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Roxbury Amateur Radio Expert Readies for Weekend of Roughing It

WMAR'S Field Day Site Credits: Edward E Donnelly Jr
Bridget Donnelly handles communications as her Sister Clara watches on. Credits: Edward E Donnelly Jr
Clara Donnelly's also gets in the action! Credits: Edward E Donnelly Jr

ROXBURY, NJ - A Roxbury based group of amateur (“ham”) radio operators is looking for new members and its founder is inviting the public to participate in this weekend’s American Radio Relay League Field Day to get a taste of things at their worst.

 At the event, amateur radio operators will stay outdoors and work around the clock to set up field radio communication stations, get on the air and contact thousands of other operators in the United States and Canada, said Kenvil resident Edward Donnelly, president and founder of the West Morris Amateur Radio Club. He said the field day is the group’s yearly “shakedown run” for the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and it's designed to simulate working in less-than-ideal conditions.

 The field day will take place at the Lakeland Little League field at 20 Sparta Road in Stanhope on June 24 and June 25.

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“Field Day is a way for hams to get outdoors and have fun under some difficult conditions,” Donnelly said. “But it’s also a chance to fine-tune emergency communication skills. We use generators and battery power, and we set up antennas in the field. The idea is to put together self-sufficient, working stations quickly and begin making contacts.”

Amateur radio operators like Donnelly establishing emergency communication networks during floods, fires, earthquakes and other major disasters. They were on the air during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and throughout Superstorm Sandy, Donnelly said.

 During Sandy, some of the group’s members - who are part of the township Office Of Emergency Management - “manned the radios and emergency hotline phones at the township’s OEM Command Center,” Donnelly said. “We communicated to other emergency personnel that were out in the storm doing such things as welfare checks, identifying and reporting back-road hazards such as downed trees and electrical wires. Getting people who needed shelter to the shelter.”

Emergencies aren’t the only time the radio buffs help. Donnelly said they participated in the recent MS Walk at Horseshoe Lake Park. “We place personnel at locations along the walk to report back the progress and also if someone has a medical emergency,” he said.

A big part of field day participation is showing ingenuity. Radio operators “practice communication skills under primitive conditions, with generator and battery-powered equipment and portable antennas,” according to Donnelly. He said special awards are given for those who use alternative power sources such as solar, wind and methane.

 “To become a member, we suggest that the person come out to one of our meetings or events,” Donnelly said. “Once they decide to join, they fill out a membership application form. If they want to get an amateur radio license, we can guide and help them accomplish this. The entry license is called a technician class license.”

 He said a big investment in radio equipment is not necessary. “Entry equipment can be as cost-effective as a hand-held radio,” Donnelly explained. “Members of the club can assist and help program it for local repeaters and other emergency frequencies. The cost goes up for other equipment, such as a base radio with general coverage worldwide frequencies.”

These amateur radio operators are members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES). In this capacity, they have voluntarily worked for a variety of public organizations providing disaster services, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, state and local emergency management agencies and the National Weather Service Skywarn program, Donnelly said.

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