Amateur radio may be just a hobby to some, but during an emergency these radio operators will likely be able to keep the lines of communication open to the outside world.
Also called hams, during an emergency when the power is off and the Internet and phones aren’t working, local amateur radio operators might very well be the best way to communicate with each other.
For the past two years, Todd Smith of Rexburg has been helping to organize amateur radio operators as part of an effort by the LDS Church to be prepared for emergencies.
As part of his church responsibilities, he currently serves as an assistant North America Idaho Area Emergency Communication Specialist that covers the states of Idaho and Montana, as coordinator for the Rexburg region, and as the emergency communication specialist for the Rexburg East Stake where he lives.
He said most stakes in the Rexburg area have an emergency communication specialist and some wards also have ward specialists.
If an emergency or disaster were to happen, the bishop or stake president will use these communication specialists to help relay information to church members and church leaders. Besides using amateur radios, the ward and stake volunteers may be trained in setting up calling trees to contact church members and how to use social media such as Facebook to provide information.
“The church considers amateur radio to be a backup form of communication,” Todd said. “When everything else is not working, the church will turn to amateur radio.”
The main reason why amateur radio works during emergencies is because each station is completely independent of any other resources. Many hams are set up to operate on battery power and the radios are not tied to the Internet or telephone lines.
As part of their preparedness training, church members who are part of the volunteer network check in each week and often receive training over the radio.
Todd explained that the program is under priesthood direction, and in an emergency, the network of radio operators would provide support to priesthood leaders.
“Idaho has one of the strongest programs,” he said. “We have a really active program here and I’m fortunate to part be of it.”
Within the Rexburg region, he estimated that between 20 and 30 people come out to the monthly training meetings.
Todd first got interested in amateur radio about 30 years ago when he was a student at Ricks College. About three years ago, because of his interest in emergency communication he renewed his interest, purchased some radio equipment and became a licensed operator.
“I was hungry to learn more,” he said of his recent interest in amateur radio.
Today, he is very involved in teaching and training other volunteers throughout southeast Idaho.
“I’m on the radio almost every day for something,” he said.
On weekends, he often gets involved with amateur radio contests that challenge the operators and keep them active.
He particularly enjoys visiting with fellow radio operators around the world, and has talked with people from as far away as Antarctica, New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
Besides volunteering with the church network, Todd also is the emergency communication coordinator for Madison County. Although many are not active, it is estimated that Madison County has 230 licensed amateur radio operators.
While amateur radio takes up much of his spare time, Todd works in the Information Technology Department at BYU-Idaho. As director of infrastructure, he oversees work with servers, storage, user names and email.
For more information, contact Todd by phone at 208-313-1230 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.