Imagine that a massive storm is moving through the area, causing flash flooding, gusty winds and booming thunder. 

Phone service is knocked out, and roads are impassable.

If McKean County Emergency Management director Bruce Manning has his way, he’ll be able to turn to a group of amateur radio operators for help. They would be able to fill in the communication gap between emergency responders.

On July 31, Manning is calling a meeting to revive an amateur radio group that has been dormant for about two years. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. at the Emergency Management Agency office at 17175 U.S. Route 6 in Smethport. 

“It’s another tool in the toolbox that you hope you never have to use,” Manning said.

Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, is a well-known hobby, but it can also be also a major public service. They have the equipment needed, in case all other communication fails. In fact, operators can exchange information with others operators, rain or shine, from across the county or the world.

The American Radio Relay League reports that many lives have been saved, thanks to the efforts of amateur radio operators. Look no further than New York City, where amateur radio helped agencies keep in contact after their command center was destroyed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Operators also played a role in emergency communications during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

Radio operators have even helped out on a much smaller scale in McKean County. They reported flash flooding to the National Weather Service, Manning said.

The group being formed by Manning could be assigned at emergency shelters at schools and churches around McKean County. 

Manning is looking for at least 30 people to sign up. 

“The more the merrier,” he said.

Amateur radio operators must be Federal Communications Commission licensed. For the club, Manning said he would prefer members to be at least 18 years old, unless they are with a parent or a guardian.

And when it’s time to respond to emergencies, operators should have a go kit, Manning said.  That would include batteries, water bottles, change of clothes, cables,  microphones and more.

Manning has spent much of his life in amateur radio, dating back to the early 1970s. Today, he communicates in Morse code using amateur radio almost every day with others from around the world.

He is hoping there will be plenty of interest in the amateur radio club. 

“Let’s see if we can’t stir them back up again,” he said.

Even those living outside the county are welcome to join the group, he said.

For more information, contact the center at (814) 887-5070.

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