For a 24-hour period starting Saturday afternoon, the Peconic Amateur Radio Club transformed Horton’s Point Lighthouse into a full-fledged amateur radio station, complete with multiple radios, several large radio antennas, an array of solar panels for electricity generation, and a surplus Army tent to house it all.
The group made these preparations to participate in a nationwide Amateur Radio event known as Field Day, which is organized by a national association of amateur radio operators known as the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).
During Field Day, thousands of amateur radio groups from across the U.S. and Canada participate in a friendly competition to contact as many of the other radio groups participating in the event. Radio operators make contacts using regular voice, morse code, radio teletype, and even television and satellite communication methods.
Jim Baker, President of the Peconic Amateur Radio Club, described the Field Day as a, “Wonderful event that builds teamwork amongst amateurs nationwide, and an opportunity to have lots of fun.”
Organized as way to showcase ham radio, the event also has serious implications. As much as it is meant for fun, Field Day is also an emergency preparedness drill. In setting up to participate in the event, radio groups establish an independent communications network, capable of spanning the nation. Individual setups are completely independent of the electrical grid, and can be self-sustaining for days if not weeks.
A similar setup would be used in the event of a widespread natural disaster, such as a hurricane or major winter storm, should traditional communications networks be disturbed. The setup would act as a command center and relay station, on which emergency officials could communicate in a unified fashion. Most recently, the Peconic Amateur Radio Club acted in close coordination with the Town of Southold during Tropical Storm Irene to provide communications across the town between fire, police, and other officials tasked with responding to the storm.
This is the 20th time the Peconic Amateur Radio Club has participated in Field Day. In the group's 20-year history, it has dealt with everything from rain, to wind, to thunder and lightening storms. Through it all, the group has managed to complete the setup and takedown each time, and sign on the air as planned.
This year, the Peconic Amateur Radio Club managed to contact 662 other radio groups from all across the United States and Canada. Though atmospheric conditions didn’t allow for as many contacts as the group has done in past, Jim Baker described the event as “another success.”
Amateur radio is a niche hobby across the planet where individuals and groups of operators contact each other, and exchange camaraderie. In addition, amateur radio operators have been instrumental in providing communications following major disaster events nationwide, including following 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Blackout of 2003. In the United States, a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is required to become an operator.