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Storm zone update: Ham radio operators settle in to help victims

Series Part 3: One volunteer sleeps next to his radio

By Todd R. Weiss
September 9, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Katrina CoverageHam radio communications in areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina continue to improve as volunteers work around the clock to help relief organizations and state, local and federal authorities coordinate their efforts.
Dennis Motschenbacher, the sales and marketing manager at the American Radio Relay League Inc. (ARRL), who has been at an American Red Cross rescue staging area in Montgomery, Ala., since Tuesday night, remains in Montgomery, where he is organizing donations of radio equipment from manufacturers.
Motschenbacher had expected to be sent out yesterday into a storm-damaged area in Louisiana or Mississippi (see "Storm zone update: Ham operator reaches Red Cross staging area"). But Red Cross Disaster Recovery Headquarters personnel asked him to stay behind to help them.
"The organizers have been using my expertise and contacts daily to get more equipment and supplies," said Motschenbacher, who works for the 157,000-member ARRL amateur radio group, which is based in Newington, Conn. It's frustrating, he said, because he had hoped to get to the front lines, where communications remain spotty at best.
The donated radio equipment, coming from manufacturers in Japan, Australia, Europe and the U.S., is being sent to the ARRL's headquarters, where it will be packaged into ready-to-use kits and sent to communities torn apart by the hurricane.
From the staging area, dozens of ARRL members have already been dispatched to communities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to help establish communications between evacuee shelters and supply and relief organizations.
One of Motschenbacher's fellow ARRL ham radio operators has been in the thick of the storm zone since early this week. David R. Beatson, 32, owner of a small computer consulting business in Lake Wylie, S.C., arrived in Montgomery Monday afternoon and was sent to Ocean Springs, Miss., just outside Gulfport. Once there, Beatson helped set up a ham radio communications center in the local operations center organized by the Red Cross, and -- with the aid of several other volunteer ham operators -- has been helping relief workers get additional supplies and assistance for storm victims. The communications center is also helping victims in the hard-hit Pascagoula, Miss., area.
Beatson and other operators are communicating daily with ham operators at six other shelters in the area. "I didn't expect to be running a whole communications center," he said today in an interview by cell phone. "All the logistics the Red Cross has to do behind the scenes are being done through our operations center." Nine two-person ham radio teams are assisting in the network they have built in the surrounding Ocean Springs and Jackson County area,

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