Amateur radio operators, also known as "hams," are among those unsung heroes who neither seek the limelight, nor bask in it when it shines on them.
They are hobbyists first, who spend their spare time, or perhaps some dedicated time each day or weekend, communicating with fellow hams near and far. Most hams use microphones and speakers, either in their ham shack, or base station, or with a mobile rig in their vehicle. A few purists still communicate using a key to sound the dots and dashes of Morse Code.
But these hams exhibit the serious side of amateur radio when disaster strikes - when an accident, fire or weather event cuts off communications via normal channels.
Ray Denny, emergency manager for Umatilla County, says regional hams have helped emergency management personnel a lot in recent years. He says the county has counted on ham operators during fires and other times when emergency communications were necessary in remote areas of the county. Denny said ham operators are the county's backup communications plan and are a great resource when traditional communications systems are inoperable.
Just as with any backup plan, it needs to be tested from time to time, so the county and the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program involve ham operators in their annual exercises.
John Wilson, a state communications coordinator based in Pendleton, is a ham in his spare time. He fills in, when necessary, for Gary Cooper of Hermiston, emergency coordinator for the Umatilla-Morrow County Amateur Radio Emergency Service. During threatening weather, Wilson also mans the ham rig at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Pendleton.
As part of the agency's Weather Spotter program, ham operators from Bend to Idaho who also are trained weather observers, call in weather reports to Pendleton. Wilson passes the information on to forecasters who pass it on to the public.
Sheriff John Trumbo realizes the importance of ham operators. He's even provided room at the Sheriff's Office so the organization Cooper coordinates can have a small office there. He says ham operators are valuable because they have radio capabilities the county doesn't have. Trumbo admitted the county doesn't need the ham operators often, "but when we do, they're on it," he said.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski also recognizes the importance of amateur radio operators and has proclaimed next week "Amateur Radio Week," in Oregon. He says the proclamation recognizes their dedication providing communication support in emergencies.
The Hermiston Herald joins the sheriff, the governor and others applauding ham operators for their selfless duty when they're needed.
"73s", which in "ham" talk means "our compliments, or best regards."
Unsigned editorials reflect the opinions of Editor Dean Brickey and General Manager Jeanne Hoffman. Other columns, letters and cartoons on this page express the opinions of the authors and not necessarily those of the newspaper.