Amateur radio operators in California ready during disasters

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Amateur radio operators have often been called the last line of defense during a major natural disaster like the wildfires in Northern California, and operators on the Central Coast are prepared for similar emergencies.

High atop a hill overlooking Lompoc and the Santa Maria Valley, Bob Harrison, or "W6RFH" as he is known over the radio, understands his role. 

"We make sure our families are safe, then we go do what we need to do," said Harrison. "We volunteer to make sure that there is always a line of communication during a disaster, no matter what."

Harrison is president of the Satellite Amateur Radio Club out of Vandenberg Air Force Base. The club has graced the radio waves for nearly 70 years, with club members volunteering their time and equipment during all sorts of disasters, including wildfires, earthquakes, and floods. 

"We can set up anywhere," said Harrison. 

This is what makes them so special: radio operators do not need cell service or wi-fi. 

Many amateur radio operators who broadcast out of their homes or through clubs run their equipment off of solar power or generators to stay completely self sufficient. 

If a major disaster were to strike the central coast, operators would set up at evacuation center and hospitals, helping separated families and emergency personnel communicate.

"We'd have someone at the hospital, someone at the police and fire stations, places like that," Harrison said. 

"Emergency providers have their own communications," said James N. Loofbourrow, a radio club member. "They are really busy doing their jobs, so sometimes amateurs can get in there and help out."

While they call themselves amateurs, you do need a license to operator certain kinds of powerful radio equipment.

The club holds monthly meetings, host classes, and always encourages everyone to learn more about how to communicate if knocked out of the 21st century. 

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