An Italian inventor sent and received the first radio signal in 1895. By 1920, broadcasts over radio began, and within a few years most families owned a radio and gathered around it for favorite shows. During World War I, and especially World War II, the radio connected people to the vital news of the world.
Now, close to 40 percent of the world’s population owns a smartphone and relies on the device born of the latest technology for news, weather, and communication. However, what happens during a natural or man-made disaster if the phone is not charged or cell towers are down?
According to Ken Aucoin, emergency planner and chief meteorologist for Richland County Emergency Services, radios are stalwart devices. Radios, in fact, were vital during the October 2015 flood when many lost power. Regular updates are broadcast in the event of emergencies. Ken explains that Emergency Services purchases about 75 radios annually with funds received from a grant and delivers them to Richland County’s most vulnerable: the elderly, nursing home staff, and those in remote areas. Also, neighborhood associations are given a radio or encouraged to purchase one.
However, not everyone has abandoned radios in favor of smartphones only. “Even someone with a smartphone who has access to the internet should get a weather radio so that it is accessible in case technology is not,” says Ken. “It’s smart to double up.”
Each year, Richland County Emergency Services orders different types of radios and tests them to determine which are best. “They keep getting better. We go ahead and program them and encourage the user to keep them plugged in and charged at all times so the battery is at full capacity in case the power goes out,” says Ken. “The ones we got this past year hooked to a belt like a walkie-talkie, and others have a hand crank to recharge in case the battery does run out. Some include a flashlight, blinking light, and rescue sound.”
Regular bulletins that television viewers see scrolling at the bottom of a screen are read over radios so that those listening know storm locations and necessary actions to take. In the past few years, a program dubbed RC WINDS involves more than 40 cameras/sensors stationed throughout Richland County so that instead of big picture weather reports, Ken and individual residents can get real-time and historic data on wind directions, rainfall, snow, temperatures, and more. Residents can view the information on the rcwinds.com website or download an app on their smartphones. If the information gathered is of an emergency nature, it will be broadcast over a radio.
In 1973, The Columbia Amateur Radio Club was established and continues to thrive. This group, an offshoot of the oldest South Carolina amateur radio club, founded in 1928 on the Horseshoe at the University of South Carolina, meets monthly, hosts workshops, and participates in ham radio events. A goal of the club is to help radio operators improve their skills.
Ham radio operators use VHF and UHF radio frequencies to communicate. The terms “amateur radio” and “ham radio” are interchangeable. The radio operators are the “hams.” In the event of loss of power and no access to a phone, ham radios enable users to communicate with others and share important information.
After water and food, a battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both is number three on the South Carolina Emergency Management Division’s “Family Emergency Kit.” It would be vital to a family trapped in their home or required to evacuate to safety in a disaster. The division advises families to be prepared to take care of themselves for at least three days.
Details about how to be at the ready — besides having a radio — are found at scemd.org/prepare/your-emergency-plan.