Wanted: LCMS hams for new amateur radio support network

By Kim Krull

Hurricane Katrina changed many lives in many heartbreaking ways.  But for Rev. Larry Beane, one surprisingly positive change is his return to a boyhood hobby.

“Hurricane Katrina convinced me to become active in ham radio once again,” said Beane, associate pastor at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, La.  “For weeks after Katrina, we had chaos as people had no idea if friends and family members even survived the storm.  A network of LCMS hams could help people communicate their locations to rescue workers as well as rapidly get messages out to concerned family and church members.”

That’s why Beane (who uses the amateur radio call sign WB8VNR) is one of a growing number of LCMS hams, as amateur radio operators are called, helping to build a new emergency communications network as part of a comprehensive disaster response plan being developed by LCMS World Relief/Human Care.

Hams have a long history of providing communication assistance when hurricanes, floods, fires, and other disasters disrupt telephone service and other communications.  The LCMS Amateur Radio Support Network (ARSN) will serve congregations and their communities and assist LCMS World Relief/Human Care with disaster response.

“Short-wave radio communication is invaluable to disaster response teams during a regional or catastrophic disaster when all other forms of communication are destroyed or rendered useless, such as was the case the first few days after Katrina,” said Rev. Glenn Merritt, LCMS World Relief/Human Care director of disaster response.  “This network will be particularly valuable to our district offices and to LCMS World Relief/Human Care should another catastrophic disaster occur, not only in the United States, but worldwide.” 

LCMS hams, Merritt said, represent “another part of the immense capacity found within our own LCMS to help those affected by disaster.”

The LCMS ARSN is being developed by James Kienker (KCØOQP) a licensed amateur radio operator and student at Westminster College, Fulton, Mo.  About two dozen LCMS hams from throughout the United States already have expressed an interest in joining, from college students to retired pastors.

Plans are to launch the network with 100 LCMS amateur radio operators before hurricane season officially begins next June.

“A hundred amateur radio operators should give us a sufficient base and coverage area for the network to be a major disaster communications contributor right from the beginning,” Kienker said.  “While there are other great disaster networks out there right now, these networks do not link directly to our LCMS congregations.”

After Hurricane Katrina, Kienker says, nearly 1,000 amateur radio operators provided vital communications for relief agencies like the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, helping to direct resources to areas in need.

Some LCMS hams already have played roles in emergency situations.  Carol Rutz (KF6FNS), who runs a small computer repair business in New Haven, Ind., used her radio to pick up a plea from a stranded motorist with no cell phone service and contact the AAA for him.

Last February when brush fires threatened homes in Anaheim Hills, Calif., University of California, Irvine, student Matt Bennett (KF6RTB) gathered fire and roadblock updates from police and fire departments and relayed information to anxious homeowners and emergency shelters.

“Having an LCMS radio support network is not only a good idea but a must-have,” Bennett said.  “In the event that a major disaster disrupts cellular and even land-line telephones, the congregations in distress will be able to communicate with family, friends, and other congregations outside the disaster area to let them know they are okay or in need of immediate assistance.”

Kienker invites LCMS amateur radio operators of any license level to join the network.  Experience in emergency communications through groups like the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) or the Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) is especially welcome but not necessary.

The new LCMS network will conduct emergency communications training on the air and run drills once it is up and running.  Monthly nets (gatherings of amateur operators on a specific radio frequency) will be used to disseminate information to network operators.

For an information packet about the LCMS Amateur Radio Support Network, contact Kienker at (314) 835-8682 or kc0oqp@gmail.com.

Posted Dec. 4, 2006

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