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Lynchburg Amateur Radio Club adapts annual Field Day amid pandemic

Lynchburg Amateur Radio Club adapts annual Field Day amid pandemic

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From homes around Lynchburg on Saturday, members of the Lynchburg Amateur Radio Club made contact with other amateur radio operators across the world, using antennas hung in treetops and no external power.

Field Day is a worldwide event where amateur radio operators construct an emergency communication center where there is little to work with. Clubs must then operate the communication center for 24 hours, making contacts across the nation and world.

The event allows amateur radio clubs, such as LARC, to demonstrate how they are equipped to communicate health and welfare messages in times of emergency or natural disasters when cell towers may be out of commission or overcrowded.

“It shows that we can react quickly in the event of an emergency with next to nothing to work with,” LARC member and club public information officer Wayne Rash said.

The event began at 2 p.m. Saturday and continues through 2 p.m. today. Points are awarded to radio operators for each contact they make.

LARC, a nonprofit public service organization likely formed after the end of World War II, has participated in the event for decades, Rash said. But, this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the club had to adapt its participation to better comply with social distancing and other health and safety recommendations.

In prior years, LARC member Rick Brown said, the club participated in Field Day from Riverside Park in Lynchburg and Izaak Walton Park in Amherst, as well as other locations in the Lynchburg area. This year, only about 10 of the club’s members participated in setting up the communication center Friday — a third of the number they usually have helping, Brown said.

Gordon “Geep” Howell operated a drone that pulled antennas into treetops, while other members connected power generators and set up computers and radios in the garage of a Lynchburg home — this year’s “field.” Only two antennas were used this year, Brown said, four fewer than last year.

Saturday, even fewer members were on site — only about five. With social distancing requirements, many opted to participate remotely. Brown said remote operation is something the club never has done before.

“This is a new experience for us,” he said. “We’re having to do the research and do the learning to make it happen locally.”

Radios were set up on the field site, with operators controlling them remotely from their homes across the area.

Typically, Brown said, the club has invited members of the public and area officials to attend and watch the operators achieve voice and Morse code communication.

Non-licensed or newly licensed members of the public also has been able to participate in a special “Get On The Air” station where they can operate ham radio under the guidance of one of the club members.

Brown said the social aspect of the event has been the biggest, and hardest, change.

With community members, club members, first responders and public officials, the event has seen more than 100 participants in past years, Brown said. Getting to share what they do with the public and catching up with old friends is a large part of the event, Brown said.

“It’s usually like a big party,” he said. “We’ve lost that this year and it’s really affected a lot of us. We miss that.”

Though Field Day looked a lot different this year, Brown said he feels it was important to still participate in the event, especially amid a health emergency.

“Whether it’s a local emergency and we’re trying to get information out into the world about it or if there’s an emergency somewhere else and we want to support them in getting their information out, we wanted to show that we can help and communicate when there’s a need,” Brown said.

Reach Cross at (434) 385-5532.

Jamey Cross covers education. Reach her at (434) 385-5532.

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