Storm zone update: Ham operator making connections in Miss.

With land lines still out in many places, radio communications remain critical

As he and his fellow volunteer ham radio operators work around the clock providing critical communications in hurricane-ravaged Mississippi, David R. Beatson is on something of a roller coaster -- one moment helping a family get medical care, another, helping someone contact a morgue.

One of those moments came last night when Beatson, 32, helped line up critical medical care for a 12-year-old boy whose family was left homeless by Hurricane Katrina. The boy, who is autistic and needs constant medical care and injections, and his two siblings, who have Asperger Syndrome, a neurobiological disorder with similarities to autism, were staying with their parents in an emergency relief shelter set up by the American Red Cross in Gulfport, Miss. But the shelter's caregivers were overwhelmed by the boy's medical needs, and other accommodations had to be found, Beatson said in a cell phone interview today.

"There was a lot of confusion, a lot of calls back and forth," said Beatson, who owns a small computer consulting business in Lake Wylie, S.C., and is helping to run an emergency communications center in Ocean Springs, Miss. "The shelter was desperate for somewhere for the family to go where they could get help and could stay."

By using his ham radio and communicating with other nearby relief groups and shelters, Beatson was able to help get the family moved to a U.S. Navy hospital ship in the area.

A fellow ham radio operator helped Beatson contact the Navy through a triage center, and a medical officer assessed the family's needs and agreed to take them in, he said. The family was brought directly to the Navy Hospital ship Comfort, which is docked at the port of Pascagoula, Miss. The boy is now receiving the care he needs.

"It was great that the Navy was there and could take them," Beatson said. "We were able to link up with them and coordinate the whole thing. The whole thing happened in about an hour and a half."

Beatson is one of more than some 700 ham radio volunteers who have already been posted in areas devastated by the deadly storm, which killed hundreds and left New Orleans flooded. The radio operators were called in to help provide emergency communications last week (see "Ham radio volunteers help re-establish communications after Katrina"). He is a member of the American Radio Relay League Inc., a 157,000-member amateur radio group based in Newington, Conn.

Beatson and his fellow volunteers in Ocean Springs have been busy helping relief workers get additional supplies and assistance to storm victims (see "Storm zone update: Ham radio operators settle in to help victims").

In another incident, Beatson used his ham radio to help a grieving man contact a local morgue to locate the body of his brother, who was killed in the hurricane. Because the dead man's last name was garbled, his body could not be found in the morgue at first. By intervening by radio, Beatson was able to get the mix-up sorted out and help the man recover his brother's body.

"It brought him relief," Beatson said.

Electrical power, cell phone service and satellite communications links are all still spotty in the area, he said. "The Red Cross has said they still need us here and that we're still their prime mode of communication," Beatson said.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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