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Amateur radio operators partner with South Central Task Force in emergency preparations

The radio operators serve as the point of primary communication when traditional methods are offline.

LANCASTER, Pa. — Local amateur radio operators play an essential role when it comes to emergency response in South Central Pennsylvania. When an emergency happens, whether it's weather-related, terrorism, or even a cyber attack, these local organizations get called to action. 

The South Central Task Force is made up of volunteers spanning nine counties in Pennsylvania, including Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry, Schuylkill, and York counties. The task force works together to prepare and respond to disasters. 

Duane Hagelgans is the Public Information Officer for the South Central Task Force.

“A lot of times, we’ll open up what we call our multi-agency coordination center, which is right here at the training center, and we’ll bring our people together to help coordinate," Hagelgans tells FOX43 from the Lancaster County Public Safety Center. “Several years ago we started to realize that there are times when our normal channels of communication are down. So how are we going to communicate when those systems are down?”

That’s where amateur radio operators come in. 

According to Jay Silber from the National Association for Amateur Radio, there are nearly 30,000 licensed amateur radio operators in Pennsylvania. 

“When there’s an urgent problem, if it’s a flood or it’s an ice storm or it’s a hurricane or it’s a tornado, we get activated, that is ARES members get activated by the served agency in our county," he says.

Emergency agencies, such as the South Central Task Force, use these operators as either primary or secondary lines of communication to coordinate services as well as report on the emergency itself.

“Hurricane Sandy was a good example a few years back. Power was out everywhere," says Silber. "Amateur radio operators were assisting emergency management officials in providing communications.”

The groups regularly conduct exercises to prepare for future emergencies. And they are always looking for more volunteers to help in their efforts.

If you are interested in joining the South Central Task Force you can reach out to your local county emergency management agency.

There are also local amateur radio clubs in every county that can help you learn the ins and outs of radio communication. They can help you learn more about the equipment and prepare for the exams needed to become a certified radio operator. 

Silber also has a series on YouTube highlighting what amateur radio operators do for those who are interested in getting involved. 

Silber tells FOX43 that anyone interested in science, technology, engineering, or math as well as serving their community would be a good fit. 

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