With the earthquake last week having plunged Nepal into a humanitarian crisis, a group of volunteers from Mumbai are trying to bring some order to the chaos. Certified ham (amateur radio) operators, they are relaying messages between Nepal and Mumbai and coordinating rescue efforts.
These 15 ham operators, after being approached by the state disaster management cell, set up their radio station at the Mantralaya on Monday – two days after a 7.9 Richter earthquake devastated Nepal. Using their equipment – which can transmit text and voice messages, and even pictures over a specific radio frequency and without the use of cables or mobile towers – the team has been helping locate stranded or missing people from the state by relaying communication to fellow HAM radio operators in Nepal.
“Every day, we are given a fresh list of missing people from Maharashtra, prepared from the numerous calls that the Mantralaya disaster helpline [022-22027990] receives. Till Friday, around 60 people had been identified, out of whom our network has helped locate at least 20,” said Ankur Puranik, 34. He founded a registered group Disaster Amateur Radio Emergency Services (DARES) in December, which has brought 50 ham operators together.
The equipment mounted at the Mantralaya belongs to DARES. “At a time, 2-3 operators can handle the radio station, so we are working in shifts between 10am and 10pm daily,” said Puranik, who runs Om Energy, which manufactures solar equipment. The group includes businessmen, corporate professionals and even college students. Suhas Diwase, director of state disaster management cell, called the team “a big, big help”. “We are working out a mechanism so they can help us in similar disaster situations in future,” he said.
Jaiprakkash Pullakudy, who is in his 50s and works for a chemical company, said he helped a native of Spain who wanted to desperately find out about his Nepali friend’s well-being. “I translated the message on the web, connected with hams from Nepal and eventually gave him the good news. The satisfaction gained is unmatched.”