MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Let's say a natural disaster occurs; all power is lost and you need help. The first thing you would do is probably go for your cell phone. You try to make a call and can't get any reception, so now you're out of options. That's when ham radio operators step in.
"Well a lot of times when there's a major emergency, traditional and conventional communication systems fail," said William McCarrey, a ham radio operator. "With our systems we can set up and provide a backbone of communications when no other communications are functioning."
"We have such a wide variety of frequencies and modes at our disposal," said Patrick Fowler, president of the Eastern Panhandle Amateur Radio Club. "We can probably get through almost any way."
Amateur radio clubs from all over set up their equipment on Saturday as part of their annual field day.
"We will be communicating with other clubs that are set up for a field day," said Brian Umbrell, president of the Antietam Radio Association. "We are going to see if we can contact as many people as we can."
"We try to get as many people that are doing the same thing all over the country," Fowler added. "We give a short little exchange to say how many transmitters we have and where we're located."
The operators get in touch with 600 to 700 other contacts during the 24 hour period and keep a log of who they're in touch with as the day goes on.
"We have a little contest that goes on," said Herman Niedzielski, vice president of the Antietam Radio Association. "It's really just fellas getting used to the equipment, getting used to going on the air."
The operators communicate digitally through satellite and even by Morse code. When Hurricane Katrina hit, ham radio operators were the only source of communication for first responders. Saturday was just practice, but it's important for the operators to work on their skills in case a disaster were to occur.
The operators said the youngest person they have licensed is just seven years old, but they also have operators that are in their 90's who are licensed. Field day is open to the public, and they are allowed to make calls as long as they have someone licensed with them.