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NIH Hams Camp Out to Test Emergency Communications

Photos by Chuck Sherman

On June 22-23, members of the NIH Radio Amateur Club (NIHRAC) — colloquially known as "hams" — participated in the annual North American Emergency Communications Exercise, sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, the national association for radio amateurs. They were testing their capability to assist communications during a public emergency. This was the first time NIHRAC has participated since 1985.

The NIH hams set up and operated radio transmitters and receivers, for 24 hours, on the lawn in front of Bldg. 1. This was field station "K3YGG." (NIHRAC was licensed by the Federal Communications Commission in 1963 and assigned the callsign K3YGG.)

Peter Fuchs stands on the gangway of the NIH Fire Department's mass decontamination unit, which NIH hams converted into a radio shack during the recent exercise.

The radio enthusiasts strung wire antennas between the large old oak trees from north-to-south and from east-to-west. They mounted another antenna atop a mast strapped to a parking sign. A fourth antenna was a long wire sloping down from the top of the flagpole. "We made use of what was there," they said.

"We received wonderful cooperation from our NIH fire, police and other emergency management and grounds people," the hams reported. The NIH Fire Department provided its mobile mass decontamination unit to house the emergency radio field station, and a generator to provide electrical power. The NIH electricians operated a "bucket truck" to lift ham Peter Fuchs and his EZ-Hang slingshot/fishing-reel up 40 feet to shoot the wire antennas as high as possible into the trees. The hams toted picnic tables into the trailer, to serve as a makeshift office.

The hams also relocated transceivers from NIHRAC's Emergency Communication Center in Bldg. 11, and some members brought equipment from home.

Dr. Peter Alterman (l) and Dr. Bill Hook man radio shack.

During the 24-hour period of contest operation, the NIH'ers used voice and Morse code and several digital modes of communication and logged 650 radio contacts with other hams in 45 states and three foreign countries. Most of the contacts were made using Morse code. "It's quick and reliable," said Dr. Peter Alterman, whose personal "ham call" is W2CDO. He used the club's call K3YGG as he operated the key sending Morse code reports to other stations. Jonathan Gottlieb, WA3WDK, and Dr. Chuck Sherman, N3WTO, made most of their contacts using a microphone. Other operators included John Muller, W3DQ, Peter Fuchs, DL5NC, and Marlene Skopec, N3YIQ. Additional members helped assemble and take down the station.

"We took a break in the middle of the night and turned off the generator for a few hours," said Sherman. "It's pretty quiet on the campus at 3 a.m. We slept under the stars." He and Alterman awoke before dawn to get back "on the air."

President Bush saluted amateur radio operators in a proclamation on June 18 for their "work on behalf of public safety and for communications that foster goodwill around the globe."

The NIH Radio Amateur Club is sponsored by the Emergency Management Branch, ORS, and meets at noon on the first Thursday of each month in Bldg. 11, Rm. 308. NIH staff interested in more information may contact Dr. Chuck Sherman, 594-9685 or N3WTO@nih.gov.

Arms of the ham radio antenna crisscross in front of the emblem atop Bldg. 1.

Fuchs uses a slingshot to hang antenna wire in trees.

Fuchs uses ORS bucket truck to cast antenna lines even higher into the trees.

Field day chair Dr. Chuck Sherman relaxes on his rolled-up sleeping bag.

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