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Lack of radio operators a ‘significant gap’ in region’s ability to respond to serious earthquake

SRD Protective Services Coordinator Shaun Koopman demonstrates his radio hub at the SRD offices downtown, where he will be reaching out to HAM radio operators within the community should a disaster occur. - Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
SRD Protective Services Coordinator Shaun Koopman demonstrates his radio hub at the SRD offices downtown, where he will be reaching out to HAM radio operators within the community should a disaster occur.
— image credit: Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

It will be the regular, everyday people of our community – even more so than our emergency responders – who will make a major disaster like a significant earthquake…let’s say, “less bad,” according to Shaun Koopman, protective services coordinator for the Strathcona Regional District (SRD).

And one of the ways the community can improve how we cope with – and bounce back from – a major disaster like the overdue earthquake we’re expecting, is to have more amateur radio operators.

“We really are short of operators,” Koopman says. “This is one of our biggest gaps here in Campbell River.

“Not enough people know how to use amateur radio.”

One of the main reasons for that, he says, is that people figure that with all the technology available these days to make communication easier, they think radio has become obsolete.

“It’s amazing how far we’ve come in terms of communication technology,” Koopman admits. “But in the event of a major event or emergency, we still go back to radio.”

Koopman says the province did a multi-million dollar earthquake exercise last year called Exercise Coastal Response, “and one of the biggest lessons learned that came from that was the importance of HAM radio operators in the community.”

After a major event, Koopman says, there may not be Internet or cellular service, so communication platforms like Twitter and Facebook – which many people rely heavily on to communicate – won’t be options.

“If the Internet is down, Facebook is useless,” Koopman says, simply.

And you don’t need to be some kind of engineer to operate a radio in your basement.

“The average person can do it. There’s a lot to it, but it’s not that overwhelming if you’re willing to put the time and effort into learning it,” Koopman says.

And so, Koopman – with help from a few local radio operators – has organized a four-week course, run on consecutive Saturdays beginning Jan. 28 and running throughout February.

“It will be fairly in-depth,” Koopman says. “It’ll be about antennae theory, regulations, how communication is utilized during an emergency scenario, basic electronics training, and safety, of course. It’s to give people the theory and understanding of the practical use of radio.”

But just because someone takes the course, there’s no obligation for them to join the emergency program, Koopman says.

“We’re not saying that if you take this course you have to buy your own radio and you’re committed to be part of the response team or anything,” he says.

“But it will definitely be nice to know there are a few more people out there in the community with access to the airwaves.”

Koopman is, however, currently engaging the community looking for opinions on the formation of an Emergency Communications Team Working Group that will establish how licensed amateur radio operators in the community will become integrated into the SRD’s emergency response following a disaster, so there will be opportunity for people to get more “officially” involved should they want to.

After all, Koopman says, “after a disaster, I can’t see your neighbourhood, but if I can talk to someone there and ask things like, ‘What are you seeing? How many structures are standing? How many people are homeless? What’s the damage? Ideally, if we could get one HAM radio operator in every neighbourhood in Campbell River, the quicker we can assess our capability to respond and the quicker we can get to responding and saving lives.”

The four-session course is being run out of the Campbell River Search and Rescue building on Larwood Street in Willow Point with morning sessions running from 9:40 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with an hour break for lunch. There is a $60 fee for the course, payable at the first session, which includes the workbook and cost of the exam.

Students need to receive a 70 per cent grade on the 100-question, multiple choice final exam to “pass” the course and receive privileges in the use of the radio spectrum, but students who receive 80 per cent or better will also receive access to worldwide radio bands.

Application forms are available by emailing Koopman at skoopman@strathconard.ca or the course instructor, Frank Wallace at wallace@pacificcoast.net.

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