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Amateur radio operators key during Hugo, host field day to practice skills

The FCC licensed amateur radio operators can communicate with each other without internet or cell phones making them key in emergency situations.

SUMTER, S.C. — It was September of 1989 and the wind and rain of Hurricane Hugo were battering the state.

Vic Jones was the director of emergency services in Sumter at the time, and remembers the storm well.

“All of the power was out in Sumter County, and the estimate was 80 percent of our roads and streets were blocked,” Jones said. “Most communication was interrupted as well.”

While many organizations stepped up to assist, a less familiar group of helpers were amateur radio operators.

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“When we activated our plans in our county emergency operation center (EOC), bringing in ham radio operators and having them to operate for our EOC was a key component,” Jones said.

The FCC licensed amateur radio operators can communicate with each other without internet or cell phones making them key in emergency situations.

Credit: George Mudd
Sumter amateur radio operators participate in field day.

George Mudd is with Sumter’s Amateur Radio Association.

“Being there to help whenever somebody needs help or there’s an emergency or hurricane or whatever, I can get out and help people,” Mudd said.

Over the weekend, he joined operators across the country participating in their annual field day event by setting up remotely to practice their skills.

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“We bring out our own antennas, our own radio equipment and we set it up just like in a disaster or an emergency situation,” Mudd said.

Other operators join as a hobby, using the service to talk around town, the world and even space without internet or cell phones, according to the national association for amateur radio.

The operators compete to see which can make the most connections.

Mudd hopes the friendly competition will keep he and others ready whenever the need arises.