Resilient Response to Extreme Weather Births Transition-Ham Radio “Practice Networks”

June 5, 2014

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Resilient Response to Extreme Weather Births Transition-Ham Radio “Practice Networks”

Blog post submitted by Pamela Boyce Simms, Transition Trainer, Convener, Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH)

Image RemovedWe all cherish our comfort zones. We tend to move in social circles that mirror and reaffirm our own interests, needs and identities. Yet, intent on crafting “resilient responses to extreme weather,” Transitioners from Connecticut to Virginia are happily stretching into what is for most, the unchartered territory of electrical engineering and applied physics! That is…..Ham Radio Operations!

Transitioners are engaged in very deliberate unlikely suspect outreach with a pivotal purpose as climate change-induced extreme weather becomes more prevalent. The Mid-Atlantic Transition network (MATH) is working closely throughout the region with the amateur radio clubs of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) to build-out a Transition-ham radio “practice network.”  In these times of rolling brown outs, prolonged and more frequent power outages, our intent is to become as facile with ham radio operations as we are with cell phones.   

To that end MATH encourages Transitioners to obtain an amateur radio, Technician’s Class License and is striking up rewarding relationships with a welcoming regional community of amateur radio operators. (Due to the versatility and power available to its operators, the amateur radio service is regulated by the federal government. All “hams,” as operators are called, must pass an exam based on an easily accessible text and be licensed by the FCC.) We anticipate arranging creative programming whereby at designated times Mid-Atlantic Transition initiating group members can tune into specific frequencies up and down the east coast for regular information exchanges.  

Image RemovedAccomplishing this goal requires that we take a giant leap out of our comfort zones into the world of “homebrew rigs,” and with the help of seasoned operators, build-out our “ham shacks.” Admittedly, we’ve found that some amateur radio clubs convey the sense of a hardcore technical subculture. However through Unlikely Suspects – Deep Outreach lenses, “hardcore subculture” can be interpreted as a time honored ham tradition of mutual support and solidarity. Unconditional openness is the key to deepened outreach. Transitioners can help erase the ham operator stereotype of the quirky-loner hunched over crackly sputtering radio gear in the grey light of a dimly lit back room.Well, the crackly sound is actually in fact a reality. That hallmark sound, … the spinning dials, buttons and knobs provide the authentic “ham experience.” But that’s as far as the stereotype goes. As newcomers, Mid-Atlantic Transitioners are being welcomed with open arms into the technical and social world of amateur radio as hams in local clubs volunteer to serve as mentors; especially among those who build their own gear…. “homebrew rigs.”  

Keith Tilley ARES (Amateur Emergency Radio Service) Coordinator for Ulster County, New York is going the extra mile to connect MATH Council members representing seven Mid-Atlantic States and their initiatives to local amateur radio clubs in the region. Keith got the ball rolling by arranging for MATH representatives to attend a local “Field Day” on June 28th when they gather for a meeting in a New Jersey location that is central to MATH network members who hail from seven states. Annually on Field Day more than 35,000 ham radio operators across the country plan a barbeque and camping weekend around 24 hours of continuous broadcasting on as many amateur bands as possible. Field Day is partly to educate the public about ham radio,…. but mostly to have fun.

Transitioners  are part of a wave of thousands of Americans who are lining up in droves to relearn failsafe, Resiliency Plan B “back-up skills;” among them, amateur radio, the Dean of communication systems that took the country by storm over a hundred years ago. The country is witnessing what we would call a spontaneous “reskilling” in the domain of ham radio, i.e., bringing highly practical heirloom technology forward to the present in the service of a better quality, more resilient future.

In fact, ham radio licenses in the United States are at an all-time high of 717,200 according to the FCC with nearly 40,000 new ones in the last five years, and 16,000 + just in the last year.

Savvy folks who are weathering back-to-back storms and prolonged power outages proactively anticipate more frequent, future weather-related communications interruptions. When cell towers, police, fire, communications and television antennas were lost in lower Manhattan during the 911 crisis, more than 500 trained amateur radio operators became the communications back up for emergency operations 24 hours a day. When President Bush needed to contact the Mayor of New Orleans during hurricane Katrina, amateur radio was the only option for getting messages through.

Image RemovedThe new wave of amateur radio operators know that when all other conventional means of communication fails, ham radio keeps friends, families and communities connected and informed. The spike in amateur radio licenses reflects the wise forethought of those who see the handwriting on the seawalls and are ready to stay connected when loved ones and neighbors will need them the most.In addition to amateur radio’s pragmatic application during extreme weather challenges, the ham licensure surge reflects a growing awareness that true resiliency requires knowing how take full responsibility for our own lives.

So if at a Transition gathering you overhear one Transitioner asking another, “How long have you had your ticket?” …or waxing long about shooting DX on 160-10, busting pileups, and confiding that Elmering is what it’s really all about,"…… you’ll know that "Immersion Phase I" of our Transition-Ham Radio Practice Net mission will have been accomplished.

We are deeply grateful to this newfound network of friends for their intense dedication to their craft, welcoming openness, and willingness to take Transitioners under their mentorship wings. Ours is a perfect mission-match of otherwise unlikely suspects!

More Information:The American Radio Relay League (ARRL), National Association for Amateur Radio (

Bottom two photos are courtesy of Jim Peppler. Middle photo is of Keith Tilley, ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services ) Coordinator, Ulster County, NY.


Pamela Boyce Simms

Pamela Boyce Simms is an evolutionary culture designer who convenes the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH), ─a six-state network of environmental activists. She is a veteran of local, regional, and national resilience-building with the Transition environmental movement, and currently works with international Quaker, Buddhist, and African Diaspora Earthcare networks. Her full bio and CV can be found here.

Tags: extreme weather