The Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club held an emergency communications demonstration to showcase the use of portable radio communication in today’s modern world, Tuesday on Dexter Lawn
Club president Marcel Stieber said the demonstration was run completely off battery power to simulate a disaster situation in which normal communication modes would be down.
He said the club routinely practices mock-disaster situations and has provided emergency communications during both the Highway 41 fire and the Loma Prieta earthquake.
“Today’s event is to demonstrate the usefulness of amateur radio during emergency situations,” Stieber said.
The club used a variety of different communicating devices during its field day. The communicating equipment showcased included Automatic Packet Report System (APRS), Internet Radio Linking Protocol (IRLP), ultra high frequency/very high frequency repeaters, which transmit locally, and high frequency long range communications.
John Cape, the club’s former president for the past two years, talked about the importance of these communicators in a disaster situation.
“Amateur radio communicators are the primary form of communication until the system gets rebuilt,” Cape said.
Stieber and Cape both pointed out that high frequency communication is the most effective in disaster situations because it doesn’t depend on any infrastructure and can travel over far distances.
“With a very small portable system, we can reach anywhere in the world,” Cape said.
The club utilizes an 80-foot antenna tower for high-frequency transmissions. It is located outside of the Engineering East building, room 123 and was donated in 1976. Stieber said they received transmissions from the East Coast and a small island called Dominica in the Caribbean during their demonstration.
Another vital communication system the club uses is the Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS). This system gives off GPS coordinates which are produced on a map from certain beacons. The club used the APRS in events such as the Tri-California Wildflower triathlon, Cal Poly Wheelman Bike Race and other community events.
Stieber said the system is placed on ambulances and other support vehicles to locate them, allowing the closest vehicle to respond.
In order to start transmitting, Stieber said people must obtain a license since the Federal Communications Commission designated the set frequencies for use by licensed people only. There are three types of license classes: technician, general and extra.
“The technician class gives you basic operating ability,” Stieber said. “The general and subsequently the extra license allow you to transmit on more frequencies with more power.”
The technician exam is a 35 question pass/fail test; all questions and answers are available through the FCC Web site. Stieber said every person who passes is assigned a call sign through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Stieber said it is one of the few clubs with many available resources at its disposal.
Edward Adams, a computer engineering senior, said the club presents an opportunity to use the equipment for his senior project.
“The club allows me to transmit on their frequencies from any power,” Adams said. “It gives people a way to educate themselves on the use of radio communication.”
Despite both being radio communicators, amateur radio differs from normal AM/FM radio. Stieber said amateur radio is allocated by the FCC for citizens to use for public service and as a hobby. Normal radio is typically used for the broadcasting of music and news.
The Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club was founded in 1947 and is currently the second-oldest club on campus. Today, the club consists of five officers and around 20 contributing members.