Radio hams on hand to help

by Adam Smith
News Reporter

Fifty years ago horrendous floods forced a few amateur radio enthusiasts to get on their homemade sets and help co-ordinate vital rescue efforts.

Half, a century on and the organisation born out of the 1953 East Coast Floods, which killed 39 people, is still flourishing in Sutton Coldfield.

The local branch of RAYNET (The Radio Amateurs Emergency Network) recently helped the council run a major orienteering event in Sutton park and are ready for a real emergency that will call them into action.

Despite the emergence of mobile phones, and countless other communication inventions RAYNET are still on hand to help the emergency services in time of disaster.

Chairman of the Sutton branch, John Trickey, explained the importance of RAYNET

"We have meetings every month and take part in exercises like a couple of weeks ago m Sutton park but these are all practice for when we are really needed," he said.

"We are practically on call all of the time and can never be complacent because if we are called on we need to know what to do."

RAYNET can pass messages to the fire service, police, ambulance, St John Ambulance, public utilities, health authorities, government departments and emergency planning officers.

The Sutton branch share a special radio vehicle with the St John Ambulance that would be used during an emergency

In the past, RAYNET have helped out during several emergencies, including the ambulance strike in 1976.

Maritime disasters have also called for special emergency responses - the rescue efforts at Piper Alpha and at Zebrugge were both helped by radio communications.

RAYNET members are also trained to help emergency services during air disasters, the amateur radio enthusiasts helped during the Kegworth and Harrogate crashes.

However, the organisation's biggest operation to date was the Lockerbie air disaster, when operators across the country scrambled and helped co-ordinate the recovery of wreckage.

Due to radio waves ability to travel across the World, RAYNET can help with disaster relief communications in other countries.

If British nationals are caught up in a disaster abroad then RAYNET can pass news of their situation to relatives - the Mexico earthquake is a perfect example of this.

However, besides the potential to save lives, the Sutton group help out at community events.

For 30 years RAYNET have helped at the Sutton Park Night Operation, run by Birmingham City Council.

Children split into teams of four and find their way around the park, stopping off at checkpoints on the way.

Members from across the Midlands help out at the event bringing their kit along so every checkpoint can be manned by a RAYNET enthusiast to checking position of all the teams.

John said: "We have been helping out for years and it takes a lot of planning to ensure everything passes off smoothly the police ask us to help out and we're only to happy to oblige."

He explained that all of RAYNET's members enjoy their hobby.

"You can be eight or 80 and be a member of RAYNET and it opens up so many opportunities, it has changed since I started when you had to build the kit but the enjoyment is still there when you're on the radio. "

But what John enjoys is the common interest he shares with amateur radio enthusiasts across the world.

I love chatting to someone in somewhere like South America, who- has the -same hobby as me. "People say why bother with radios, now there are mobile phones but I wouldn't know his number would I?"

If you would like to join RAYNET, contact John Trickey on 0121 308 8627 or visit the website