Ham radios to the rescue in rain-hit Kerala

By Rohit Thayyil
Thrissur, Oct 19 (PTI) Even as the incessant rains and resultant flooding disrupted lives across central Kerala, ham radio enthusiasts have quietly swung into action in Thrissur district, setting up their unique work stations to ensure a steady stream of communication in case nature's fury wreaked havoc on conventional systems of contact.
The district administration here has sought the service of Ham radio operators to coordinate disaster relief operations in case the communication system gets cut off due to any rain-related incident.
"Communication turns out to be a major challenge when natural calamities strike. During heavy floods, there are chances that the power supply will be down for days, which will affect the communication systems including the mobile phones," Sarachandran C S, a former merchant navy officer-turned-ham radio operator told PTI.
He is one of the ten operators hired by the Thrissur administration to handle emergency communication in case of any untoward incidents.
All the operators have the Amateur Station Individual Operator licence issued by the Union government.
All the Taluks offices in Thrissur district are currently equipped with radio facilities so that even when all other communication systems are down, emergency services can be contacted and details can be shared.
The services of ham radio operators were utilised during the 2018 August deluge when the whole state was ravaged.
"As the state was flooded, power connection was lost in most parts. This affected mobile communication in many places. Our service was sought by the district administration. Over 40 ham radio operators worked and helped at least 2,000 people during the floods that year," Sarachandran said.
Ham radio and its operations are considered as the "King of all hobbies" and amateur radio, as it is otherwise known, is internationally accepted as a means of emergency communication.
HAM operators use high frequency signals to connect with other operators.
"It is basically an amateur radio set that is used for non-commercial exchange of messages, private recreation, self-training, emergency communication, etc," he said.
From remote places where people are stranded and are unable to communicate with the outer world as their mobile phones are not working, HAM radio operators can track the last location of their phone's signal, based on which they try to locate the person, another HAM operator said.
The operator, who was involved in rescue operations in the 2018 floods, said they used to transmit the details of those in isolated areas to the state emergency operation centre in Thiruvananthapuram.
"Thrissur, Aluva, Alappuzha, Chengannur and Ranni were the most affected last time. The details of people stranded there were collected through ham radio and were transmitted to the state emergency operation centre," the operator said.
There are various types of ham radio depending upon on their battery capacity ranging from 10 W to 60 W. While 10 W radio set can transmit messages within a range of 10-15 km, the 60W can transmit messages up to a distance 100 km.
The IMD has revised its rainfall alert and currently, Patthanamthitta, Kottayam and Idukki have been issued an Orange alert for Wednesday. However, the district administration has taken all precautions to deal with any untoward incidents.
The heavy downpour on October 15 and 16 has resulted in numerous landslides in the hilly regions of Kottayam and Idukki districts resulting in at least over two dozen of people losing their lives.
Various dams in the state have also been opened to release the surplus water and the government has issued warning to the people living downstream and shifted many to relief camps. PTI RRT

(This story has not been edited by THE WEEK and is auto-generated from PTI)