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Ham radio operators rehearse for disasters

Kevin Corrigan, 64, of Rockville Centre, joined other

Kevin Corrigan, 64, of Rockville Centre, joined other members of the Nassau Amateur Radio Club for "Field Day," a 24-hour-exercise to practice emergency communication. Amateur Radio Operators from around the country and Canada participate in the exercise. (June 23, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

Eisenhower Park in East Meadow was mostly full of revelers soaking up the pleasant weather Saturday, but members of the Nassau Amateur Radio Club were practicing for such things as blizzards and hurricanes.

The club participated in an international field day held each June by the American Radio Relay League: For 24 hours, the Nassau club members connected with other amateur radio operators, known as "hams," signaling from distant locales such as California, Canada and Mexico. Four "stations" in Eisenhower Park ran on generators as the hams simulated emergency communication, including Morse code. A similar event was held in Suffolk.

"Kilowatt, Victor, November. Long Island," said Dave Smernoff, 39, of Wantagh, to an operator in Ohio, phoneticizing the initials of his station.

"In an emergency, amateur radio doesn't fail," he said. "There's no 'provider.' This has all been set up in the last day."

As a hobby, amateur radio also helps the minds of the hams who run it, according to Todd Pittinsky, a professor at Stony Brook University's Department of Technology and Society.

"So much of today's technology is designed to be seamless; what's lacking is that experience of tinkering," he said. "[Amateur radio] forces us to understand the platform."

One ham, Rob Youcha of Minnesota, was an ambulance operator who endured a crippling crash on the job in 1998. In 2006, a rehabilitation program called Handi Hams helped him regain his confidence, he said.

"I don't know if it's just carrying a radio again, but I feel bigger," he said. "I've talked to the [International] Space Station with a walkie-talkie."

The Nassau club consists of about 50 licensed amateur operators who began planning Saturday's event in January. Mostly retired men, one member drives a car with the plate: "Sci Fi Guy."

"We're like a jigsaw puzzle," said the club's president, Rob Martens of Levittown, a 35-year Marine Corps veteran who worked in communications during the Vietnam War and Desert Storm. "We come from all walks of life. But I do wish we had more women and young people involved."

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