Roger That: County Uses Radio Operators as Part of Emergency Plan

A group of volunteer amateur radio operators, known as "ham operators," have become an important part of Harris County's emergency plan, providing a communications back-up if everything else goes down. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, one of those operators is a 14-year-old from Porter who has already helped the county in one of its busiest hours.

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"Basically the interface is just like Outlook."

Joseph Gadus sits in front of a computer and several small radios in a room next to Harris County's Emergency Operations Center at Houston TranStar. He's showing off the latest in the amateur radio world, digital modes that send messages using technology similar to e-mail.

"Then we're going to go and connect to the station. It's transmitting now."

Gadus is part of Harris County's Amateur Radio Emergency Service group, volunteers who provide ham radio services during natural or man-made disasters. He worked with Harris County Judge Robert Eckels last year after Hurricane Katrina, when thousands of evacuees were arriving from New Orleans.

"It's very important to have it because regular communications, even here where we weren't even remotely affected, it shut down cell phones, the cell phone systems were completely backed-up, you couldn't use cell phones. Phone systems within the Astrodome weren't working properly and so the communications interoperability with the other agencies was great."

Joe Gadus, Joseph's dad, is one of hundreds of amateur radio operators on stand-by in Harris County, ready to respond if they're needed.

"During any emergency, we plan ahead. For us, every day is an emergency and we're prepared. We have standard drills throughout the year just for those types of occurences. Here at TranStar, each station will be manned by at least two operators. They'll be supervision provided and we'll be feeding intelligence to TranStar."

Amateur radio operators have been sending messages all over the world for a century now and use ten basic bands that range from High Frequency to Super High Frequency. Keith LeJeune is a liaison between the county and the volunteer operators.

"It may not ever happen for the Harris County radio system to go down but for smaller agencies, the smaller cities within the city of Houston that have their own radio systems, if those go down, we can activate our amateur radio group, send a group of them to where they need to be stationed and then they can communicate back to us and then we can get their information into the right communication channels."

You can see pictures of the Harris County amateur radio operators and find out more about ham radio on our website, KUHF.org

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...