Saturday in the Field
One of my favorite bands from my youth is Chicago. One of their signature songs is called Saturday in the Park. The band sings about spending a warm summer's day in a park, with people escaping the bonds of city living for an afternoon outdoors.
In Burkittsville, a group of men and women spent their Saturday - and their Sunday - in the park this weekend.
These people aren't looking for a relaxing outdoor party, though. These people are members of the Mid Atlantic DX and Repeater Association. The event was the Annual Amateur Radio Field Day.
Field Day is a national and international test of our amateur radio network. Volunteers trek to a location without the benefit of the traditional creature comforts (especially electricity). They set up a camp, and most importantly, they set up their radios.
Using solar panels, motor generators, and batteries, the volunteers of MDXRA establish emergency communication linkages with more than 30,000 other volunteer radio operators around the country, similarly situated away from the typical conveniences we've grown so accustomed to.
Operators manning amateur radio rigs in Mexico, Canada, and a variety of other nations were also on the air over the weekend.
This worldwide demonstration of emergency communications serves as number of important purposes. One, we've grown overly comfortable to our access to life-easing technologies.
We get out information from 24/7 cable news outlets without regard to what happens in the event they're no longer on the air.
The voices of amateur radio broadcasters, linked through a network totally independent from the national power grid, may well be the only link to news outside our community in the event of a major incident.
These radio operators, many of whom spend thousands of dollars of their own money on gear and training, shared information about local conditions and needs with other stations and locations.
And you thought it the government would be there when everything else failed! All you need to do is look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to see how flawed that strategy can be!
Governments at different levels will suffer from command and control breakdowns, squabbling over who did what to whom. Remember New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, and federal Homeland Security Director Michael Brown all pointed fingers at one another, none with a real answer?
Volunteer amateur radio operators were doing what they do best, which is to share information, maintain critical lines of communication, and do so under the most demanding conditions and environments.
No labor unions, no big government solution, no hierarchical military chain-of-command. Just people like you and I, volunteering to spend a warm summer weekend in a field, intent on being "on the air" when the time comes; no excuses, no complaints, and no invoice for their time and effort.
So rest easy tonight. Sleep peaceful in the knowledge that when nothing else is working, amateur radio operators will be, and they'll be live on the air, alone in a field somewhere.