Amateur radio seeks to help the public during eclipse

Posted at 4:14 PM, Aug 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-19 18:14:37-04

Monday's total solar eclipse is expected to be the largest mass migration in U.S. history, and with so many people expected to pour into small towns like Weiser, it's going to put a major strain on cell towers. Emergency responders are getting creative when it comes to emergency alerts. 

"There is this misconception on the part of the public that radio isn't necessary because we have cell phones. Cell phones don't work all the time," said Bill Ward with the Latah County Radio Auxiliary team.

Ward has had an interest in radio for quite some time so joining an amateur radio team was a no brainer. 

He said part of the draw is being able to help out the public in times of emergency. 

"By definition getting a few thousand people in Southern Idaho that don't normally live here is kind of an emergency," explained Ward.

Ward said what will likely happen is that everyone is going to get their cell phones out to send text messages to their friends, make phone calls, and surf the web, but Ward said that's where the problem lies. 

"The cell service is going to crash," said Ward.

That's where amateur radio comes in. 

"I describe amateur radio as CB on steroids," said Ward. "If someone has a medical emergency they can contact us and we will be in touch with emergency services and we can make at least an attempt to get the proper facilities, If the roads are open and a whole bunch of other ifs, but at least we can get the message out."

Ward said they will likely have someone at the hospital, the police department, the sheriff's office and at the fire station. They will also have individuals in places where a lot of the public will be so they can communicate with one another. 

Although he doesn't know exactly how many will be out, he said no matter what, there won't be enough. They could always use more. 

So if you find yourself in the crowd faced with an emergency, find an amateur radio person who can try to lend a helping hand. 

"When all else fails, radio," smiled Ward.