There was a story on Slashdot about selling off a chunk of radio spectrum that amateur radio uses as “secondary users”. The usual arguments back and forth were had, including somebody trotting out the old standby of ham radio will save us when all else fails!~!.
Aside from the fact that even I, somebody who’s a staunch advocate of amateur radio as a technical playground and resilient backup communications plan, don’t 100% agree with that perspective, it ignores the simple fact that ham radio as a hobby is dying with the generation of men and women who took up the hobby in the Baby Boomer generation.
Increasingly, there aren’t enough ham radio operators in some areas to really depend upon when the fit hits the shan.
I’ve seen it in my own community here in Oregon. The RACES/ARES group that helps out at our Renaissance Faire with emergency comms now does not have enough healthy bodies to man a station 24 hours a day for three days. And you can’t get enough young people interested: it’s worth noting that between myself and a handful of other young folk, there are more hams on the staff of this Faire than the emergency comms group has in its active membership (side note: I’d be a volunteer for this emergency comms group, but I live 80 miles away). But we’re too busy actually doing Faire things to have our hands on radios… we can barely keep up with our “day jobs” on site and the radio traffic relevant to our immediate Faire Guild.
The past few disasters locally have largely been worked by a handful of dedicated hams, many of them working to exhaustion. As these men (many of whom are in their 60s or older) age, their ability to man a radio for 16 hours a day is rapidly declining. Soon, there may not be enough active, well trained hams with ready-to-go equipment to respond.
If you are a tech geek and don’t have a license, get one. If you have a license and don’t have at least a “scram kit” with at least an HT and some basic tools for building antennas, making electroncis repairs, and a couple of good maps (plus all the “usual” recommended disaster supplies) you are part of the problem.
So, to that, I’d like to issue a challenge to the geek friends of mine who are out there. If you do not have a ham radio license but would like to get one, talk to me and I’ll help you anyway I can. If you are an inactive ham who doesn’t have a “scram kit” built, or you feel you lack the skills or know-how to use it, seek me out and we’ll put one together for you and teach you basic emergency techniques. If you are an active ham with an assembled “scram kit” but have never had the opportunity to use it, let’s talk about a sked, where we both take our field kits out somewhere and try to work each other.
These skills are valuable not only to each other, but to our greater community. The more we demonstrate our value by keeping our skills current the more likely we can keep the hobby relevant and interesting to the next generation of geeks, not to mention society at large. If we lose our relevance, no amount of donations to the ARRL Spectrum Defense Fund can help us.