A medical representative, a driver with an app-based cab service, and a technician in a pathological laboratory — these three amateur radio operators, also called HAM radio operators — from West Bengal have been called to Odisha by that state’s disaster management authority, and will be the last line of defence when all communications fail after Cyclone Fani strikes Odisha.
Arunava Dey, Debdutta Mukherjee and Avrajit Das are members of the West Bengal Radio Club, an association of HAM operators. They are en route to Odisha in Mukherjee’s car, which used to run as an app-based cab, as they could not hire a car to take them to the neighbouring state. Once there, they will link up with the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA) control room in Bhubaneswar, and will also relay information to Delhi and Kolkata.
“We could not rent a car. The owners are scared that the car may be damaged in the cyclone, apart from the fact that there are less cars for hire in the poll season. So I decided to take my own car which is an app cab. I do not mind the loss in income, the loss which is expected in Odisha is far greater,” said Mukherjee, who got his Ham radio license in 2015.
Dey, a medical representative who got his HAM radio license in 2015 and who also did a course in Disaster Relief and Rescue from Unicef, said, “We are carrying heavy equipment, batteries and lots of spare parts. While some of us will man radio stations, others will visit the interiors with their hand-held radios… We also plan to turn the car into a radio station and move into the interiors.
“We will be using both HF and VHF to communicate from affected spot to state government control room and from control room to Delhi. I don’t mind skipping my job or not being able to vote. I may be able to save some lives. That is important. Since childhood I loved radios. My father was a former army personnel who worked at signals. Later I picked up the hobby of HAM radio. Now it has become much more, a tool for saving lives,” said Dey, a resident of Nadia.
Back in Kolkata, Ambarish Nag Biswas, who works in a milk processing company, and his daughter Saborni — a Class XII student — are among the people manning their HAM radio station, and will also help the three relay messages to Delhi.
“We have called in Ham radio operators from Bengal. A team from Andhra Pradesh is also scheduled to join them later. They will be here to establish radio communication, when all other modes of communication fail following the cyclone. Initially they will be posted to set up radio stations in OSDMA control room at Rajiv Bhawan in Bhubaneswar, Purim and Kendrapara which we expect will be hit severely. They will also visit the areas which will be worst hit after the cyclone comes. We have also contacted National Institute of Amateur Radio,” Arabinda Ray, general manager (systems) of OSDMA, told The Indian Express from Bhubaneswar.
“OSDMA got in touch with us the moment Fani was seen. We have decided to initially send a three-member team from West Bengal. We have also contacted HAM operators in south India… The team will first set up radio stations at control room in Bhubaneswar, apart from in Kendrapara and Purim. Later, after Fani hits, our teams will travel with NRDF personnel to the worst-affected areas. We have also been promised an escort from the civil defence personnel since we do not know local language,” Biswas, the secretary of West Bengal Radio Club, said.
“When a cyclone hits, electricity gets cut, cell phones towers are downed and landline wires snaps. NDRF and state police have fixed spectrums and therefore it is difficult for them to communicate through their radios. Moreover radio propagation (behaviour of radio waves as they travel) changes and it is difficult to communicate. Whereas, we can use a range of spectrums and can relay messages,” he said.
HAM radio is a hobby in which participants, called “hams”, use various types of radio communications equipment to communicate with other amateur radio operators through airwaves for public services, recreation and self-training. An estimated 30 lakh people throughout the world are involved in amateur radio transmissions.