A news item published in The Hindu (Madurai Edition)

September 21, 2002

Hamstrung by no disaster

CAN YOU imagine talking to the King Hussain of Jordan or the Sultan of Brunei? or at least our own film stars, Amitabh Batchan or Kamal Hassan. Want to be part of a disaster management corps in times of natural calamities? The answer to both the questions will be 'positive', if you are an Amateur Radio or Ham licence holder.

Going by the big names of the who's who, don't think it's only for the creamy layer. Infact, Ham is an interesting hobby in which the licence holder can get into a two-way communication from home, car and boats with handheld transmitters. Ham is one hobby, which could be constructively used to befriend unknown faces from every nook and corner of the world.

Ham clubs are slowly becoming popular in this part of the State too. Rajapalayam has the distinction of having a Ham Radio Communication Repeater's Club - the Disaster Communication Repeater Club - since 1993 and has as many as 60 members.

"Ham is a second line of communication which often becomes the lifeline of communication, during natural disasters like flood and earth quake for rescue operations," the custodian of the Repeater, Purushothama Raja, syas.

Ever since the club started lending its support to the district administration in 1993, the loss of lives due to floods has to an end at Watrap. Earlier, the district administration was dependent only on the wireless equipment used by the police.

However, the members lent their valuable support by commissioning 13 stations at vital places like Pilavakkal dam, the district Collectorate and establishing links with important officials, like the Collector, the PWD official and the staff at the dam.

Once, the Ham members received an SOS from the dam site that the water had risen to the danger level in the dead of the night. The communication was passed on to the official concerned, following which the shutters were opened, saving the dam from a major damage, says Raja.

Another incident would reveal the importance of Ham communication in a better way. The relatives of a 40-member pilgrimage team to Amarnath from the district were worried about the safety of the members, when they learnt about the death of pilgrims in the snow top mountains due to a hailstorm.

The Ham operators called their counterparts in Chandigarh, who, in turn, contacted Udhampur, and transmitted the good news of their safety. If this was the service during disaster, at normal times, the licence holders go on 'net' (at specific timings everyday), and communicate with people worldwide, during which culture, weather and other general Information, barring political, religious, military and commercial matters, is shared.

The Ham radio, as thought of by a majority, is not that costly, and a handset can be assembled at just Rs.2,000. It is only a one-time investment and people can communicate worldwide without any recurring expenditure. "Many people do not come forward, fearing the examination, which is mandatory for getting the licence".

Seeing the success of Ham and its invaluable service, the District Collector, K.Gopal, has asked the club to train Scouts and Guides, revenue officials, police personnel and Home Guards, so that communication will not be a problem during emergencies in future.

By S.Sundar

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