Among all the bands, floats and political candidates vying for recognition during Alexandria’s Presidents’ Day Parade, there was one less flashy entrant. It was hardly noticed by many lining the sidewalks of Old Town. But it was one parade participant that could make the difference between life and death.
Tucked near the end of the two-hour event was an entrant by the Alexandria Radio Club. It was their new communications trailer and high powered antenna.
A project fully funded by the club’s 53 members, the trailer, with its three independent work stations, provides a mobile platform for emergency communications to support not only Alexandria’s Office of Emergency Services but also other amateur radio emergency service groups throughout Northern Virginia and the entire Metropolitan area. It was the brainchild of club member Gene Jenkins.
“This trailer is our community service contribution. It’s available to all other amateur radio groups throughout the region,” said Alexandria Club President Deanna Lutz.
Their trailer and its facilities are there to operate when local communications are down, according to Lutz. “When all else fails there’s HAM radio,” she said, waiting to enter the parade’s line of march last Monday afternoon.
“The trailer is small enough that anyone with a hitch can tow it. It has three work stations and can cover all bands and all modes. With its own power source, it’s totally self sustaining,” Lutz said.
Don Smith, a club member and leader of Team 205, Alexandria Citizen Emergency Response Team said, “This enables us to offer interoperability when local communications are down.” That was of prime importance in the recent hurricane disasters along the Gulf Coast. Alexandria Radio Club and Alexandria CERT recently conducted a day long interactive training session.
“Flaws in our communications system and in the ability of first responders to communicate with one another was very apparent during Sept. 11. We are more fortunate in this area but it many areas nationwide it is a major problem,” Lutz said.
During Monday’s parade 10 amateur radio operators assisted parade marshals in keeping track of last-minute changes in the parade line up as well as progress of various units along the parade route. The club has provided that service to parade managers for many years.
Operating the antenna station in the rear of the pick-up truck towing the trailer was the parade’s namesake, George Washington himself, otherwise known as club member Jack Hranicky. In a prior life, he was chair of the Alexandria Archeological commission.
FOUNDED IN 1954, the Alexandria club is on call in any emergency. It is an affiliate of the American Radio Relay League, Foundation for Amateur Radio and the Northern Virginia FM Association.
The new 12-foot enclosed trailer was purchased in 2005. Its first deployment was to support the 2005 Marine Corps Marathon.
Each June, the club participates in a sanctioned field day. Emergency equipment is set up to operate “off the grid” for 24 hours in preparation for an actual emergency.
Twice a year the club conducts entry level and advanced classes to help others get their HAM operator licenses. Classes are held one day a week at the Alexandria Fire Department Training Center at Lee Center, 1108 Jefferson St., at 7 p.m. They begin in February and September, depending on classroom availability, according to the club’s brochure.
The club meets on the second Friday of each month at the Training Center beginning at 7:30 p.m. Additional information is available at www.W4HFH.org or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.