Gulf states. Worried family members across the country have been trying any means possible to contact their loved ones in the states affected. One of those means is through amateur, or HAM, radio.

"It started with one request," says Cochran, NARC club president. "They just wanted to see if we were able to reach the Red Cross to check on the well being of a family member. Then it snowballed from there." Among those messages was one from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) office in Texas attempting to relay a message from President George W. Bush to FEMA officials in New Orleans, which was to then be delivered to the mayor of the city.

With help from another, Daniel Hirsch, the club posted a form on its website at http://www.nixahams.net/ for people to request "Health and Well Being Checks." These are messages that are transmitted to relief agencies in the disaster area seeking to check the status of a family member. The Red Cross received so many of them from across the country that the requests currently are being stored until they can be handled.

Local media interviewed the HAM radio club's members and posted the website address on television. Within 24 hours, NARC had received more than 100 requests for Health and Well Being Checks. Anticipating the increase in web traffic, Jeff Kerr offered his own web server to handle the crush. "Once I heard what was going on, I realized that their club was going to need more web capacity than they currently had to handle the potential traffic on their website. Since I have a web hosting company, I had the space available and provided it to the club," says Kerr.

"We had one instance where a disabled elderly couple was trapped in their home with rising water and couldn't get local phone service," notes Morrissey. "They could get long distance service, so they called family members up here, who then contacted our club. That information was sent to the appropriate group and transmitted via HAM radio to the local area. A rescue took place within an hour."

To submit a Health and Well Being Check for someone in the Gulf states, visit http://www.nixahams.net/.