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HAM radio operators help trace more than 800 in flood-hit Kerala

More than 100 operators are manning amateur radio stations round the clock. HAM is a service in which participants use various types of radio communications equipment to get in touch with other amateurs through airwaves.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2018 23:44 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
HAM radio operators,Kerala flood,Kerala
A resident cleans household goods salvaged from sludge in his flood affected house on the outskirts of Kochi on August 21.(AP Photo)

In Kerala, rescue workers mounting dangerous missions to rescue trapped people in the rain-ravaged state, are not the only heroes. More than 100 HAM radio operators are silently working round the clock to trace missing persons and feed rescue personnel the information.

“We have helped trace more than 800 people so far in coordination with disaster management groups and fishermen,” Subramanian N Shastry, director of HAM Radio Emergency Network, said over the phone.

The amateur operators have received over 8,000 messages informing them about people missing and stranded in the state and HAM radio bases have been set up at the offices of the district magistrates in the state to coordinate with the rescue teams.

“We are also coordinating with operators in different states to find out migrants. The focus is on West Bengal and Odisha from where a large number of workers go to Kerala,” Shah Jahan, a HAM operator working in Thrissur, where more than 30 operators are working in shifts.

A special helpline has been created for persons from other states.

In Sodepur of Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, Ambarish Nag Biswas, secretary of West Bengal Radio Club (Amateur Club) said: “So far we have helped rescue 10 persons from the state. We are looking for four more.”

Biswas said six construction workers from Bengal’s Murshidabad district were stranded on the roof of an under-construction building in Ernakulam district. Two floors of the building were submerged and their mobile phones were switched off. The Bengal administration contacted the state’s HAM radio operators, who relayed the mobile numbers of those missing to their Kerala counterparts. The Kerala administration came out with the last tower location and rescue teams picked up the six from the building.

Three HF stations have been set up in Bengal for the Kerala floods.

Amateur radio, popularly known as HAM, is both a hobby and a service in which participants use various types of radio communications equipment to get in touch with other amateurs through airwaves for public services, recreation and self-training.

These are of special help in situations where cellphone connections become inoperative. Since these radios also operate on batteries and do not need any towers like mobile phones, they can virtually work in all conditions.

An estimated 3 million people throughout the world are regularly involved in amateur radio transmissions.

There are two types of HAM radios – very high frequency (VHF) that operates within a radius of 70-80 km and high frequency (HF) that can be used for worldwide communication.

The base stations having HF sets are receiving information that they are relaying to the district administration as well as HAM operators on the field carrying VHF sets. If someone is traced, the information is relayed back to the operators at the base, who are communicating it to the family members.

In many cases the administration is helping the operators with the last location of the missing person’s cellphone before it got switched off.

“We hope all missing persons will be traced in another day, or two. On Monday, 100 persons were rescued from one location based on one message,” said Rajagopal, an operator based in Kerala’s Chengannur, one of the worst-hit areas.

First Published: Aug 21, 2018 18:56 IST