HONOLULU (KHON2) — The fires on Maui have shone a stark spotlight on the need not only for disaster preparedness, but also for a quick escape that includes much needed essentials.

Most everyone focuses on ensuring their cell phones are fully charged and/or that they have ample access to external batteries and chargers.

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But what do you do when communications are down, your cell phone doesn’t work and there’s no internet?

This is where a device comes into play that lots of people have never even heard of: a ham radio.

A ham radio is an increasingly popular tool that provides access to communications without cell phones or internet. The radio utilizes frequencies for phone-like communication; it can also access the internet when no internet is available.

You can talk to people near you, around the world or even in outer space. (It has become increasingly popular for ham radio operators to communicate with folks on the International Space Station.) You can access the worldwide web without a service provider like Spectrum or Hawaiian Telecom.

A license is needed to operate recreationally, but the license is often not necessary when dealing with a disaster situation.

The license is not difficult to get. There are lots of online courses and test prep sites that help you prepare for the exam. Once you have taken it, then your license is valid for ten years with the need only to renew it. (There is no need to take the test again.)

It is important to know that the test is all about how to use the radio. What the frequencies mean and how to maximize its use as a communications device when all other options have disappeared.

One of the worst parts of what is happening with the Maui fires is that the fires destroyed communications capabilities across the board.

People need medications. They need to locate loved one. They need information.

This is where local Hawaiʻi ham radio operators come in. KHON2.com was able to catch up with Michael Miller to talk about the need to grow and develop a larger ham radio community in Hawaiʻi to help mitigate the lack of communications during a disaster.

Miller is the Assistant Manager for the Pacific Section of the ARRL – The National Association for Amateur Radio and State Government Liaison. He’s also the Director of Operations and Partner at Tiki’s Bar & Grill in Waikīkī.

“This journey began as a hobby, and these local disasters have given me a renewed commitment to my community to help others be prepared and trained and available in the event of this disaster and the next disaster,” said Miller. “Family, friends and community are helping one another in a ham radio network.”

It costs $35 to get your ham radio operator license. You will not be alone in this journey.
Hawaiʻi’s Emergency Amateur Radio Club “is devoted to helping Hawaiʻi residents obtain or upgrade their FCC Amateur Radio License,” explained Miller. “There are free classes via ZOOM held frequently to cover examination material in groups of about ten students at a time.”

Another resource is the National Association for Amateur Radio. This organization maintains a network of ham radio operators who function as amateur operators.

It is important to know that ham radio operators are not first responders or emergency responders. They are people volunteers in the community who have the communications capability to help those in need.

“Ham radio operators can only communicate via the ham radio network of users; this is why it is important to grow the ham radio community in Hawaiʻi,” said Miller.

Hence, the more operators there are, the better the communication network is.

Zombie apocalypse? No problem. Cataclysmic earthquake? Not a problem. Devastating fire? No problem. Ham radio operators have the capability of providing communications when there are no other options.

“There are digital forms of communication. If someone is affected outside or inside the areas or if something like Waikīkī’s grid is down, we can still send and receive emails including forms and photos and text messages to regular internet,” explained Miller. “Or we can pass messages to one another with the radios: medical supply lists, request for assistance, missing persons help. What ham radio is a conduit for the community, a backup communication resource.”

So, social media, email, government websites with disaster information and updates, news media, phone calls are all accessible via a ham radio even when all other options are gone.

Miller provided a bit of information on what free training tools are available to get you prepared to use a ham radio:

  • Classes use the ARRL manuals which treat subjects in an organized manner. Related questions are covered together in the chapters. Classes use the Internet program “Ham Academy” (HA) to help students master the material. HA is basically an “electronic flash card manager” that keeps statistics. Click here for a link to the on-line Ham Academy software.
  • For students preferring non-computer based review material, paper flash cards are also available and are an effective learning tool. Click here to download flash card print files
  • Both HA and paper flash cards reference chapter and page numbers in the ARRL manuals to speed student look-up.
  • Ham Academy can print practice examinations very close to those used by VE teams. 
  • Practicing with the same procedures used at test sessions can help students be comfortable with the testing process.

Of course there are paid options for training for the exam.

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Ham radios are not expensive, and they are much sleeker than they were 30 years ago. There are handheld options that can easily fit into a disaster preparedness kit.

This is KB5LYN signing off.