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Monday, July 13, 2020

As communications failed post-Amphan, HAM radio club tuned in to save the day

With electricity, internet and mobile networks down, Kar got in touch with the HAM radio operators at the West Bengal Radio Club (Amateur Club).

Written by Atri Mitra | Kolkata | Published: May 26, 2020 2:47:27 pm
As communications failed post-Amphan, HAM radio club tuned in to save the day A team of HAM radio operators in Sagar Island. Express

For two days after Cyclone Amphan tore through the state, Ramkrishna Kar, a resident of Barasat town in North 24 Parganas district, had no news of his family in Bagbazar area of Sagar Island in South 24 Parganas district.

Kar, who lives in Barasat for work-related reasons, had no idea how his parents, wife and son were doing since Sagar Island, which bore the brunt of the storm, got completely cut off from the rest of the state.

With electricity, internet and mobile networks down, Kar got in touch with the HAM radio operators at the West Bengal Radio Club (Amateur Club). The club dispatched one of its members, Dibas Mondol, to contact Kar’s family.

Mondol cycled through the desolate landscape to reach Kar’s home. Then, he shot their video message, and transmitted it using the slow scan television (SSTV) method, which is a way of sending video over a voice bandwidth.

Within hours, Kar saw the video of his parents and wife enquiring about his well-being. His father Aurobindo Kar told him: “We are now okay. Amphan damaged the house. We are now totally disconnected from the rest of the world. But, all members of the family are absolutely fine. How are you?”

Explaining how this was made possible, the radio club’s Secretary Ambarish Nag Biswas, who arrived on Sagar Island the day before the cyclone struck, said: “After we received Ramkrishna Kar’s request, we took his family’s video. Then we transferred it through a beacon, sent it through HAM. At the destination, we have the SSTV software, using which the frequency was decoded in a laptop and the video was downloaded. After that, Ramkrishna was able to see the video.”

The Barasat resident said he was grateful to the club for connecting him to his family. “I had tried all the avenues to get news of my family, but failed to establish connection. Ultimately, HAM radio did that. I am very grateful to HAM radio,” he added.

The amateur radio club has helped 70 families like the Kars, thanks to the tireless efforts of Dibas Mondol, who cycled to remote areas of the island to film their messages.

“From Delhi, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Sikkim, and many other places, people requested us for the news of their family, and we gave them the news free of cost,” said Biswas.

Not only common people, HAM radio operators also came to the aid of the South 24 Parganas district administration. “There was no electricity. Our mobile phones got switched off. Our satellite phones were also not working. Then, through HAM radio, we established connectivity to district headquarters and other stations on May 20 and May 21. This was a great help,” said a senior district official.

The radio operators helped establish communications with Mousuni Island, Sagar Island, Kakdwip, Gosaba, and other islands in the Sundarbans, the official added.

“Before Super Cyclone Amphan, the Government of India, for the first time, gave us a new code for this cyclone and that was ‘Alpha Uniform 2 Alpha Charlie’ (AU2AC). It helped us a lot. When we were using the frequency, HAM radio operators all over the world received news about the cyclone,” said Biswas.

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