Hospital Tower Boosting Ham Radio
Posted on Thursday, July 7th, 2011
Dr. J.T. O’Connor, Jr., discusses the hospital/EMS emergency communications system with David Bond, emergency coordinator of amateur radio in Love County. Licensed ham radio operators like Dr. O’Connor use the system as backup for reaching ambulances when telephone or cellphone service is knocked out.
Emergency radio operations are getting a boost from a 70-foot repeater tower installed recently on the grounds of Mercy Health/Love County Hospital, Clinic, and EMS.
The repeater captures low-power radio signals and retransmits them at higher power to go farther.
The tower expands the reach of the amateur radios installed in 2007 at the hospital and in EMS command vehicles.
Amateur or “ham” radio substitutes at the hospital and Love County EMS during disasters when telephones go down and cell phone circuits become too overloaded to work.
Mercy Health/Love County was the first emergency service in southern Oklahoma outside of the Red Cross to adopt ham radio, according to Kevin O’Dell, Section Manager in Oklahoma for the American Radio Relay League, the national association of amateur radio.
More recently, Mercy hospitals in Ardmore and Waurika have become ham enabled, O’Dell said.
The new tower also houses a commercial repeater. It is on the same frequency as the Sheriff’s Department to provide a backup system for the department “at the flip of a switch,” O’Dell said.
O’Dell, of Ardmore, helped design and install the hospital’s emergency communications system.
Inside the hospital are two operator modules, each containing three ham and two county radios, in addition to a scanner that picks up audio from emergency and weather channels in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas.
“The hospital very much wants to support not just their situation but the whole area. The room the radios are in will be the command center for the hospital and may be the command center for more of the area, depending on the event,” O’Dell said.
Eleven medical staff, paramedics, and volunteer firefighters and storm spotters in the county have earned licensure as amateur radio operators through hospital-sponsored classes since 2008.
Another dozen staff members and volunteers have enrolled for the beginners’ ham radio class at the hospital training center on July 9-10.
The training class and FCC test cost $45. The public may sign up by calling the hospital at 276-3347.
O’Dell will be the instructor.
The two-day class is intensive but the vast majority of students succeed in passing the operator’s test. “I’ve had one person fail, an 8-year-old child,” O’Dell said.
Not all licensees become active or even purchase radio equipment, but O’Dell said as little as $250 will buy a 50-watt mobile set up and a 5-watt handheld radio.
A mobile unit is useful for storm spotting or helping at public events, such as parades or road races.
Recreationally, ham radio users communicate with one another around the world.
About 25 ham operators reside in Love County, according to David Bond of Marietta.
He is the ARRL’s newly-appointed emergency coordinator of amateur radio in Love County.
He has been traveling around the county to test the range of the hospital’s new repeater tower.
“The tower is an extremely valuable asset the hospital has made available. It really has been tremendous in strengthening signals in the western and southern half of the county where elevation drops off toward the Red River,” Bond said.
The hospital also is a meeting place for the Arbuckle Technology Society.
It is a club for amateur radio operators and other electronics and science enthusiasts in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas.